Tag Archives: culture

Mathematicians can be seen as lawyers of space and number.

Euclid wrote about 300 BC. Much earlier, Hammurabi wrote his legal code around about 1792-1749 BC. It is an interpretation of history: Hammurabi might have invented all of his laws out of thin air, but it is more likely that he collected the laws of his region and brought some order into this. Euclid applied that idea to what had been developed about geometry. The key notions were caught in definitions and axioms, and the rest was derived. This fits the notion that Pierre de Fermat (1607-1665) started as a lawyer too.

Left Codex Hammurabi, right a piece of Euclid 100 AD. Wikimedia commons

Left: codex Hammurabi. Right: a piece of Euclid 100 AD. Wikimedia commons

The two cultures: science and the humanities

In Dutch mathematics education there is a difference between A (alpha) and B (beta) mathematics. B would be “real” math and prepare for science. A would provide what future lawyers can manage.

In the English speaking world, there is C.P. Snow who argued about the “two cultures“, and the gap between science and the humanities. A key question is whether this gap can be bridged.

In this weblog, I already mentioned the G (gamma) sciences, like econometrics that combines economics (humanities) with scientific standards (mathematical models and statistics). Thus the gap can be bridged, but perhaps not by all people. It may require some studying. Many people will not study because they may arrogantly believe that A or B is enough (proof: they got their diploma).

Left and right hemisphere of the brain

Another piece of the story is that the left and right hemispheres of the brain might specialise. There appears to be a great neuroplasticity (Norman Doidge), yet overall some specialisation makes sense. The idea of language and number on the left hemisphere and vision on the right hemisphere might still make some sense.

“Broad generalizations are often made in popular psychology about certain functions (e.g. logic, creativity) being lateralized, that is, located in the right or left side of the brain. These claims are often inaccurate, as most brain functions are actually distributed across both hemispheres. (…) The best example of an established lateralization is that of Broca’s and Wernicke’s Areas (language) where both are often found exclusively on the left hemisphere. These areas frequently correspond to handedness however, meaning the localization of these areas is regularly found on the hemisphere opposite to the dominant hand. (…) Linear reasoning functions of language such as grammar and word production are often lateralized to the left hemisphere of the brain.” (Wikipedia, a portal and no source)

For elementary school we would not want kids to specialise in functions, and encourage the use of neuroplasticity to develop more functions.

Pierre Krijbolder (1920-2004) suggested that there is a cultural difference between the Middle East (Jews), with an emphasis on language – shepherds guarding for predators at night – and the Indo-Europeans (Greeks), with an emphasis on vision – hunters taking advantage of the light of day. Si non e vero, e ben trovato.

There must have been at least two waves by Indo-Europeans into the Middle-East. The first one brought the horse and chariot to Egypt. The second one was by Alexander (356-323 BC) who founded Alexandria, where Euclid might have gotten the assignment to write an overview of the geometric knowledge of the Egyptians, like Manetho got to write a historical overview.

Chariot spread 2000 BC. (Source: D. Bachmann, wikimedia commons)

Chariot spread 2000 BC. (Source: D. Bachmann, wikimedia commons)

It doesn’t actually matter where these specialisations can be found in the brain. It suffices to observe that people can differ in talents: lawyers would deal much with language, and for space you might turn to mathematicians.

Pierre van Hiele (1909-2010) presents a paradox

The Van Hiele levels of insight are a key advance in epistemology, for they indicate that human understanding itself is subjected to some structure. The basic level concerns experience and the direct language about this. The next level concerns the recognition of properties. Another level is the recognition of relations between these properties, and the informal deductions about these. The highest level is formalisation, with axiomatics and formal deduction. The actual number of levels depends upon your application, but the base remains in experience and the top remains in axiomatics.

Learning goes from concrete to abstract, and from vague to precise.

Thus, Euclid with his axiomatic approach would be at the highest level of understanding.

We arrive at a paradox.

The axiomatic approach is basically a legal approach. We start with some rules, and via substitution and reasoning we arrive at other rules. This is what lawyers can do well. Thus: lawyers might be the best mathematicians. They might forget about the intermediate levels, they might discard the a-do about space, and jump directly to the highest Van Hiele level.

A paradox but no contradiction

A  paradox is only a seeming contradiction. The latter paradox gives a true description in itself. It is quite imaginable that a lawyer – like a computer – runs the algorithms and finds “the proper answer”.

However, for proper mathematics one must be able to switch between modes. At the highest Van Hiele level, one must have an awareness of applications, and be able to translate the axioms, theorems and derivations into the intended interpretation. In many cases this may involve space.

