She’s a bad ass motha functor

Move over, Queen Izabella. Like, literally, move your cishet white ass da fuck over. You’re the rear guard now, and the POCs are more deserving of your position. Sez who? Sez Piper Harron, a “temporary assistant professor” of mathematics at the University of Hawaii. You can check out her blog, theliberatedmathematician. It’s pretty much a run-of-the-mill cargo cult demand, so common among a certain, ahem, demographic (warning, last link NSFW). She also maintains a prolific blog over at AMS (really, AMS, really?), which is actually not entirely devoid of wit.

I liked the blog title itself, as well as some post titles (no, I did not actually read the posts — just scanning the titles provided more than enough masochistic frisson). Hey, Piper — if you’re looking for new post ideas, how about “Intersection/Union” or even the title of this ‘umble post?

Now PTT’s mandate is most emphatically not to engage with various random kooks on the internet. The kooks must have some minimal standing in the intellectual community. Fortunately, we at PTT are pretty adept at sizing up a fellow academic’s standing. This Piper Harron has a PhD in math from Princeton, advised by the Fields medalist Manjul Bhargava. On the other hand, it did take her 10 years and it’s the only thing she ever published (though her CV includes such gems as “survived external and internalized misogyny”, “survived external and internalized racism”,
“grew human in own body”, “created milk with own body to sustain new human”).

Reading between the lines, I would guess the department was either pressured or guilt-tripped into accepting a WOC and when she didn’t get the hint after ten years, it was less of a hassle to just write the thesis for her (certainly for someone of Bhargava’s caliber) than to deal with her histrionics. I cannot know for sure what Dr. Harron’s mathematical contribution was, but judging from her own description of her work (Prologue: “Respected research math is dominated by men of a certain attitude.”) you’re invited to make your own (no doubt biased, racist, cissexist) conclusions.

Update. None of the above is to be construed in any way as the faintest implication of malfeasance on the part of Prof. Bhargava. By “write the thesis for her” we certainly do not literally mean that he did the writing. In math, solving the actual problem is the heart of the work; faithfully transcribing the solution from blackboard to paper is routine (one can even do this without fully understanding the solution!). And again, we have no hard evidence that Piper Harron is not, in fact, a brilliant mathematician whose Princeton PhD thesis is the product of her own original problem-solving prowess. As for soft evidence, Dr. Harron’s writing strongly indicates that she herself doesn’t place all that much value on mathematical problem-solving skills:

If you are on a hiring committee, and you are looking at applicants and you see a stellar white male applicant, think long and hard about whether your department needs another white man. You are not hiring a researching robot who will output papers from a dark closet. You are hiring an educator, a role model, a spokesperson, an advisor, a committee person.


5 thoughts on “She’s a bad ass motha functor

  1. By the way, this was a comment on Harron’s post. In less troubled times, I would be sure it was satire, but now I am not so sure:

    Diana Jackson says:
    May 11, 2017 at 6:12 pm
    We need to decouple success in mathematics from IQ. IQ is a social construct that cishet white men devised that defines “intelligence” on the basis of culture. Sadly, there is a direct correlation between high IQ and “earning” a PhD in a STEM discipline, which is all too reflective of how white cishet men have designed disciplinary concepts to reinforce their own power structures.

    It is fundamentally unfair and marginalizing for IQ tests and mathematics curriculum to be designed around the same white supremacist, cisheteronormative standards, thus marginalizing women of color. What we need isn’t just “fair hiring;” we need a radical reconceptualization of mathematics in a decolonizing framework.

    Our friends in the fine arts lead the way here. A century ago, white male composers like Beethoven and Mozart were considered mastered, while the authentic cultural expression of nonwhite peoples was denigrated using words I won’t repeat here. The advances of critical theory have helped guide musicians into recognizing that the music of the Bantu people is just as worthy of learning and study as that of any baroque composer…so should we not follow the same lead? Is not our problem is that we have allowed white cishet men (nearly all of whom had utterly disgusting views about race and gender) to define “mathematics,” “logic” and “proof” for us? We should recognize that there are many kinds of math, many kinds of logic, and many kinds of proof, and assemble a new concept of math from the mosaic of cultural expression that humanity affords.

    It’s time for a new scientific revolution, if you ask me…this one led by the folks shut out of the last one.


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