Is math like guns?

A conversation about the tropes we use to talk about policy, responsibility, culture, and context.


  1. Like a lot of people, I've been eager to read Cathy O'Neil's exciting new book, Weapons of Math Destruction, about the "dark side of Big Data." It's a book that speaks to a lot of important themes from my research in the history of math, and from the work of a lot of scholars I care about. I finally had a chance to read the book cover to cover recently, and have also been following the raft of commentary that other readers have been putting online.
  2. Emily Redman (whom you should definitely follow on twitter) shared an article by A.R. Champneys that talked about O'Neil's book, but was careful to declare that "the nub of the problem is not that mathematics is to blame, but that in our quantitative world there is often a lack of mathematical understanding among those who are blindly using formulae derived by the experts."
  3. That got me thinking: why are we so eager to declare that math itself is innocent? Where have we heard this before?

  4. That's when Gizem Karaali (whom you should also definitely follow on twitter!) chimed in. Here's the conversation, which I hope is as thought-provoking for you as it was for me!