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[Sep. 15th, 2009|05:18 pm]
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I got this link when googling "Serpinski Knitting" - Knitting for Fun: A Recursive Sweater (an academic paper meshing computer science and knitting) ((Note: you probably won't be able to read this paper unless you pay for it, or in a college or work for a company kind enough to pay for a subscription to this service))

Edit: Ok, I read a bit of it, and ugh. The opening chapter sums up a lot of what I hate about academic elitism and sexism within the scientific community (those who know me will know I don't identify as any major sort of feminist, but Egads, this is stupid).

Opening line: "Knitting is usually considered a female activity and females are usually not considered to be inclined to mathematics, or to science in general." ... (same paragraph) "Therefore, even illiterate women use mathematics while knitting, without knowing it."

One - I realise that the authors of that paper are female, but seriously, seriously, seriously, most of the women in science that I know get serious crap because of that attitude, and, generally speaking, they tend to be streets ahead of the guys. If they have any sort of head on their shoulders, they will generally be better at grasping a lot of the concepts (allowing for individual differences); moreover, they'll probably be better at imparting their knowledge with their peers. There again, I'm aware I'm looking at the wrong end of the filter to be objective - I'm looking at my personal experiences with those who get into the sciences, rather than everyone else. But, when they're good, they are damn good. It just irks me that the sentence (while probably just stating the general situation) almost seems to agree with the concensus - it just seems weak as a sentence. Maybe I have a weird dyslexia, or something, but "considered to be" just keeps disappearing from my head when I read it, and the results annoy me. Linguistically, it's not a statement that gives the core message of "The general perception is they're not good in maths and the sciences", and it annoys me.

Two - "even illiterate women use maths...", yes they do. Just like how some people can be illiterate and yet be incredibly gifted at working odds in the bookies. Ask them the best bet, and they'll work it better than most statisticians, but ask them some maths question that doesn't impact on their life, and don't bother expecting an answer because they'll reply with something along the lines of, "Sure, what use is it knowing that?" Maybe I'm odd, but somehow I don't think that growing up into education is something that was as widespread as it was two generations ago. None, count them, absolutely zero of my grand parents went onto 3rd level education. It's not that it would have been beyond some of them, but there were greater economic and social barriers than there are today. So they applied themselves elsewhere, to skills that were actually relevant to their everyday lives. Hell, some didn't make it through secondary school, and probably did primary because it was compulsory, but they made goddamn decent lives for themselves.

I'm aware that I'm probably reading an unintended tone into the paper, but my main reaction is "Just because you're illiterate, it doesn't mean you're unintelligent". Also, the "You're doing math, and not realising it" sentiment strikes me as more than a little pompous and condescending. Of course they are, but it just proves you can do without using the mathematical model to appreciate it. It's like saying to a cellular organism, "You're doing advanced organic chemistry, and you're not even realising it". Knowledge of the deep underlying structures in something isn't always necessary, and sometimes by concentrating on it, you miss the beauty of understanding something at a higher level. (Sidenote: For some reason I keep thinking of this xkcd strip)

For example, I don't have to understand the maths of simple motion to appreciate someone juggling (picking a skill I have some first-hand knowledge of), or to juggle myself. In fact, by engaging in the activity, I'll find myself appreciating it on a completely different level, where I understand higher constructs of it than if I were to appreciate it simply through a mathematical model. Sure, maths is another way to appreciate it but, ultimately, it will not teach you the DOING of it. Once you actually learn what it's like in practice, the practical and the theoretical understanding of the two separate almost completely.

Ok, rant (with slightly redundant points - I just wanted to say them twice) over. Once I get past the preamble compsci/maths geek in me REALLY likes the tie-ins (no pun intended) between knitting and mathematical grammars. However, overall, I'd be inclined to file this one away with the papers on the mathematics of surviving a zombie attack, and the efficacy of tin foil hats to prevent government mind control rays.