Just to be sure: the Van Hiele levels present conceptual divides. At each level, the languages differ. The words might be the same but the meanings are different. This also causes the distinction between teacher-language and student-language. Often students are much helped by explanations by their fellow students. It is at the level-jump, when the coin drops, that meanings of words change, and that one can no longer imagine that one didn’t see it before.

Thus it would be a wrong statement to say that the highest Van Hiele level must have command of all the lowest levels. The disctinction between lawyers and mathematicians is not that the latter have command of all levels. Mathematicians cannot have command of all levels because they have arrived at the highest level, and this means that they must have forgotten about the earlier levels (when they were young and innocent). The distinction between lawyers (math A) and mathematicians (math B) is different. Lawyers would understand the axiomatic approach (from constitutional law to common law) but mathematicians would understand what is involved in specific axiomatic systems.

Example 1

I came to the above by thinking about the following problem. This problem was presented as an example of a so-called “mathematical think-activity” (MTA). The MTA are a new fad and horror in Dutch mathematics education. First try to solve the problem and then continue reading.

2016-10-26-petervanwijk-smaller-englishDiscussion of example 1

The drawing invites you to make two assumptions: (1) the round shape is a circle, (2) the vertical x meets the horizontal x in the middle. However, why would this be so ? You might argue that r = 6 suggests the use of a circle, but perhaps this still might be an ellipse.

In traditional math ed (say around 1950), making such assumptions would cost you points. In fact, the question would be considered insoluble. No question would be presented to you in this manner.

In traditional math, the rule would be that the proper question and answer would consist of text, and that drawings only support the workflow. Also, the particular calculation with = 6 would not be interesting. Thus, a traditional presentation would have been (and also observe the dashes):

2016-10-26-petervanwijk-smaller-english-altA quick observation is that there are three endpoints, and it is a theorem that there is always a circle through three points. So the actual question is to prove this theorem, and you are being helped with a special case.

Given that you solved the problem above, we need not look into the solution for this case.

The reason for giving this example is: In mathematics, text has a key role, like in legal documents for lawyers. Since mathematicians are lawyers of space and number, they can cheat by using supporting drawings, tables and formulas. But definitions, theorems and proofs are in text (formulas).

(Potentially lawyers also make diagrams of complex cases, as you can see in movies sometimes. But I don’t know whether there are particular methods here.)

Example 2

The second example is the discussion from yesterday.

In text it is easy to say that a line has no holes. However, when you start thinking about this, then you must define what such a hole might be. If a hole doesn’t belong to the line, what does it belong to then ? How would you know when you would pass a hole ? Might you not be stepping over holes all the time without noticing ?

These are questions that lawyers would enjoy. They are relevant for math B but can also be discussed in math A.

See the discussion of yesterday, and check that the main steps should be acceptable for lawyers, i.e. math A.

These students should be able to master the symbolism of predicate logic, since this is only another language and a reformulation of common text.


Thus, a suggestion is that students in math A should be able to do more, when better use is made of the legal format.

Perhaps more students, now doing A, might also do B, if their learning style is better supported.

(Perhaps the B students would start complaining about more text though. Would there still be the same question, when only the format of presentation differs ? Thus a conclusion can also cause more questions. See also this earlier discussion about schools potentially manipulating their success scores by causing student underperformance.)








The Dutch research subsidy allocator NWO had its annual Spinoza Prize event, in which science meets journalism. About this annual event I reported critically in 2012.

The event this year carried the theme of “The scientist as activist”. NWO had invited Alice Dreger as keynote speaker to explain about the advantages and pitfalls of mixing research in the morning with social activism in the afternoon.

Thus, all of a sudden we have sex change on the table. Also, when there is controversy, then one is obliged to look into details. Thus I spent Friday morning listening to Dreger and the discussion, and was forced on Saturday “the morning after” to fact-check it all.

NWO Bessensap in Amsterdam

The invitation at the NWO website was:

“On Friday 10 June 2016 the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) will organise the sixteenth edition of Bessensap together with the Dutch Association of Science Journalists (VWN). The event will take place at the Rode Hoed in Amsterdam. Bessensap has been revamped this year to be even more in keeping with current developments, both in science and scientific communication.

The goal of Bessensap is and remains to encourage interaction between researchers, science and mainstream journalists, and other communication professionals. The former title ‘science meets the press’ is being replaced by an annual current theme, however. This year it is ‘the scientist as activist’: professors protesting against cut-price meat and climate scientists warning of the present and future disastrous effects of climate change. What role should scientists play in the public debate? And how should science journalism approach activist researchers?

