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Safe Math

May 30, 2008

Math should be an act of love performed by a consenting adult. Yet these days, more and more researchers (are forced to) become mathematically active at an early stage. Among other things, this is causing a pandemics of MTDs, Mathematically Transmitted Diseases, such as a tendency to oversimplify complex phenomena, or a propensity for intellectual determinism. In “The Vices of Economists” Deirdre McCloskey shows her utter dismay at the math promiscuity that is going on in certain circles and advocates abstinence, or at least safe and responsible math. Some simple precautions should be taken before engaging in mathematical work, e.g. know your subject, avoid “casual math”, etc…More importantly one should realize that when the “math is good” everything seems rosy, but it’s not realistic to rely on it exclusively if one is interested in a healthy long-term project.

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