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Science Forum

  1. 13 Aug '14 20:35
    Some of you may know now by now (a thread was created in the Debates forum)
    that Maryam Mirzhakhani (age 37), a professor at Stanford University, has
    become the first woman to win a Fields Medal. She was born and grew up
    in Iran, and she had expected to pursue a literary rather than a mathematical
    career until she nearly completed high school in Tehran.

    Here are the team results from the recently completed 2014 International
    Mathematical Olympiad in Cape Town, South Africa:

    1) China (As usual, China dominates the IMOs.)
    2) USA (4 of the 6 team members were ethnic Chinese)
    3) Taiwan (which finished 8th in the last IMO)
    4) Russia
    5) Japan (an unusually strong performance)
    6) Ukraine
    7) ROK (South Korea) (quite a disappointing performance)
    8) Singapore (its team was completely ethnic Chinese)
    9) Canada (4 of the 6 team members were ethnic Chinese)
    10) Vietnam
    11) Australia (with 3 Chinese and 2 Indian team members)
    11) Romania (tied with Australia)
    13) Netherlands (an extraordinarily strong performance)
    14) DPRK (North Korea) (a disappointing performance)
    15) Hungary
    16) Germany
    17) Turkey
    18) Hong Kong (its team was completely ethnic Chinese)
    18) Israel (tied with Hong Kong)
    20) UK (3 of the 6 team members were ethnic Chinese)
    21) Iran
    21) Thailand (tied with Iran)

    As usual, the top teams consist of East Asians (particularly Chinese, 16 of the
    18 members of the top three teams were ethnic Chinese) and eastern Europeans.
    One may note that a country's population size is not the most important factor
    relating to success at the IMO. India finished in a disappointing 39th place,
    while small 'city-states' like Singapore and Hong Kong finished ahead of the
    UK (their former colonial master). And one may note that affluent Western
    societies tended to have mediocre results (e.g. France finished in 45th place).

    So why do eastern Europeans tend to do better than wealthier western Europeans?
    And why do East Asians (particularly Chinese) usually do the best of all?
    In my view, mathematical competitions appeal more strongly to students
    in some cultures, less to non-Asian students in affluent Western societies.
  2. 13 Aug '14 20:48
    Originally posted by Duchess64
    So why do eastern Europeans tend to do better than wealthier western Europeans?
    And why do East Asians (particularly Chinese) usually do the best of all?
    Its cultural and has to do with how important school is to the parents. In Zambia school is considered very important and the dream job is Engineering or something in the sciences at least. So from a very early age, maths is prized by both the children and parents.
    Here in South Africa, maths has far less importance both to children and parents. There is much more acceptance of non-scientific careers, and schools even allow children to drop maths altogether and they do something called 'maths literacy' instead - whereas learning two languages seems to be more important. In Zambia, although many children fail maths, you cannot go to school and not have maths as one of your subjects.
  3. 13 Aug '14 21:06 / 2 edits
    Originally posted by twhitehead
    Its cultural and has to do with how important school is to the parents. In Zambia school is considered very important and the dream job is Engineering or something in the sciences at least. So from a very early age, maths is prized by both the children and parents.
    Here in South Africa, maths has far less importance both to children and parents. There is ...[text shortened]... gh many children fail maths, you cannot go to school and not have maths as one of your subjects.
    "Its cultural and has to do with how important school is to the parents."
    --Twhitehead

    In my experience, even advanced mathematics in school have little or no
    relation to Olympiad-type problems. My parents knew hardly anything about
    mathematics and did not encourage me to participate in maths competitions.
    An outstanding teacher (for every other student), who was a good friend
    of mine, told me that she regretted that she could not give me close to the
    level of coaching that I needed, and Moscow was too far away for me.

