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Science Forum

  1. 28 Jul '16 18:48 / 4 edits
    The 2016 IMO in Hong Kong recently finished. The general media has
    covered it in part because a North Korean student supposedly has asked
    for asylum at the ROK (South Korea) consulate in Hong Kong. If so,
    I hope that there will not be harsh retaliation in the DPRK (North Korea)
    against other members of the DPRK's team on the grounds that they
    should have known and prevented this student from defecting.

    Now turning to the rather surprising results, the USA won the gold medal
    (as it did in 2015, after not having won since 1994), the ROK won the
    silver medal, and China (only) won the bronze medal. This was the
    only the time since 1996 when China (which usually wins the gold
    medal) has participated and *not* won the gold or the silver medal.

    Here are the teams at the top of the standings:
    1) USA
    2) ROK (South Korea)
    3) China
    4) Singapore
    5) Taiwan
    6) DPRK (North Korea)
    7-8) Russia
    7-8) UK
    9) Hong Kong
    10) Japan
    11) Vietnam
    12-13) Canada
    12-13) Thailand
    14) Hungary
    15-16) Brazil
    15-16) Italy
    17) Philippines
    18) Bulgaria
    19) Germany
    20-21) Indonesia
    20-21) Romania
    22) Israel
    23) Mexico
    24) Iran
    25-27) Australia
    25-27) France
    25-27) Peru

    As usual, the top teams are disproportionately (9 out of 13) East Asian,
    and Asians disproportionately represented most of the other top teams.
    (The highest scoring mostly white team came from Russia.)
    I mention this because some ignorant Americans have liked to jump to
    the conclusion that a US win means corroboration of 'white supremacy'.
    The Western media typically focus upon white students' achievements.

    In first place, the USA was apparently represented by three Chinese (two
    of whom had perfect scores!), two (Asian) Indians, and only one white student.
    The UK was apparently represented by two Chinese (the first and third
    highest scorers), one Indian (second highest scorer) and three white
    students (the bottom half of the scorers).
    Canada had a completely ethnic Chinese team, including one female student.

    By the way, India (the world's second most populous country) finished
    in 34th place, just behind Mongolia (which has a tiny population).
    I believe that war-torn Syria (with a team including one female student) deserves to be
    mentioned for its respectable showing (finishing ahead, for instance, of Spain).

    Considering the individual results, of the top eleven students, eight seem
    to be ethnic Chinese (representing China, the USA, or Singapore) and
    the other three represented the ROK (South Korea). Of the top 22 students,
    only two (a Hungarian and a Russian) seem *not* to be of Asian heritage.

    So what does this mean? Excelling in mathematical problem-solving
    competitions evidently is something that draws students from some Asian
    (particularly Chinese) cultures, while not appealing nearly as much
    to Westerners. Most of the top Western teams disproportionately rely
    upon the achievements of their Asian students. But that's not a story
    that the Western media seems likely to spend much time telling.
  2. Standard member sonhouse
    Fast and Curious
    28 Jul '16 19:15
    Originally posted by Duchess64
    The 2016 IMO in Hong Kong recently finished. The general media has
    covered it in part because a North Korean student supposedly has asked
    for asylum at the ROK (South Korea) consulate in Hong Kong. If so,
    I hope that there will not be harsh retaliation in the DPRK (North Korea)
    against other members of the DPRK's team on the grounds that they
    should ...[text shortened]... udents. But that's not a story
    that the Western media seems likely to spend much time telling.
    If you look at the science journals and such, most American papers are by Mohammeds and Ishikari's and such and not so many William Conrads

    Have you personally tried the problems given? I know I would not have a chance of a snowball on Venus
  3. 28 Jul '16 19:35 / 2 edits
    Originally posted by sonhouse
    If you look at the science journals and such, most American papers are by Mohammeds and Ishikari's and such and not so many William Conrads

    Have you personally tried the problems given? I know I would not have a chance of a snowball on Venus
    I am retired from solving Olympiad-type mathematical problems, which supposedly should
    make it easier for me to fulfill my natural biological functions (joke about a stereotype).
    Students are given several hours (in two days) on these problems, which is more work than I care to do.
    The 2016 IMO problems don't seem to be available yet in PDF form, though they can be downloaded.

    Historically speaking, some IMO problems have been trivial because the organizers liked
    to give a very easy one in order that no team should go home with a score of zero.

    By the way, Saudi Arabia's team again included one female student. It's nice to know
    that a young woman's mathematical ability can be recognized even in Saudi Arabia.
  4. 28 Jul '16 21:16
    Originally posted by sonhouse
    If you look at the science journals and such, most American papers are by Mohammeds and Ishikari's and such and not so many William Conrads

    Have you personally tried the problems given? I know I would not have a chance of a snowball on Venus
    I read science journals regularly and it definitely not true that "most American papers" are by "Mohammeds and Ishikari's and such." Becoming a scientist requires getting a good education, which in the US is far easier for someone with a privileged background.

