Mathematics

Maybe the authors didn’t set out to be confusing, but something happens when mathematical ideas are presented in a tight, terse language that can be very hard to decipher.

Here are some testimonials as to how hard it can be to read mathematics:

- “Oh my goodness what on earth does any of this mean why can’t they just say what they mean????” Dr. Piper Alexis Harron, Princeton Ph.D. in Mathematics; adviser Manjul Bhargava, Fields Medallist.

- “I’m not even a mathematician yet and I’m already tired of reading papers that seem to be purposefully opaque.” Carter Smith, @JCarterSmith on Twitter, November 12, 2016

- Even physicists are ‘afraid’ of mathematics

November 11, 2016

“Physicists avoid highly mathematical work despite being trained in advanced mathematics, new research suggests.

The study, published in the New Journal of Physics, shows that physicists pay less attention to theories that are crammed with mathematical details. This suggests there are real and widespread barriers to communicating mathematical work, and that this is not because of poor training in mathematical skills, or because there is a social stigma about doing well in mathematics.”

- WHY IS MATH so F_ING difficult!!!??? by MyTelevisionIsOff, Reddit, August 3, 2015

“It seems so easy while the teacher is guiding you but so darn difficult when you do it on your own!!! WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?!?! WTF IS WRONG WITH MY PROCEDURES?!?! Sometimes I just wanna cry because I’m probably failing this crap already! Sigh…”

- Why is math so hard for me? Unknown author, Yahoo! Answers, August 19, 2013

“I am a junior in high school and still taking geometry its so hard for me. Other subjects are easy but when i get to math i struggle a lot and i am scared i wont do good in important test have any ideas and is it a problem or am i just stupid.”

- Amazon review of
Math, Better Explained, by country5, May 25, 2014

“I was looking for a book on the theories behind basic math concepts. For me this book did not fit this idea. The content went from the discussion of the history and theories of math straight to equations and concepts I could not follow. This book is for those that already have a college level understanding of math and want to move on from there. I already find math extremely frustrating it does not help when a book claims to improve your math intuition and then uses the same old methods for explanations.”

- Amazon review of The Mathematics of Juggling by Michael A. Moore, September 30, 2008

“I am a mathematical dunce. I have a better than average IQ, I passed high school algebra, I have been juggling for 35 years, and I even came up with diagrams on my own to remember and devise patterns. I thought I would enjoy this book, and I imagine I would if it were at all comprehensible to me. Though the book is hyped as “useful,” “accessible” and “entertaining,” buyers should be warned that Polster’s book is about math and is written entirely in the language of math. There is no effort to bridge the gap between a practical understanding of juggling logic and his numeric abstractions. He writes in plain English prose until 3/4 of the way down page 8, and by the bottom of that page he has ditched you and disappeared into a world of opaque notation that might as well have been written by G.E. Moore and Bertrand Russell. If page after page of greek letters, academic jargon and abstract equations is easy reading for you, get this book. If you don’t already speak higher math, Polster isn’t going to teach you how.”

At *Math4+* we believe it does not have to be this way. We believe that by experimenting with what works with how real people, like those above, really think, we can do a much better job of making mathematics enjoyable, empowering, and fulfilling. We must get away from the “same old methods for explanations” and discover what really works.

- “My view of mathematics is that it is an absolute mess which actively pushes out the sort of people who might make it better. I have no patience for genius pretenders. I want to empower the people.” Piper Harron.

- “Dear Major Textbook Publisher: A Rant”

Posted 7 December 2016, 9:36 am

Dear Major Academic Publisher,

You just sent me, unsolicited, an introductory statistics textbook that is 800 pages and weighs about 5 pounds. It’s the 3rd edition of a book by someone I’ve never heard of. That’s fine—a newcomer can write a good book. The real problem is that the book is crap. It’s just the usual conventional intro stat stuff. The book even has a table of the normal distribution on the inside cover! How retro is that?

The book is bad in so many many ways, I don’t really feel like going into it. There’s nothing interesting here at all, the examples are uniformly fake, and I really can’t imagine this is a good way to teach this material to anybody. None of it makes sense, and a lot of the advice is out-and-out bad (for example, a table saying that a p-value between 0.05 and 0.10 is “moderate evidence” and that a p-value between 0.10 and 0.15 is “slight evidence”). This is not at all the worst thing I saw; I’m just mentioning it here to give a sense of the book’s horrible mixture of ignorance and sloppiness.

I could go on and on. But, again, I don’t want to do so.

I can’t blame the author, who, I’m sure, has no idea what he is doing in any case. It would be as if someone hired me to write a book about, ummm, I dunno, football. Or maybe rugby would be an even better analogy, since I don’t even know the rules to that one.

Who do I blame, then? I blame you, the publisher.

You bastards.

Out of some goal of making a buck, you inflict this pile of crap on students, charging them $200—that’s right, the list price is just about two hundred dollars—for the privilege of ingesting some material that is both boring and false.

And, the worst thing is, this isn’t even your only introductory statistics book! You publish others that are better than this one. I guess you figure there’s a market for anything. It’s free money, right?

And then you go the extra environment-destroying step of printing a copy just for me and mailing it over here, just so that I can throw it out.

Please do me a favor. Shut your business down and go into something more productive to the world. For example, you could run a three-card monte game on the street somewhere. Three-card monte, that’s still a thing, right?