    I wish that I could tell you about Zambia's results at the IMO, but I can find
    no evidence that Zambia ever has participated in an IMO, even in 2014.
    The host South African team finished in 64th place. (4 of its 6 team members
    seem to be of Asian (South or East) heritage.) Nigeria, the most populous
    country in Africa, finished in 82nd place. Uganda and Zimbabwe finished in
    a tie for 94th place; Tanzania finished in 98th.
  4. 14 Aug '14 06:41
    Originally posted by Duchess64
    In my experience, even advanced mathematics in school have little or no
    relation to Olympiad-type problems.
    Yes, but you would never enter an Olympiad if you didn't do any mathematics in school.

    I wish that I could tell you about Zambia's results at the IMO, but I can find
    no evidence that Zambia ever has participated in an IMO, even in 2014.

    Zambia is a very poor country. Many children do not even get to finish school due to lack of facilities.
    Zambia did not participate in the International Olympiad, I do not know why.
    I never even heard of it until this year. It was not mentioned when I was in school.

    The host South African team finished in 64th place. (4 of its 6 team members
    seem to be of Asian (South or East) heritage.)

    At my sons school it is well known amongst the children that Asian kids work harder and do better on average. And by 'Asian' I mean those who have recently come from Asia, not South Africans of Asian descent.
  5. 14 Aug '14 06:51
    I think, and this is only my thoughts nothing more, is that basic math is a cheap hobby in a poor country. When you start to study it, you don't need a lot of expensive stuff, you use your brain, some books, and that's it. When you are discovered by the universities mathematical faculty (provided that there are such in the particular country) you get mentors and support. And if you are of the right stuff you begin to produce new ideas in the field of mathematics that interests you.

    India has produced some highly skilled mathematicians, so have Soviet, Japan and others when their times were hard. Brazil has produced football players of the same reasons mentioned above. Soviet has been dominant in chess for ages, etc...

    I don't say that this is the ultimate truth, but it is food for mind.
  6. 14 Aug '14 07:09
    Originally posted by FabianFnas
    I think, and this is only my thoughts nothing more, is that basic math is a cheap hobby in a poor country.
    Keeping in mind of course that even though it is relatively cheap it is still beyond the means of the poorest people.
  7. 14 Aug '14 08:35
    Originally posted by twhitehead
    Keeping in mind of course that even though it is relatively cheap it is still beyond the means of the poorest people.
    Yes, of course. India is a poor country, and yet there are many contributors in the field of math. Srinivasa Ramanujan wasn't perhaps poor but he had a talented from young age. He is my favourite.
  8. 14 Aug '14 18:59
    Originally posted by FabianFnas
    I think, and this is only my thoughts nothing more, is that basic math is a cheap hobby in a poor country. When you start to study it, you don't need a lot of expensive stuff, you use your brain, some books, and that's it. When you are discovered by the universities mathematical faculty (provided that there are such in the particular country) you get ment ...[text shortened]... chess for ages, etc...

    I don't say that this is the ultimate truth, but it is food for mind.
    "When you start to study it (mathematics), you don't need a lot of
    expensive stuff..."
    --FabianFnas

    That's why my father approved of me studying mathematics; he preferred
    to avoid 'wasting' money (including buying new pencils) on my education.
    Mathematics was a way of empowering a less privileged child like myself.

    "When you are discovered ... you get mentors and support."
    --FabianFnas

    That depends upon several factors, including one's location (at least in a time
    before the internet) and the extent of one's family's connections and support.
    Not every family's willing to send a child alone across the country to a
    special school (if one exists) for exceptionally mathematically gifted youth.
  9. 14 Aug '14 19:06
    Originally posted by FabianFnas to Twhitehead
    Yes, of course. India is a poor country, and yet there are many contributors in the field of math. Srinivasa Ramanujan wasn't perhaps poor but he had a talented from young age. He is my favourite.
    "India is a poor country..."
    --FabianFnas

    India's a society with extreme differences between the rich and the poor.

