2+2=5

I caught this article over at Campus Reform, Hawaii prof demands that colleges ‘stop hiring white cis men’.

I had to confirm that the subject was real, and it is.  The professor in question, Piper Harron, wrote a piece for the American Mathematical Society’s official blog stating that cis-gender, white men should quit their jobs and new cis white men not be hired because they are a problem.

Not to alarm you, but I probably want you to quit your job, or at least take a demotion. Statistically speaking, you are probably taking up room that should go to someone else. If you are a white cis man (meaning you identify as male and you were assigned male at birth) you almost certainly should resign from your position of power. That’s right, please quit. Too difficult? Well, as a first step, at least get off your hiring committee, your curriculum committee, and make sure you’re replaced by a woman of color or trans person. Don’t have any in your department?  HOW SHOCKING. 

And it just gets worse from there.

From the AMS blog I was linked to Piper Harron’s personal website, aptly titled The Liberated Mathematician.

From her CV it says she received a Ph.D. in math from Princeton.

She claims her thesis won all sorts of awards.  She was interviewed about it for a math blog called mathbabe.

Describe my thesis? My thesis is this thing that was initially going to be a grenade launched at my ex-prison, for better or for worse, and instead turned into some kind of positive seed bomb where flowers have sprouted beside the foundations I thought I wanted to crumble. My thesis is that thing I got sick of just when I should have been fine-tuning its organization. It’s where I find typos that have already gone to print. I am a writer; don’t ask me about my writing.

WHAT.  THE.  FUCK.  DOES.  ANY.  OF.  THAT.  MEAN?

She goes on.

Then there was the actual math. Funny story, I was exceptionally behind my peers when I got to Princeton. I’m tired of talking about it. I should have made myself a Tshirt that said “I only took 7 math classes before coming here, and my peers took 20 – 30, so that’s great.” Funny story, my brain is evidently unusual among mathematicians. Namely, I don’t understand anything they say.

That is the first thing she said that made any sense so far.

In my second year, my body temporarily lost the ability to properly deal with sugar. I don’t know if this is a thing. My doctor never really figured it out even after she got “really scientific about it.” Whatever it was, I realized stress had sent me to the hospital and I was thoroughly against that on principle, so I gave up stress.

I got cancer in grad school.  The doctors had a name for that: malignant neoplasm of the kidney resulting in partial right nephrectomy.  I wrote the first draft of my thesis in recovery from kidney surgery and cancer.

This decision seemingly cost me everything. I escaped without graduating in 2009. I had my first child in 2011. I became a conscious feminist. After decades and years of absorbing all the rules, a black teenaged boy was shot dead for no reason and his assailant was found not guilty because black boys are scary. I became consciously anti-racism. Two months later I threw out my previous draft and started on my thesis grenade.

What is a thesis grenade?

Anything else I want to say? I hope people read my thesis. I hope people who don’t know what research math is like will see that it is not so alien, that it can be accessible, and will make fewer assumptions about who should go into math.  I hope graduate students will read it and realize that they are not alone. I hope it could help them be more aware of various and unfair pressures they might be under, so that they could navigate the waters without internalizing things too much (not too much to ask, right?!). I am thrilled at the idea that mathematicians might read and enjoy my thesis, but I didn’t write it for them.

I’d like to say something really important about how to make everything better. Can I get back to you on that?

For her entire post she never talks about the subject of her thesis once.

I read it, or at least tried to.  Here is the actual abstract and prologue from her thesis.  In full.  I know it is long but I want you to read it.

Abstract:

A fascinating tale of mayhem, mystery, and mathematics. Attached to each degree n number field is a rank n − 1 lattice called its shape. This thesis shows that the shapes of Sn-number fields (of degree n = 3, 4, or 5) become equidistributed as the absolute discriminant of the number field goes to infinity. The result for n = 3 is due to David Terr. Here, we provide a unified proof for n = 3, 4, and 5 based on the parametrizations of low rank rings due to Bhargava and Delone–Faddeev. We do not assume any of those words make any kind of sense, though we do make certain assumptions about how much time the reader has on her hands and what kind of sense of humor she has.

Prologue:

Respected research math is dominated by men of a certain attitude. Even allowing for individual variation, there is still a tendency towards an oppressive atmosphere, which is carefully maintained and even championed by those who find it conducive to success. As any good grad student would do, I tried to fit in, mathematically. I absorbed the atmosphere and took attitudes to heart. I was miserable, and on the verge of failure. The problem was not individuals, but a system of self-preservation that, from the outside, feels like a long string of betrayals, some big, some small, perpetrated by your only support system. When I physically removed myself from the situation, I did not know where I was or what to do. First thought: FREEDOM!!!! Second thought: but what about the others like me, who don’t do math the “right way” but could still greatly contribute to the community? I combined those two thoughts and started from zero on my thesis. What resulted was a thesis written for those who do not feel that they are encouraged to be themselves. People who, for instance, try to read a math paper and think, “Oh my goodness what on earth does any of this mean why can’t they just say what they mean????” rather than, “Ah, what lovely results!” (I can’t even pretend to know how “normal” mathematicians feel when they read math, but I know it’s not how I feel.) My thesis is, in many ways, not very serious, sometimes sarcastic, brutally honest, and very me. It is my art. It is myself. It is also as mathematically complete as I could honestly make it.

I’m unwilling to pretend that all manner of ways of thinking are equally encouraged, or that there aren’t very real issues of lack of diversity. It is not my place to make the system comfortable with itself. This may be challenging for happy mathematicians to read through; my only hope is that the challenge is accepted.

I’m not a math major, but I have taken a lot of math courses in my life, and I didn’t understand any of that.

