In my work I wrote the following sentence.

"...there is a negative perception of mathematics and mathematicians, both within and outside of academia."

Err. Right. So, I believe that this is true, and I suppose most people here do (although perhaps the "within...academia" bit is maybe contentious). However, I have been searching for some time now and am struggling to back either point up with a good, solid source or example (I did find an article which said "It is widely maintained in the literature that negative images and myths of mathematics are widespread among the public", but then this wasn't backed up by a reference!). This intrigues me. I certainly feel that this is true. For example, if someone asks me "What do you do?" and I reply "I am a mathematician!" the most common response is "Oh. Right. Err...I need the loo, be right back!"...but...they never return...

So, I have two questions:

  • Can you please give me a good, solid and recent source or example which backs up my point that there is a negative perception of mathematics and mathematicians among the general public?

  • Can you please give me a good, solid and recent source or example which backs up my point that there is a negative perception of mathematics and mathematicians within academia?

I emphasise the and recent because perceptions change with time. I am not interested in "The perception of mathematics among elementary school teachers" in 1984 (or even in 2000), but I am interested in this in 2010.

Now, I would be grateful if answers didn't simply give examples of "ordinary people" or English professors who had a penchant for mathematics. I know these people exist. Rather, I want to know what the general feeling amongst these two groups are. So general stuff, not specifics.

Finally, there is also the possible discussion of "If you cannot answer the second question, is this because there is not a negative perception of mathematics and mathematicians within all areas academia (specifically, the science-ey parts)?". This does interest me, but it isn't really suitable for MSE. So if you have an opinion on this matter, I would be grateful if you kept it to the comments. Or you could give a good, solid backed-up-with-recent-sources answer. But it had better be good!

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    $\begingroup$ One big misconception I think people have is that people think mathematicians are highly logical people and in my opinion, that's not at all true. $\endgroup$ – Git Gud Jul 17 '13 at 19:33
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    $\begingroup$ @user1729I laughed at the counterexample tag. It's adequate, though. $\endgroup$ – Git Gud Jul 17 '13 at 19:39
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    $\begingroup$ I strongly agree with Git Gud's top comment: mathematicians are supposed to be coherent with math logic while studying math. Outside that world they are just like everybody else (so is "everybody else" negatively perceived? :) ). ps: in Jurassic Park the black suited math guy gets the chick...(and a T-Rex) $\endgroup$ – Avitus Jul 17 '13 at 19:51
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    $\begingroup$ @LordSoth Wait, wait, wait! The question was about perception in the whole academia. Perceptions of mathematicians by mathematicians is yet another delicate story. $\endgroup$ – Start wearing purple Jul 17 '13 at 20:05
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    $\begingroup$ I’m not sure what you mean by having a negative perception of mathematics. If it means having had unpleasant experiences with mathematics, not understanding it, etc., then at least a quarter of the statement is probably true: there is a widespread negative perception of mathematics outside academia. If it means believing that mathematics is useless, not worth studying, etc., then I’m not at all sure that it’s true. And I’m not at all sure that there is a widespread negative perception of mathematicians. Widespread lack of understanding, yes; negative perception, not at all clear. $\endgroup$ – Brian M. Scott Jul 17 '13 at 21:00

What follows doesn't fit your definition of "recent", but I think you'll find this book review very interesting and funny and on-target for what you're asking about:

Conrad Plaut, Review of Michale K. Smith's 1994 book Humble Pi, Notices of the American Mathematical Society 42 #7 (July 1995), 772-773.

  • $\begingroup$ Oooooh - yes, sounds like a lovely read! Erm, not sure I could buy it whilst keeping my conscience in-tact though. $\endgroup$ – user1729 Jul 17 '13 at 20:12

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