    "...yet there are many contributors in the field of math."
    --FabianFnas

    While I have great admiration for Ramanujan, I have to say that India never
    has done particularly well at the International Mathematical Olympiads, with
    a 7th place finish (twice) as its best result. India finished 39th at the 2014 IMO.
  10. 15 Aug '14 02:17
    How did black participants do?
  11. 15 Aug '14 16:05
    Originally posted by Eladar
    How did black participants do?
    Of course when I say black, I mean African blacks.
  12. Standard member sonhouse
    Fast and Curious
    15 Aug '14 16:59
    Originally posted by Eladar
    Of course when I say black, I mean African blacks.
    The problem is this: when you have a large population that can't get an education, like the US 200 years ago or Africa today, you are going to be missing, not finding, a genius buried in that crowd. Some of them will find a way to make themselves known, like the kid, I think in Nigeria, who tinkers with wind generators, using car alternators, that kind was like, 14 years old and his own ambition drove him into prominence. But other kids may not have that motivation and be hidden out and never found to be genius level till way too late, they find out a guy or girl is genius at age 40, its a bit too late to have an effective education. You know that from playing chess, like me, I learned to play when I was 18 in college. All I ever got to was grade B, like 1700 USCF. If I had learned when I was 8 and had proper coaching, it would be a different story, I could be at least an IM but at 18 with no coaching, too bad for me and chess.

    Same with almost any other discipline. Especially the sciences.
  13. 15 Aug '14 18:09 / 1 edit
    Originally posted by Eladar
    Of course when I say black, I mean African blacks.
    Just the facts (101 countries participated in the 2014 IMO in South Africa):
    South Africa was the best of the African countries, finishing in a tie (with Ireland)
    for 64th place. (The South African team apparently consisted of 3 South
    Asian, 1 East Asian, and 2 white students.) Nigeria (Africa's most populous
    country) finished in a tie (with Trinidad and Tobago) for 82nd place.
    Nigeria's team was 'all black'; one Nigerian won an individual bronze medal.
    Burkina Faso (with another 'all black' team) finished in a tie (with Ecuador)
    for 89th place. 7 out of 8 bottom teams (along with Bolivia) were from
    African countries.

    It may be worth noting that 7 of the black African participants were women,
    which might show that any traditional prejudice against higher education
    for women seems to be diminishing. In earlier IMOs, as I recall, women from
    countries such as China, Russia, and Iran have won individual gold medals.
  14. 15 Aug '14 18:18
    Originally posted by sonhouse to Eladar
    The problem is this: when you have a large population that can't get an education, like the US 200 years ago or Africa today, you are going to be missing, not finding, a genius buried in that crowd. Some of them will find a way to make themselves known, like the kid, I think in Nigeria, who tinkers with wind generators, using car alternators, that ...[text shortened]... ng, too bad for me and chess.

    Same with almost any other discipline. Especially the sciences.
    "If I had learned when I was 8 and had proper coaching, it would be a
    different story, I could be at least an IM..."
    --Sonhouse

    I have to say that seems much too naively optimistic for Sonhouse.
    Some friends or acquaintances of mine were selected on the basis of their
    perceived talents to attend chess schools in the USSR. While some of them
    liked to claim that they once were almost IM level in strength, that was not
    true when I played (and usually defeated) them. None of them ever earned
    an IM title, though that may be partly on account of a lack of international
    tournament opportunities in the USSR (or later in Russia).

    "...but at 18 with no coaching, too bad for me and chess."
    --Sonhouse

    It's quite possible for a person who has begun learning chess at age 18
    to become much stronger than '1700 USCF' without any formal coaching.
  15. 15 Aug '14 18:47
    Originally posted by sonhouse
    The problem is this: when you have a large population that can't get an education, like the US 200 years ago or Africa today, you are going to be missing, not finding, a genius buried in that crowd. Some of them will find a way to make themselves known, like the kid, I think in Nigeria, who tinkers with wind generators, using car alternators, that kind was ...[text shortened]... ng, too bad for me and chess.

    Same with almost any other discipline. Especially the sciences.
    Yeah well you can rationalize just about anything can't you.

    If race is good enough to be a discussion topic in the original post when it comes to Asian kids, then why not blacks?