Keynote speaker this year is the American activist researcher Alice Dreger []. As a historian, she studies the history of science and medicine. At Bessensap, Dreger will discuss what happens when science (the search for truth) and activism (the search for justice) collide. After her keynote address, Dreger will continue her discussion with visitors during a debate on this theme.” (NWO website)

Dreger informed us about her personal experience. She had participated in a social controversy, defending a fellow scientist J. Michael Bailey against harrassment, and had become a target of harrassment herself too. Her own university also hit her work with censorship, after which she eventually resigned as professor of Clinical Medical Humanities and Bioethics at Northwestern. She relates her experiences in the bookGalileo’s Middle Finger: Heretics, Activists, and the Search for Justice in Science“.

Dutch journalist Asha ten Broeke was in the audience and praised Dreger’s book, as a thriller that should become a movie. Google shows a twitter exchange between Ten Broeke and Dreger, and an earlier report in a newspaper, Volkskrant June 4, that opens with the issue of prenatal dexamethasone.

Alice Dreger, 2016-06-10, NWO, "The scientist as an activist"

Alice Dreger about “The scientist as activist”

Developing a hypothesis on the controversy

I only want to develop a hypothesis about what is happening. I have spent a major part of the mornings of Friday and Saturday on this issue, with the only objective to have a fair grasp of the situation. It will not be possible to look into all details, which would require e.g. buying and reading Dreger’s book and all commentary. Dreger observes that books are often not read and still rejected, but I don’t intend to read a full book nor to reject or accept it. Once I have my hypothesis, then it is a later option to test it, but I doubt whether I will ever have time to do so.

The situation is complicated by that Dreger may be right on many aspects, like on the matter of prenatal dexamethasone. Dreger seems also to be right in the protest against censorship at Northwestern, but one can doubt whether resignation was the proper response.

Eliminating noise, it appears that the core issue is relatively simple. This is whether Michael Bailey has a sound scientific approach or only a journalistic report on the “Clarke Institute theory of gender crossing”.

Let me invite you to read these two texts, and for readers of Dutch also a third:

Bailey apparently states that there are only two types of crossing and when McCloskey states that her personal experience doesn’t fit those two categories, then Bailey must either call her a liar or revise his theory. Why not respect personal testimony ? There is no need to concentrate on McCloskey, for there are more people for empirical testing. Thus there is no need for controversy but need for more research, and the research question is already clear too.

We find light in the tunnel by the following approach: (1) Common sense. (2) McCloskey is a brilliant economist, and I am an economist who appreciates her work very much. Her statement is to the point. For example, McCloskey is a world authority on ethical theory, and when she observes that Dreger is shallow on ethics, while Dreger’s chair is on bioethics, then this is very relevant observation. McCloskey agrees with Dreger that Andrea James is an activist and no scientist, and this is actually easy to check.

The Huffington Post article has a curious treatment of McCloskey’s position. Using your thumb to invent that two critics of Dreger “talked many times” and still disagree, and implying that both then are wrong, is bad logic.

“Well, which is it? “Proven wrong” by “almost everyone” (McCloskey) or “unfalsifiable” and without “predictive capabilities” and “untestable” (Conway)? McCloskey and Conway must have talked many times. This discrepancy in how they attacked Blanchard’s theory shows how little they cared about its truth — or that they knew it was true.” (Seth Robert)

Robert also argues: “Deidre McCloskey and Lynn Conway are both powerful persons.” This is a misrepresentation. McCloskey has no power and can only use words. People who read her work tend not to take things for granted. I have no information about Conway.

As a scientist, McCloskey is Dreger’s best ally, and it is curious when these two minds don’t meet. When McCloskey invited Dreger to send a draft text so that she could comment to prevent later confusion, then this was proper science.

A background check on potential sources of bias

Bailey’s website informs us that he originally had a BA in mathematics, and after teaching secondary school for a couple of years went to graduate school in clinical psychology. Mathematicians are trained for abstraction, and it is not impossible that Bailey’s attitude still is rather abstract and theoretical rather than focused on empirical observation, even though he has been an intern in psychiatry. An empirical scientist would be much interested in the evidence that causes a rejection of a theory.

Dreger earned her PhD in History and Philosophy of Science. The topic of the PhD study apparently was on the history of “Hermaphrodites and the Medical Invention of Sex“. This background suggests that she has read about methods of science, but has no training by actually doing so. Dreger’s historical research apparently has alerted her to misconceptions by so-called scientists in the past, but dealing with current science today is a different issue. My impression is that Dreger has misread McCloskey’s accurate criticism of Bailey’s approach, and did not properly distinguish this criticism from social activists.

Adding to confusion and reducing it again

You should read the two or three texts above but let me mention that there are more sources, that contribute to information overload. For example there is Julia Serano, who has this criticism. Or there are withdrawn nominations for lammies. Etcetera, etcetera.

