Monday, May 27, 2019

separating fact from fiction with the 56% of Americans say Arabic Numerals should not be taught in school

On the excellent TV show Veep there was a subplot about a political candidate (who himself had failed algebra in HS) objecting to Algebra since it was invented by the Muslims. I don't recall the exact line, but he said something like `Math teachers are terrorists'
This was, of course, fiction.

The same week I read that 56% of survey respondents say `Arabic Numerals' shouldn't be taught in schools' Obviously also a fiction. Perhaps a headline from The Onion.

No. The story is true.

See snopes entry on this: here

but also see many FALSE but FUNNY websites:

Sarah Palin wants Arabic Numerals out of the schools: here Funny but false.

Jerry Brown is forcing students in California to learn Arabic Numerals as part of multi-culturism False by funny:  here

A website urging us to use Roman Numerals (which Jesus used!) False but funny:  here

OKAY, what to make of the truth that really, really, 56% of Americans are against Arab Numerals

1) Bigotry combined with ignorance.

2) Some of the articles I read about this say its a problem with polls and people. There may be some of that, but still worries me.

3) In Nazi Germany (WOW- Goodwin's law popped up rather early!) they stopped teaching relativity because Albert Einstein was Jewish (the story is more complicated than that, see here). That could of course never happen in America now (or could it, see here and here).

4) There is no danger that we will dump Arabic Numerals. I wonder if we will change there name to Freedom Numerals.

5) Ignorance of science is a more immediate problem with the anti-vax people. See here


  1. The snopes link is not pointed anywhere, for me.

    1. Not just for you, it was incorrect (my bad)
      I fixed it (my good)

  2. Yeah you guys should teach them as Hindu numerals.

  3. The question is where to end the purge of mathematics from Nazi-related personnel? What about "Teichmueller space" or "Bieberbach's conjecture", etc.? Or in physics Nobel laureat P. Lenard after whom a lunar crater was named? If you widen the circle of suspects then also van der Waerden (see Soifer's book) or Heisenberg (see the numerous books on his controversial role in the Third Reich related to the infamous German atomic bomb project) may become victims. Should we therefore strive to rename "Heisenberg's uncertainty principle" or "Van der Waerden's theorem"? Or to strictly separate science from politics? Inside science this is probably general practice, but I agree that for public relations, as the naming of a prestigious prize, also politics becomes an issue. However political correctness is not stable but changes over time, e.g., in the early 50s it would have been politically incorrect to name a prestigious prize after a convicted homosexual. (But of course I don't want to be misunderstood as to relativize Nazi propaganda which should hopefully be banned forever in the political mainstream.)