I have a Ph.D.  Mine is in Materials Science with a concentration in physical metallurgy.  What that means is that I understand metal.  I know why you add various elements to steel in various quantities and how to heat treat it accordingly.  I know how to make steel hard or tough or shock resistant or wear resistant.  It’s what I do.

In grad school, my area of expertise was metallurgy for biomedical applications.  I made artificial hips and knees.

This is the actual abstract from my thesis.

With the increasing life expectancy of modern society, it is necessary to develop orthopedic and dental implants with a useful device life comparable to that of their owners.  Creating new osseointagrative and wear resistant coatings on orthopedic and dental implants is a step that direction.  LASER Powder Deposition (LPD) is a fusion operation using an Nd:YAG laser piped through a 10μm optical fiber to melt a small volume of substrate into which metal powder is sprayed, achieving high temperature with a high solidification rate.  LDP was used to effectively deposit osseoconductive, porous structures composed of Ti-20Ta, Ti-40Ta, Ti-60Ta, Ti-80Ta, and pure Ta, as well as Ti-15Mo on Ti-6Al-4V and Ti-15Mo substrates.  Cell culturing of LPD produced tantalum and Ti/Ta alloy coatings showed the rate of cell growth increased as the tantalum fraction of the deposition increased, indicating Ti-Ta LPD surfaces are capable of increasing the osseointegrative properties of orthopedic implants. 

I know it is filled with technical jargon but in a nutshell, I developed a way to use a laser powered 3D printer to make a hip implant that bonded to the bone better than other designs.

Notice how the results of my thesis doesn’t change depending on the sense of humor of the reader.

Now I am not so bold as to suggest that I am the be-all-end-all of thesis writers.  But I’d expect a thesis in a serious field like math, to be something more than “I really don’t know math like I should but here is some nonsense that makes it seem like I do.”

She got her Ph.D. from Princeton.  This is the US News and World Report #1 ranked university.

And this woman TEACHES.

Back in 1996, a physics professor at NYU named Alan Sokal published a piece of contrived bullshit in an academic journal of social studies.  Then he came out and said that it was a contrived piece of nonsensical bullshit and that the academic rigor of the discipline was non-existent and these so-called intellectuals would publish anything that sounded good as long as it hit all the right political buttons.  To quote Alan Sokal:

The results of my little experiment demonstrate, at the very least, that some fashionable sectors of the American academic Left have been getting intellectually lazy. The editors of Social Text liked my article because they liked its conclusion: that “the content and methodology of postmodern science provide powerful intellectual support for the progressive political project” [sec. 6]. They apparently felt no need to analyze the quality of the evidence, the cogency of the arguments, or even the relevance of the arguments to the purported conclusion.

This was called the Sokal Affair.

Well in 2017, academia is beyond parody.

Piper Harron is a walking, talking, teaching, tenure-track Sokal Affair.

Except that I don’t expect her to come out and say “ha ha, this is a bunch of bullshit that I made up like a Tumblr Mad Libs.

She believes her own bullshit, and so did Princeton, and do did University of Hawaii at Manoa.  She uses her position to peddle more intellectually lazy, racist, sexist, hateful bullshit.

The saddest part is the potential that some poor engineering student will be subjected to her bullshit class, and then go off and design a bridge that collapses or an airplane that falls out of the sky because he was being taught meaningless drivel instead of actual Newtonian calculus.

Because Sir Isaac Newton, Leonhard Euler, and Joseph-Louis Lagrange were all cis white men, they have no place in calculus.

8 Replies to “2+2=5”

  1. I was thinking of Sokal as soon as I got halfway through the piece! 😀

    Her CV is, umm… *interesting*. I’ve never seen a “Denied Awards and Recognition” section before.

    As an engineer, I’m glad I didn’t encounter any of her type as profs! I’d bet that her co-workers are PISSED that she has a job in their department, when it should have gone to someone who is actually a math professor (no, despite her degrees, I do not consider her to be one).




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  2. I searched for any criticism of her thesis & am grateful I found this. I only looked at her thesis after I read her ‘Abstract thinking is too difficult’ comment. I can only assume (or hope) mathematicians wouldn’t have bothered to criticize a basically a cringe inducing non-mathematical anti-thesis where the author is celebrating her ignorance & daring Princeton to call bullshit on a bullshit thesis.




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  3. I suggest a new title for her: Complete Total Waste of Oxygen.

    To paraphrase someone (Miguel?) when she says, “If you are a white cis man (meaning you identify as male and you were assigned male at birth) you almost certainly should resign from your position of power.” the answer is “No. Your move”.




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  4. Based on the abstract my take is it’s I don’t understand math so I’m making up some mathy sounding things to get a math PhD and it definitely is not my issue that I don’t understand math, it is the entire institution of maths fault.

    Yea where my fucking PhD Princeton? I can’t do math worth a shit either.

    I’m all for letting people say/be what ever the fuck they want but they have really painted them self into a corner with these identity politics when anyone can be anything they want at any time and it is 100% unimpeachable. The obvious answer to the cis male problem is “I was tragically born a gay woman in a man’s body. I have learned to make the most of this painful experience.”




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  5. Holy Crap.

    This is appalling but it’s what I have observed a lot.

    In engineering there is an objective truth- the bridge stands up or it falls down . The cis-ness of the design engineer or his color or politics have nothing to do with the bridge. The fact that Newtonian physics and Rene deCartes coordinate geometry is used to calculate the whole thing, i.e. to find a “true” solution, is necessary- to reject the tools because the progenitors are “white” is not silly but beyond that, it is absurd to the nth degree.

    The Left does not agree to “truth” at any level, believing it is fungible, malleable and can be modified to advance a sociopolitical agenda. Engineers are looked down upon by leftists.




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