The bottom line is: it would be up to professor Bailey to answer to his critics.

It has been kind of Dreger to want to protect a fellow scientist from abuse by social activists. It is better to avoid the risk of becoming the next target. Best is to provide for a climate in the scientific world itself, so that Bailey indeed provides such answers. For example, Dreger might have translated McCloskey’s criticism into words such that Bailey would have understood better that this is criticism that needs a reply. One should not think that management of controversy is simple.

Insert of Tuesday June 14 2016

Though I really didn’t want to spend more time on this, I now located Dreger’s article at PubMed 2008, in which she clarifies that Bailey’s book, published at a scientific publisher, was not purely science but also intended to express personal opinions and speculations.

“From the start, Bailey intended this book to be very different from anything he had published before. Whereas most of his previous work consisted of peer-reviewed articles for scientific journals, this book would be a popularization—based on certain sexological findings of his lab and others, but replete with vivid stories of people the author had met, stories provided to put a human face on those findings. Along with accessible, abbreviated accounts of key scientific studies, the book would also feature the author’s hunches, speculations, and personal opinions. It would include suggestions for further reading, but no other documentation (Bailey, 2006b). Thus, TMWWBQ was never envisioned as a work of science in any traditional sense; instead, Bailey viewed the book as his chance to expose to the masses what he saw as the often politically incorrect truth about “feminine males”: boys diagnosable with “gender identity disorder” (GID); surgically feminized, genetic male children; male homosexuals; drag queens; heterosexual male crossdressers; and MTF transsexuals. Bailey also saw the book as an opportunity to make some money; when he was ready to sell the book, he engaged an agent, Skip Barker, who negotiated in November 2000 a contract and an advance from Joseph Henry Press (p.e.c., Bailey to Dreger, October 2, 2006). Joseph Henry Press is “an imprint of the National Academies Press […] created with the goal of making books on science, technology, and health more widely available to professionals and the public” (Bailey, 2003, copyright page).” (Dreger’s article at PubMed 2008)

Thus, Bailey was an activist himself, and it looks like Dreger may have defended not a fellow scientist but an activist.

Obviously, there is no objection to personal opinions and speculations, and these actually are an important source of information, as these for example might guide future research. However, the issue is to clearly distinguish those from corroborated findings. For example, I use a science name Colignatus. Apparently Bailey nor Dreger nor the editors of the Joseph Henry Press nor the editors of the journal that published Dreger’s article have been careful enough. Both Bailey’s book and Dreger’s article better be retracted. The abstract of Dreger’s article states:

“Dissatisfied with the option of merely criticizing the book, a small number of transwomen (particularly Lynn Conway, Andrea James, and Deirdre McCloskey) worked to try to ruin Bailey.” (In the abstract of Dreger’s article at PubMed 2008)

This fails as a description of what actually happened. Reading McCloskey’s statement on Dreger, referred to above, shows her position on content. This shouldn’t be misrepresented as being targeted deliberately at ruin. Perhaps others have stated such explicitly but McCloskey (p7-8) even explicitly denies this. Thus retract.

Dreger is right that the case causes some questions. When Bailey’s book is published at a science publisher, then McCloskey is right that research may be needed to have been submitted to the Institutional Review Board (IRB). If the book is “science journalism”, then this IRB is not needed, but then it shouldn’t be at that publisher. One cannot use one argument for the other issue. Dreger may also be right that “oral history” is excluded from IRB rules, but if Bailey uses such reports to put a face on statistical results, then he himself creates a mix that still falls under IRB (because one aspect is). Again you cannot use one argument for the other issue. Also Dreger should ask Bailey to retract and restate his views in a manner that avoids confusion.


Given this hypothesis, some tentative conclusions are:

  • The organisers at NWO should have had the same problem as I had, in needing to understand the situation. They should have been able to reason as above. They didn’t do so. They gave Dreger the floor, as if there all of this was entirely new and nobody had time to look into this. This is misleading to the audience, and generates a wider circle of confusion. It is costly to the audience, like I lost time in recovering what they should have done. The better alternative would have been to present the hypothesis as above, and allow both Dreger and others to comment, so that there would have been an informed discussion, leading to more information and reduced confusion.
  • The organisers at NWO left it there, and after Dreger had reported on the censorship, there was no statement by the board of NWO that they were appalled, and would investigate and potentially write a letter of protest to Northwestern. NWO has a department of science communication and they found it useful to give Dreger the floor for their own reasons of selling NWO, but, apparently, there was no commitment to really defend science against censorship.
  • This framing doesn’t help Dreger much. The newsmedia reported on the Spinoza Prize winners but not on the censorship of science at Northwestern.
  • Journalist Asha ten Broeke already reported on Dreger but should look into above hypothesis, in order to prevent misleading people.

