Math rage

What follows is what would happen should I be in a position of writing something for a general audience, and at the place were the Math Apology usually takes place.

* * *

And okay, in this next bit we need a bit of math, but it’s mostly just multiplication and division, so have no fear you mathophobes. You can skip to the end and just see the result. First we…

No. Sorry. I can’t do this.

If any of you cretins can’t stomach a square root, or the concept of a function, get out, now. Go, and don’t come back until you’ve learned some mathematics, some statistics, some probability theory, something about the drawing of graphs, at least enough maths for me to derive Hölder’s inequality without your slack jaw hitting the floor.

Why, you ask? Because it’s your fault.

And what is your fault?


Every single fucking thing that’s wrong about the world.

Every single cockeyed financial decision made by governments, companies and individuals is your fault. You should have known, you math-ignorant cretin; you should have found out what the numbers mean, but instead you just stared like a deer at the headlights unable to differentiate between a million and a billion.

Every stock market crash is your fault, because your kind has no idea of how such largely random systems can fluctuate, so you just march into the disaster, and so doing amplify it tenfold. Or thousandfold; I don’t expect you to know the difference. Debtors’ jails are full of your kind because you have no sense of what an interest actually means, or of how diligently randomness works in conspiring to bring your wishful thinking to ruin. You don’t think ahead, you don’t think how things work, you don’t even think if they can work. Every prosperous get-rich criminal and every fleeced little old lady is your fault. Every bright idea ruined by clods with no sense of probability is in your ledger, including the disaster after the Hindenburg disaster. Yes, you are the reason we don’t have dirigibles; you panicked after Hindenburg and your bovine incomprehension and paranoia was the end of that beautiful era. We could have had airships if it wasn’t for you and your inability to understand mathematics!

Bernie Madoff and his kin are your children, you cretin. Every Powerpoint-wielding corporate graph abuser, lying with unlabeled, mismatched and cut-off axes, false percentages, omitted totals and rigged questionnaires, is your brood too. You give birth to them; you suckle them; they go to their graves well-fed by your incomprehending innumeracy. You feed the homeopaths and the crystal healers and the other bloodsucking scum, because your fool brain gibbers whenever a power of ten shows up and supposes that math can’t bite you in the ass if you don’t look at it. Creationists and the endurance of their childish mathematical abominations are your fault, as are all the lives ruined because of the perverted paraphilias of astrology and numerology. Every child deprived of a snack because its parental idiot unit bought the Bible Code instead is your fault, and that child is crying.

You’re not just a wastrel and a destroyer of the monies and lives of others. You’re a murderer too. Every child dead because people fear the minuscule risks of vaccination and stomach the much bigger ones of vaccine-abstinence is… you guessed it, your fault, my dear innumerate. Everyone dead because of “surely it cannot happen to me” is your fault, lying dead and wrecked in the ruins of their belief in the superiority of personal exceptionalism over brute probability. How does the blood on your digits feel? Teenage mothers and disasters-of-law are alike your fault because you in your slackjawed polo-shirt-wearing masses of juries and electorates get bamboozled by rhetoric and emoting, unable to understand what the numbers say, what such a concept as the least of the possible evils means, because you can’t quite grasp how small probabilities can over time lead to near-certainties, because you don’t get that all reduces to number, including your unexamined waste of life and the cost of your innumeracy; because you think one single fucking data point anecdote is enough to draw a curve. Come to me and I’ll use the single point of my cane to draw a fucking third-degree polynomial over your idiot ass!

All this, and what is your reaction? “Oh dearie dearie me, I never was good in maths but I never needed it for anything never did me no bad ha-ha! Explain it to me without all the goofy numbers titter-titter!”

I’m not going to make things easy for you, you scum. You haven’t deserved easy.

So let n be the number of pixels in the screen of a mobile phone…

* * *

With apologies to Phil Plait, from whose iPhone-related post the “context” and the spark for this came. As Phil is a superior elucidator of difficult things, he has his math rage much better under control than I.

And why yes, Hölder’s inequality, my favorite inequality. All mathematicians have one; that differentiates them from physicists who, I understand, have each a favorite way of drowning their sorrow of having chosen such an inferior pursuit as their career. (And for some reason that is still more socially acceptable than having a favorite inequality; rrrgh.)

One Response to “Math rage”

  1. Mike Says:

    So, I got out of math when the words stopped making sense. What the hell is an abnormal subgroup, and why doesn’t such a term exist? I went to something even worse than physics: computer science, where things are labelled as they are, and not after some lonely mathematician who has no friends and needs to be remembered by some theorem that other mathematicians named after him because they wish they were so smart. A “cache” in computer science? It’s a place to put things. A “balanced tree”? It’s a data structure with branches that’s about the same height on one side as the other. The worst we get up to is blatant overuse of TLAs (Three Letter Acronyms), and when theoretical computer scientists, who are really failed or jealous mathematicians, start shoving their naming conventions in descriptions of our algorithms. Oh, and whoever designed APL.

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