Monday, April 08, 2013

Trying to do science without math

Harvard professor and world famous ant expert E.O. Wilson writes in a WSJ op-ed:
For many young people who aspire to be scientists, the great bugbear is mathematics. Without advanced math, how can you do serious work in the sciences? Well, I have a professional secret to share: Many of the most successful scientists in the world today are mathematically no more than semiliterate. ...

If your level of mathematical competence is low, plan to raise it, but meanwhile, know that you can do outstanding scientific work with what you have. Think twice, though, about specializing in fields that require a close alternation of experiment and quantitative analysis. These include most of physics and chemistry, as well as a few specialties in molecular biology.

Newton invented calculus in order to give substance to his imagination. Darwin had little or no mathematical ability, but with the masses of information he had accumulated, he was able to conceive a process to which mathematics was later applied.
I subscribe to this quote, falsely attributed to Galileo:
Measure what is measurable, and make measurable what is not so.
So if you are innumerate and you want to be scientist, then either learn math or try to avoid anything that involves the quantitative analysis of experiments. Good luck with that.

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