After this discussion on controversy and censorship in the NWO lecture hall, various people in the audience went out onto the street, not to protest with banners, but to enjoy the good weather and the view of Amsterdam’s canals. Dutch people aren’t easily shocked about censorship of science.


Listening to Izaline Calister “Mi Pais
“Atardi Korsou ta Bunita”, or Willem Hendrikse,
or Rudy Plaate “Dushi Korsou” or IC & CR “Mi ta stimabu“,
and Frank might also have liked Las Unicas “Ban Gradici Senjor” from Aruba


Frank Martinus Arion passed away yesterday in Curaçao. The English wikipedia site is a bit short, with his 1973 literary debut Double play. His important scientific work is his thesis: “The kiss of a slave”, that traces Papiamentu to Africa.

Kiss of a Slave, by Martinus Arion, Thesis Univ. of Amsterdam 1996

The Kiss of a Slave, by Efraim Frank Martinus (Arion), Thesis at the Univ. of Amsterdam 1996

Masha Danki !

Frank wouldn’t have wanted us to be sad. The best way to to thank him is to have the biggest party of all.


Carneval 2013 (Source: Screenshot)

I met Frank in the bar of the then hotel Mira Punda in Scharloo. These are old pictures taken by its then-owner Jose Rosales in 2005. Nowadays it is refurbished, and you should check out Hotel Scharloo or see pictures, or see


Hotel Mira Punda 2005 before the refurbishment to Hotel Scharloo (Source: Jose Rosales)

A second time in 2005-2006 Frank came by to discuss the future of the Caribbean, and we sat there on the terras of Mira Punda. I was just getting my driver’s licence so it was impossible to drive up to his place.

Just a year later, in 2006, when I had returned to Holland, his book Double Play was presented as the Dutch liberaries book of the year, and I met him again in The Hague.

Here is my view on the future of the Caribbean, no doubt influenced by these brief but powerful meetings about national independence. Perhaps the Caribbean could develop a sense of nationhood ?


Listening to Roefie Huetng with Jamie’s Blues


Roefie Hueting (1929) is an economist and jazz piano player, or a jazz piano player and an economist, who cannot decide which of the two is most important to him. See this earlier report on his double talent.

Hueting’s first public performance was on stage on liberation day May 5 1945 at the end of World War 2, when he was dragged out of his home to play for the people dancing in the streets. He still performs and thus he has been 55+15=70 years on stage.

With the Down Town Jazzband (DTJB) Hueting recorded 250 songs, played on all major Dutch stages, five times at the North Sea Jazzfestival, while the 50th DTJB anniversity of 1999 was together with the Residence Orchestra in a sold-out The Hague Philips Hall.

Hueting was one of the founders of the Dutch Jazzclub from which sprouted The Hague Jazz Club. This HJC has its current performances at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, formerly known as the “Promenade”. This hotel is at the Scheveningseweg, the first modern road in Holland, created by Constantijn Huygens in 1653, connecting the area of the Peace Palace – the area where also Grand Duchess Anna Paulowna of Russia (1795-1865) had her Summer palace – to the sea. See also these pictures of the German Atlantik Wall – to stay with the WW 2 theme.

At the celebration last Sunday September 27 other performers were Joy Misa (youtube), Machteld Cambridge, Erik Doelman (youtube) and Enno Spaanderman.

The Hague Alderman Joris Wijsmuller (urban development, housing, sustainability and culture) came to present Roefie Hueting with a book containing a picture of Mondriaan‘s Victory Boogie-Woogie – also celebrating the end of WW 2. Wijsmuller observed the erosion of “sustainability” that in the opinion of Hueting rather should be “environmental sustainability”.

Roefie Hueting and alderman Joris Wijsmuller at Crowne Plaza Hotel 2015-09-27

Roefie Hueting and alderman Joris Wijsmuller at Crowne Plaza Hotel 2015-09-27

Roefie Hueting solo at the piano, 2015-09-27

Roefie Hueting solo at the piano, 2015-09-27

Hueting introducing a jam session 2015-09-27

Hueting introducing a jam session 2015-09-27

"Victory Boogie-Woogie" by Piet Mondriaan (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

“Victory Boogie-Woogie” by Piet Mondriaan (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Now available

Elegance with Substance (2nd edition)

Mathematics and its education designed for Ladies and Gentlemen

What is wrong with mathematics education and how it can be righted

On the political economy of mathematics and its education 

Elegance with Substance (Cover)

Elegance with Substance (Cover)

National parliaments around the world are advised to have their own national parliamentary enquiry into the education in mathematics.

