We Can’t All Be Math Nerds & Science Geeks

This is the title of a Outlook piece in the March 29th edition of the Washington Post. by Fareed Zakaria.  His article excoriates our obsession with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education and argues that it will make it harder for America to innovate.  He quotes Florida governor Rick Scott’s rhetorical question “Is it vital to the state to have more anthropologists?” and supplied the governor’s answer, “I don’t think so.”  Well I would argue that many, if not most, of Florida’s problems involve people which implies the social sciences of which anthropology is one.  The failure to recognize that social science is science and that the study of the many areas of psychology provide an understanding of the many areas in which the scientific method is being applied is not generally understood  (enter “STEM” into the healthymemory blog search blog to find relevant posts).  Zakaria provides statements by Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, and Mark Zuckerberg attesting to the importance of liberal arts in the tech world.  Although I, being a liberal arts major, strongly believes in the value of a liberal arts education, I do not agree with his conclusion that everything is hunky dory.  I think there are serious problems in the educational system and that some of them can be found in the hard sciences, engineering, and mathematics.

I am an applied cognitive psychologist who designs experiments and uses statistics.  I work intimately with hard scientists, engineers, and mathematicians.  Please understand that what I am going to write does not apply to all scientists, engineers, and mathematicians as many are brilliant scholars and read widely.  And due to their scholarship and wide reading they have covered up large holes in their formal training.  All scientists and engineers understand the data analyses of their research areas.  But there knowledge is specific to their research areas.  I view them more as technicians than as scientists.  Similarly with mathematicians.  I know mathematicians with a very deep knowledge of certain areas of mathematics, but who do not know the basics of experimental design or statistical analysis.  Zakaria extols education in critical thinking, and I strongly agree with him.  However, I have never seen a book on critical thinking that includes the general linear model (GLM).  The GLM is not some esoteric mathematical formula.  It can be understood by anyone who has had a course in high school algebra.  And it forms the basis of thinking about factors and how they interact.  It needs to be explicitly included in books and courses on critical thinking.

Moreover, I think it important that statistics be taught no later than high school.  Only students who go on to certain fields will need trigonometry or calculus, but every individual needs to have some fundamental understanding of statistics to be an effective citizens and to make informed decisions on their personal lives.  They need to understand both descriptive and inferential statistics.  I believe courses can be made simple enough so that all can have at least a rudimentary understanding of these important disciplines.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


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