    Having said that, first authors tend to be PhD students or postdocs, who are often foreigners.
  5. Standard member DeepThought
    Losing the Thread
    29 Jul '16 09:02
    Originally posted by Duchess64
    The 2016 IMO in Hong Kong recently finished. The general media has
    covered it in part because a North Korean student supposedly has asked
    for asylum at the ROK (South Korea) consulate in Hong Kong. If so,
    I hope that there will not be harsh retaliation in the DPRK (North Korea)
    against other members of the DPRK's team on the grounds that they
    should ...[text shortened]... udents. But that's not a story
    that the Western media seems likely to spend much time telling.
    Referring only to the UK team, I can give a partial explanation. Basically, in the UK immigrants tend to value education more highly. I can't give a very clear explanation for this, but there's an anti-intellectual undercurrent to British society which means the kids tend to enforce "not being teacher's pet" and so on on each other (at least that was true in my day). I remember being told by another child: "It's not what you know, but who you know.", which he'd probably been told by one of his parents or grandparents. So academic failure is forgiven rather than corrected. Coming from a different culture this doesn't apply to immigrants.

    I also think the educational establishment latches onto fads, for example for division the current fashion is to teach "lumping and splitting" which is an inferior algorithm they think is more intuitive than long division. Apparently long division is just an algorithm, but so is the lumping and splitting procedure, so all they are doing is teaching a weaker algorithm. When I was a child they were trying to teach us set theory at a quite young age (about 10).

    On the other hand, I think that this is improving, partly due to a more sane approach in giving advice to parents on how to encourage their children. Another help is programs like Countdown, where contestants are given a collection of nine letters and have to find the longest possible word, as well as two numbers games where they are given a selection of six numbers and have to combine those numbers using elementary arithmetic operations to find a target number. The adjudicators are Susie Dent, who is able to say what the longest possible word is because she has an encyclopedic knowledge of the dictionary (having been doing the program for around twenty five years) and Rachel Riley who demonstrates the solution to the arithmetic problems, apparently without using a calculator or even pencil and paper, which is available to the contestants (they can't use calculators but do have pencil and paper). She has a 2:1 from Oriel College Oxford. Riley is pretty and blonde, which shouldn't matter, but this helps break down the notion that to be attractive a woman has to be a "dumb blonde". The same applies to Suzie Dent, who is also a graduate of Oxford in modern languages, and has a master's in German from Princeton.
  6. Standard member sonhouse
    Fast and Curious
    29 Jul '16 11:09
    Originally posted by Duchess64
    I am retired from solving Olympiad-type mathematical problems, which supposedly should
    make it easier for me to fulfill my natural biological functions (joke about a stereotype).
    Students are given several hours (in two days) on these problems, which is more work than I care to do.
    The 2016 IMO problems don't seem to be available yet in PDF form, though ...[text shortened]... nice to know
    that a young woman's mathematical ability can be recognized even in Saudi Arabia.
    Are you a mathematical historian or a historical mathematician?
  7. 29 Jul '16 18:20
    Originally posted by DeepThought
    Referring only to the UK team, I can give a partial explanation. Basically, in the UK immigrants tend to value education more highly. I can't give a very clear explanation for this, but there's an anti-intellectual undercurrent to British society which means the kids tend to enforce "not being teacher's pet" and so on on each other (at least tha ...[text shortened]... o is also a graduate of Oxford in modern languages, and has a master's in German from Princeton.
    "Coming from a different culture this doesn't apply to immigrants."
    --DeepThought

    It's more than that. In addition to being unlikely to be well-connected to the top in the UK,
    non-white immigrants also know that they cannot take advantage of institutional racism.
    In order to be treated as 'equals' to whites, they tend to need to perform significantly better.