There is a failure in mathematics and its education, that can be traced to a deep rooted culture in mathematics. Mathematicians are trained for abstract theory but when they teach then they meet with real life pupils and students. They solve their cognitive dissonance by embracing tradition for tradition only. Instead, didactics requires a mindset that is sensitive to empirical observation which is not what mathematicians are trained for.

When mathematicians deal with empirical issues then problems arise in general. Other examples are voting theory for elections, models for environmental economics and growth, and the role of ‘rocket scientists’ in causing the stock market crash in 2008 (Mandelbrot & Taleb 2009).

While school mathematics should be clear and didactically effective, a closer look shows that it is cumbersome and illogical. What is called mathematics thus is not really so. Pupils and students are psychologically tortured and withheld from proper mathematical insight and competence.

The mathematics in this book is at highschool level.

Listening to Theodorakis, The struggles of the Greek people


Last weblog referred to Pseudo Erasmus who referred to Graig Willy who referred to Thierry Medynski who referred to Emmanuel Todd.

Medynski uses a colour scheme for Todd’s categories that I find hard to remember. It also appears that Willy has given a colour to Russia while this is not available from Medynski. Thus, let me return to Medynski’s map and propose a colour coding that seems easier to remember (updated May 18).

My suggstion is: Green will be the authoritarian stem family structure that can live with inequality.  Gray blue will be the authoritarian family structure that wishes to see equality except for the patriarch. Red allows for inequality but because of liberal tendencies. Blue combines liberalism and equality. The blue-ish area identifies the region in which equality dominates.

“Todd identifies four premodern European family types according to two major criteria: Is an individual free upon adulthood or does he continue to live with, and under the authority of, his parents? Are brothers equal, notably in terms of inheritance, or are they unequal.” (Craig Willy’s summary of Todd)

My colour proposal Authoritarian Liberal (free from parents)
Unequal Stem (green) Nuclear (red)
Equal (inheritance)
Communitarian (gray blue)
Nuclear egalitarian (photon) (blue)

This gives the following map – in which the legend is also sorted from blue to red.

Traditional family systems of Europe (1500-1900) (Source: Todd - Medynski)

Traditional family systems of Europe (1500-1900) (Source: Todd – Medynski)

There is more cohesion between Germany and Norway and Sweden than commonly perceived.

Relation to the USA

My suggestion is based upon the USA Red and Blue, for the Republican versus Democratic states.

USA Red and Blue States, for Republican and Democratic party outcomes, purple mixtures (Source: Wikipedia)

USA Red and Blue States, for Republican and Democratic Party outcomes at Presidential elections. Purple: mixtures over elections (Source: Wikipedia)

The differences between red and blue states may not be quite comparable to Todd’s scheme, but it helps to develop the idea and identification. Still, the clue is that the USA apparently has been shaped predominantly because of the nuclear family structure.

“Les États-Unis et l’Europe n’ont pas le même projet de société du fait de leurs structures familiales. Structurés sur la famille nucléaire absolue, les États-Unis expriment une dérive du fondamentalisme protestant avec cette vision messianique et civilisatrice pour diriger le monde selon leurs propres intérêts. Du fait de sa mosaïque de structures familiales, l’Europe devrait favoriser l’émergence d’un monde polycentrique. Cependant, depuis l’Acte Unique, tout se passe comme si l’identité européenne était réduite aux valeurs véhiculées par la famille nucléaire absolue, à savoir la pensée unique du néo-libéralisme. D’où l’échec de cette conception de l’Europe.” (Medynski, my emphasis)

The differences between Republicans and Democrats thus may be linked to the differences between England and the Ile de France.

Consequences for Europe and the euro

Check out Todd’s 2013 Harper’s video on the euro – with thanks to Pseudo Erasmus for alerting us to this. See also Jamie Galbraith and perhaps also not so strong John Gray. And then see my paper Money as gold versus money as water.


PM 1. For completeness and comparison, this is the colour scheme of Medynski’s image. We changed only red and yellow but it still makes a difference in reading.

Thierry Medynski Authoritarian Liberal
Unequal Stem (green) Nuclear (yellow)
Equal Communitarian (red) Nuclear egalitarian (blue)

PM 2. Never forget about the Heineken Eurotopia map.

PM 3. Check whether there is a relation with the other French intellectual, Thomas Piketty.

PM 4. Russia would have the gray blue too, which confirms Willy’s adaptation of Medynski’s image.

