Federal election 2016: Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull: Make maths and science compulsory

Federal election 2016: Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull: Make maths and science compulsory, by Eryk Bagshaw.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has called for maths and science to be made compulsory for all students finishing high school to arrest a steep decline in Australia’s standards across both subject areas.

What a nong. If you want to raise standards in maths and science, you have to lower the number of students. If more students do the subjects, the pressure to water down standards and make it easier are huge, and this is what has lowered standards for the last 40 years.

“We’ve got to get back to that and ensure that everyone is very literate in those STEM subjects. Science, maths, technology – that’s the future,” he said.

Idiocy squared. How does everyone knowing some maths and science help? Beyond arithmetic required for shopping, taxes, and home hardware, many people don’t really need maths — so don’t waste their time with trigonometry, algebra, and logarithms. Certainly don’t plague them with calculus.

Yes the future is science and technology, but that requires both talent and capital. Capital in Australia goes to where the returns are greatest and where we have a comparative advantage — which is mining, farming, real estate, and law/finance. Actually making things, and using brains to invent and make stuff, has not traditionally attracted much capital in Australia. Many Australians turn out to be quite good at it, but have largely had to go overseas to pursue tech careers.

Humans ability at maths especially is very unevenly distributed, and the distribution is not politically correct. Even IQ is not politically correct — for example, of people with IQs over 120 in our society only 37% are female. For maths it is even more skewed male — male brains weigh 8% more than females on average, and some of that seems to be related to spatial and math ability. If you want people who can use mathematics competently in advanced science and research you need IQ s higher than 120, and if you want people who can make contributions to maths itself, you need higher IQs and maths ability again.

An education system that tries to make maths widely and competently practiced in political correct ratios is an exercise in futility, and a waste of time for the poor students who cannot do it.

Yes, I have a dog in this fight. I did six university degrees in maths, science, and engineering, including a PhD from Stanford University, over ten years. I worked in Silicon valley, and have invented useful maths and physics (that the world needs to know, and am still trying to write it up). When I was training in the US, the nascent Australian chip-building died — now the idea of Australia doing anything as sophisticated as building or designing chips seems ludicrous, and our political class barely knows what they are or what is involved. Nonetheless I wanted to return and live in Australia. Consequently I have not been employed in the areas I was trained in, but have just run my own projects anyway.

By the way, at Stanford there were quite a lot of Australians doing maths and science. In my experience the best Australians from our undergraduate universities mainly went overseas for further training or careers — and most stayed overseas. In science and technology terms, Australia is a nice and middling place but a bit of a backwater — not where the action is.

I am frustrated by the lack of science understanding among Australia’s media and politicians. For example, they were bamboozled by the simplistic nonsense put forward by advocates of the theory that increasing carbon dioxide is the main cause of global warming. (An honorable exception is Andrew Bolt, who at least understands a temperature graph. He won’t go as far as feedbacks, but in the land of blind Australian talking heads, the one-eyed man is king.)

A mention of a single science fact and they immediately stop listening — they have little ability to understand even simple physical arguments. Worse, they are not even interested. They only want to know the qualifications and authority of the person who makes a claim, because they cannot critically evaluate the content of the claim. Now these people could do with a better science education, but I strongly suspect that although many of them learned some science a long time ago they  forgot it because they found it wasn’t needed or used. Or they never bothered acquiring much tech education, because it was too hard and they couldn’t see a need for it.

So our political class just listens to who they perceive as “experts” on science matters, outsourcing their judgment to others on even simple matters. But too often it is effectively just to some politically motivated bureaucrat whose science career died long ago, and who now appoints “the experts.” In  global warming, the warmists have all the “experts” because they captured all the funding three decades ago and squeezed out all opposition, in all western countries (climate is a small field, it wasn’t so hard). Only governments employ climate scientists, so all the climate scientists believe the carbon dioxide theory. Neat trick, eh? We climate skeptics have the data and logic on our side, but we are not the “experts” so our political class ignore us — they have neither the wit nor the background to understand us and challenge the “experts.” Our political class would rather waste billions of dollars on water desalination plants because a propagandist like Flannery says so, than risk a tiny bit of brainy-hurty and look at the data.

If you are interested, the carbon dioxide theory is due to a simple modeling error, dating back to 1896 and still not corrected. The climate scientists left out one of the two main feedbacks in their models, without which it appears as though carbon dioxide is a major menace. In fact decreases in radiation to space from increasing carbon dioxide (as the “blanket gets thicker”) are almost fully compensated for by increased radiation from water vapor (on different wavelengths). And more than likely global cooling will begin next year.