    That does not explain, however, why immigrants from some cultures tend to perform
    better academically than immigrants from other cultures. In the USA, for instance,
    while ethnic Japanese do significantly better on average than whites in mathematics,
    almost none of the top students are ethnic Japanese, in contrast to ethnic Chinese.
    My hypothesis is that ethnic Japanese are more 'Americanized' culturally and have learned
    that it's easier to get rich by becoming an investment banker than a mathematician.
  8. 29 Jul '16 18:24
    Originally posted by sonhouse
    Are you a mathematical historian or a historical mathematician?
    GM John Nunn earned a DPhil in mathematics at Oxford and retired from mathematics in his mid-20s.
    I don't know to what extent he might regard himself as a mathematician today.
    But obviously he had no obligation to keep working in mathematics for his entire life.
  9. Standard member sonhouse
    Fast and Curious
    30 Jul '16 14:43
    Originally posted by Duchess64
    GM John Nunn earned a DPhil in mathematics at Oxford and retired from mathematics in his mid-20s.
    I don't know to what extent he might regard himself as a mathematician today.
    But obviously he had no obligation to keep working in mathematics for his entire life.
    And by extension from the tone of this post, also you, right? Do you consider yourself retired? You seem to have lived an exceptionally rich and gifted life and I would think you would think total retirement anathema to your life. I think you would just go after other goals. Maybe back to theater? Or never left?
  10. 31 Jul '16 23:23 / 1 edit
    Originally posted by sonhouse
    And by extension from the tone of this post, also you, right? Do you consider yourself retired? You seem to have lived an exceptionally rich and gifted life and I would think you would think total retirement anathema to your life. I think you would just go after other goals. Maybe back to theater? Or never left?
    I am no longer a teenager (when I was most interested in IMO-type problems), and I
    would feel silly if I attempted to act exactly like I was then. Life has inevitably changed
    me, even if I could almost squeeze into some of the clothes that I wore back then.

    My point is that even some exceptionally mathematically gifted people choose not to
    become professional mathematicians for the rest of their lives. Indeed, it seems to be
    becoming less common for someone to stick to the same career path from youth to retirement.

    Many participants in the IMOs don't choose careers in mathematics or even in the
    branches of science or engineering in which applied mathematics is important.
    A member of the one of the earliest US teams in the IMOs decided not even to major
    in mathematics as an undergraduate, preferring history instead. After decades of
    working outside mathematics, however, in his middle-age he returned to it and earned a PhD.
    By the way, one of his American teammates at the IMO did not get the opportunity to
    make any contribution to mathematics because he died in an accident soon after it.

    Some people used to scold me by telling me that if I finally decided to concentrate on
    only one field (out of several), then I had the potential (I wish!) for greatness in that field.
    I sincerely doubt that I could have become a great mathematician, though I could be
    technically clever sometimes, because I lacked confidence in my creative potential
    and, more importantly, I simply was not obsessed by it. It was not quite my passion.
    Even if I had most of what was needed for greatness, I felt that I did not have everything needed.
    And I lacked the ambition or the courage to work very hard unless I expected likely success.

    I cannot say if I made the 'right' choice or even if there objectively was a 'right' choice.
    I tended to enjoy exploring different fields (sometimes entering them by accident)
    and becoming fairly good (better than most more experienced people) without really
    making that much of an effort to develop my natural talent. I can say that I have become
    good enough to return the ball most of the time in my exchanges with professionals.

    In my view, one reason why fewer women become great in mathematics (or some other
    fields) is that women tend to be less obsessive than men. By culture, if not by nature,
    women seem better at multitasking, juggling several balls with only one pair of hands.
    It's not unusual for a young woman to have to make a practical choice between pursuing
    a PhD and having a baby, and if she unexpectedly falls pregnant, sometimes the choice
    is made for her if she feels unable to go through with an abortion. Looking back on
    their lives, do many women wish that they never had any children in order that they
    could have had more opportunities to pursue their intellectual or artistic careers?
    Andrew Wiles succeeded in proving (after building upon others' work) Fermat's Last Theorem
    because he spent seven years devoting his life to that quest, while his family's other needs
    were being care of. What would most people say of a woman who dared to make a similar decision?
    Most likely that she was insanely selfish or 'unnatural' in devoting her life to contemplating
    an abstraction rather than fulfilling herself though intimate matters of flesh-and-blood.

    As the shadows lengthen in my day, however, I am glad to know some people who admire,
    like, or even love me for being who I am, while not envying those women who may
    happen to be a bit smarter, wiser, or prettier--or much richer.
  11. Standard member sonhouse
    Fast and Curious
    02 Aug '16 09:25 / 2 edits
    Originally posted by Duchess64
    I am no longer a teenager (when I was most interested in IMO-type problems), and I
    would feel silly if I attempted to act exactly like I was then. Life has inevitably changed
    me, even if I could almost squeeze into some of the clothes that I wore back then.

    My point is that even some exceptionally mathematically gifted people choose not to
    become pr ...[text shortened]... ot envying those women who may
    happen to be a bit smarter, wiser, or prettier--or much richer.
    It's really funny the way you studiously avoid saying what you are, but expounding on what may have been!

    It reminds me a bit of the old SNL routine, Pat

    http://www.nbc.com/saturday-night-live/video/its-pat/n10133

    I hope you know I mean no disrespect!