“Cette mosaïque de systèmes familiaux distingue l’Europe des Etats-Unis (structurés sur la famille nucléaire absolue) et de la Russie (structurée sur la famille communautaire exogame) où seul un des termes, l’individualisme ou le système communautaire, est privilégié.” (Medynski, my emphasis)

Jo Guldi (Brown) and David Armitage (Harvard) wrote The History Manifesto (html or PDF). On May 12 professor Armitage came to Amsterdam to defend it at the Academy of Sciences KNAW.

The authors argue that historical research gets lost into short-term-ism and overspecialisation, and that there is a growing need for the longue durée (Fernand Braudel 1902-1985) and “big stories”. The Manifesto closes with a call-to-arms:

“Once called upon to offer their advice on political development and land-reform, the creation of the welfare state and post-conflict settlement, historians, along with other humanists, effectively ceded the public arena, nationally as well as globally, to the economists and occasionally lawyers and political scientists. (When was the last time a historian was seconded to Downing Street or the White House from their academic post, let alone consulted for the World Bank or advised the UN Secretary-General?) It may be little wonder, then, that we have a crisis of global governance, that we are all at the mercy of unregulated financial markets, and that anthropogenic climate change threatens our political stability and the survival of species. To put these challenges in perspective, and to combat the short-termism of our time, we urgently need the wide-angle, long-range views only historians can provide. Historians of the world, unite! There is a world to win–before it’s too late.” (The History Manifesto p125 – my emphasis)

Amsterdam, May 12 2015

Amsterdam, May 12 2015. Wonderful weather outside of KNAW.

Remarkably, on the three indicated areas economics has much more to offer than history:

  • For climate change and survival of the species there is my book on the Tinbergen & Hueting Approach (2009, 2015).
  • On unregulated financial markets and income inequality, there are my books DRGTPE (2000, 2005, 2011) from before the crisis and CSBH (2012) from after the crisis – see above About page.
  • On global governance there is the analysis in DRGTPE that each nation better adopts a constitutional Economic Supreme Court (ESC) – so that the national ESCs can exchange information and thus contribute to global co-ordination and stability. For example, see this memo in the RES Newsletter of Fall 2014.

These issues can only be resolved by economics. One needs to study political economy (see DRGTPE for its definition) and have a solid background in econometrics and macro-economic modeling to understand and judge the issues. It is necessary indeed to take the long view, since it are this kind of topics. By implication the economist looking into these issues might be regarded as being a “historian” – and perhaps historians are willing to respect this even though such an economist might have no formal training in such an MA course.

It puts the horse behind the cart when one presumes that a student of the past would, by this kind of academic study, hit upon the proper advice to deal with these issues for the future. I am afraid that Guldi & Armitage are seriously mistaken here. It is important for a political economist to delve into history, and historians can provide valuable service here, but a historian would have to become a political economist if he or she is to say something about these subjects.

Consistent links

Of course, when the survival of the species is at stake, and thus also the survival of historians, then one can imagine that some historians feel the need to say something about this. But rather than starting to re-invent the wheel themselves, they are advised to check out the designated smiths. Dutch readers may check my question on ecological survival for the Dutch research agenda to 2025.

Admittedly, I may not be the typical economist, and Guldi & Armitage merely “misunderestimated” the situation. Originally I wanted to study archeology but it was because of Biafra and the world problems that I decided to turn to econometrics. At the KNAW session I indeed met an archeologist who confirmed that he was quite comfortable with long time scales. My recent revisit of the old interest is in “The simple mathematics of Jesus” (2012). An apt reference is also to this weblog text.

I am also struck by this statement in the manifesto:

“There is no public office of the long term that you can call for answers about who, if anyone, is preparing to respond to these epochal changes.” (The History Manifesto, p 1)

Traditionally people have the right to petition the monarch, and democracy seems to reduce the need for that, but our model of democracy still fails. The creation of an Economic Supreme Court would amend that. Some analysts who see short-term-ism everywhere might fear that the ESC would also fall victim to it. However, it is the task of the ESC to check the quality of the information for policy making. Hence, it looks at both the short and the long terms.

A question during the session

The discussion monitor at KNAW invited an economist in the audience to ask a question. My question was:

“The Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte studied history. However, he shows quite a disrespect for science. How is it possible that an academic study causes this kind of disrespect, and what can be done to ensure that the study of the past maintains scientific standards ?” (Rephrased.)

Dutch readers can check that I essentially asked the same question for the Dutch National Research Agenda for 2025. A key problem is: when a historian in a public debate makes an error against science then he or she is seldomly corrected by another historian.

