Babes of math destruction

John Derbyshire’s review of Weapons of Math Destruction by Cathy O’Neil is well worth reading; so much so that I won’t bother excerpting the juicy passages. Just go read the whole thing — it’s both entertaning and right-on. All we can contribute is an afterthought, uncharacteristically cruel and petty for PTT. Derbyshire graciously refers to O’Neil as a “mathematician”, which is consistent with the fairly low bar that he has set for that title; after all, Piper Harron made the cut. (We’re reminded of a passage in Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita [control-F “Dostoyevsky” in the pdf] where Koroviev argues with the front desk lady about what makes a writer. According to her, this is determined solely by a writers’ union membership card, to which he retorts that Dostoyevsky didn’t have one — which she trumps with “You’re not Dostoyevsky”.) Her wikipedia page indicates that O’Neil was at one point employed as a professionial mathematician and thus passes the card-carrying test (as does the motha functor). According to mathscinet, she has 11 publications, including the aforementioned book. We lack the competence to judge the scientific value of these publications, nor will we speculate whether she “left academia in 2007” by choice or by failing to get tenure. We will, however, briefly pause to ponder the title of O’Neil’s blog: mathbabe. Not “mathlady”, “mathwoman”, “mathgirl” or “mathchick” — she chose to use the word babe, which connotes sexist objectification and leaves us no choice but to evaluate her on this criterion. You be the judge, and for the record, PTT would much sooner consider her a mathematician than a babe.

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