Mark Rutte is a counterexample to the Guldi & Armitage bracketed question above: here we have a historian with access to the corridors of power. Check on Rutte e.g. here.  Another example appears to be William Hague. One can also understand that my question is essentially critical of the History Manifesto too: Are Guldi & Armitage not similarly disrespectful of science, by claiming more for history than history can do ?

The Dutch word for science is “wetenschap” and it does not distinguish between the humanities and the “hard” sciences. My question fell a bit in the trap of the distinction made in the Anglo-Saxon world. Professor Armitage referred to C.P. Snow and the “two cultures” lecture of 1959, and indicated that the gap ought to be bridged. He explained how students of history at Harvard are encouraged to look into the sciences, including mathematics and computer science. He did not go into the issue that the scientific method should be used in history as a science too. Fortunately the History Manifesto on occasion refers to the humanities as a science too (say p 10), but then it should also apply the methodology of science – with the comparative advantage of Verstehen.

Thus his answer left me unsatisfied. For these same considerations as Snow had, the Econometric Society was founded in 1930, with an offshoot in cliometrics. The gap between the “two cultures” can only be bridged when it becomes mandatory that a sizeable section of the humanities have also a background in the sciences – i.e. when the humanities stop claiming that they would be so very special and when they concentrate their contribution on what they indeed are special in and what indeed is their comparative advantage. Indeed, this will also require a re-engineering of the education of mathematics, see “Elegance with Substance” (2009).

The panelists

Invited panelists were Mathijs Bouman (economic journalist), Rens Bod (director of Digital Humanities), Hanco Jürgens (Germany Institute Amsterdam) and Siep Stuurman (emeritus UU).

Rens Bod was most ambitious: historians should also predict the future. This indeed fits the scientific method, and prevents that historians just tell fancy stories and enhance those with the authority of age. The ambition to look at the future fits the ancient tradition in history, check e.g. Thucydides and the wish to study history to learn from it. The ambition however runs the risk of failure when historians are not up to the task. Thucydides of course wrote at a time when he could not rely on a well-developed discipline of political economy.

Hanco Jürgens wondered whether there really was a crisis in the humanities and a lack of public attention for history. He referred to the commemorations of WW II this month. That Russia had taken the Crimea put an end to Francis Fukuyama’s End of History and meant a Return of History. There is rather a change in the public role of the intellectual. In Holland in 2030 likely half of the student population will have higher education (?) and that will mean a change in the kind of public debate.

Siep Stuurman emphasized professionalism. Historians should remain critical. The “protestant wind” that destroyed the Armada is an obvious bias – see “Whig history“. The method of the longue durée rather looks for turns that enlighten issues (and that were surprising to participants too). Thomas Malthus had fine data from the past but lacked insight in what technology had in store. History can puncture myths, like that protectionism hindered development and that free trade supported it: in the past protectionism was the norm, and England only imposed free trade when it had the advantage anyway. His main point was that history provides serial contexts.

The other economist: Mathijs Bouman

Bouman supported the criticism of short-term-ism by giving the example of the 2008 financial crisis. He labeled financial analysts as “historians” since they used time series data. They used only a few decades, and thus they missed systematic national risk on house prices. He agreed that a good economist is also a historian. On the other side he found the History Manifesto biased against neo-liberalism. Marx and Piketty got too much attention, even though the latter indeed presented data over a much longer period. The long term would require an unbiased view too.

Bouman supported my critical question above by stating that developing a view about the future does not only require data from the past but also model assumptions: and what theory was Armitage using ?

Of course, Bouman did not explain to professor Armitage that the directorate of the Dutch Central Planning Bureau has been censoring my work since 1990. In general, visitors who come to Holland are treated as guests and they meet with kind people and have pleasant discussions. These visitors will tend to think that Holland is an open and tolerant country.  KNAW functions as a Potemkin village for foreign scientists.


Given that economics already solved the three major problems mentioned by Guldi & Armitage – so that it is only a matter that the Parliaments of the world start studying on those solutions – I can only advise that the historians enter these notions in their history books. By consequence there is little use for the History Manifesto.

What we should appreciate is its opening statement of “speaking truth to power“. This can best be done by embracing the scientific method, to first find that truth, and then say it.

Addendum May 14

A statement in the manifesto about what Paul Warde would have shown made me very curious and caused me to check this on the internet: I found a discussion by Pseudo Erasmus on errors in the manifesto also on other statements. Perhaps this is a case in which historians correct other historians.

I also found the criticism by Cohen & Mandler in the AHR rather convincing. The best thing would be to retract the manifesto as an apparently insufficiently researched opinion piece that needs better contemplation.

Amsterdam, May 12 2015. Still wonderful weather after the KNAW session.

Amsterdam, May 12 2015. Still wonderful weather after the KNAW session.