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Discussion > Is Maths the 'Be All and End All' of Science?

As many have pointed out, communication is actually quite hard when discussing say mathematics if the discussion group are not all mathematicians. I suggest a solution even though BYJ shows no signs of accepting it :(
If we all agreed on a dictionary that would be used to adjudicate when the meaning of words/terms are disputed then that would be the accepted 'bible'.
However if a person who was an expert in the subject (BYJ in mathematics or physics) still disputes a meaning then they simply quote a reference to support their alternative.
Discussions will be pointless unless we can agree on a solution.

Mar 5, 2016 at 2:34 PM | Registered CommenterDung

The OED defines taxonomy thus.

°The branch of science concerned with classification, especially of organisms; systematics."

Dr. Simpson, who taught my undergraduate taxonomy class 40 years ago, would have been rather surprised to discover that she was not a scientist. Come to think of it, so would the rest of the biology department.

Mar 5, 2016 at 7:03 PM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic man

A 'good' and 'useful' expert is one who can explain complex matters to non-experts.

If you are the worlds greatest expert who can not explain your subject then you are not totally useful to the world.

You will have some use but not as much as a 'great explainer'.

Mar 5, 2016 at 8:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterSteve Richards


You remind me of Ernest Rutherford, who said

"All science is either physics or stamp collecting."

Mar 5, 2016 at 1:52 PM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic man

Well EM I was going to say that but you beat me to it. My recollection was that he said something a bit different: "Physics is the real science; the rest is just stamp collecting". I can see what he was on about and in some senses physics has to be the pinnacle of human intellectual achievement. But fundamentally it's an ignorant statement.

And when he said "If you can't explain your physics to a barmaid it is probably not very good physics" he was simply talking bollocks.

In contrast to Rutherford and his barmaid, Richard Feynman is said to have said to a reporter who asked him to explain in five minutes what he was awarded the Nobel prize for "Listen Bud; if it could be explained in five minutes, it would not have been worth the Nobel prize".

For me, science is at least the use of objective observation to understand and describe the world. A step up from that is the use of the scientific method to test hypotheses about how the world works. Some branches of science simply could not exist without the use of mathematics to formulate hypotheses. But I disagree completely with the notion "if it does not use maths, it's not science".

Mar 5, 2016 at 9:14 PM | Unregistered CommenterMartin A

Please read TBYJ post carefully. He said that all science boils down to mathematics; taxonomy is merely labelling the mathematics in everyday language; to study taxonomy is as scientific as studying the movement of electrons in a plasma field (or whatever) – measurements and observations have to be made, the resulting numbers crunched. It is the crunching of the numbers that is the science; separating the wheat from the chaff, so to speak. What is so difficult about accepting that? Your colleague, Dr Simpson, EM, is as much a scientist as Dr Rutherford; while she may not have said that she was crunching numbers, that is what she was doing. In today’s biology, mathematics is probably even more obvious, as the DNA structure of organisms is analysed to fully establish their correct taxonomic label: Erithacus rubecula could well be labelled with a complex DNA formulation, though we do prefer to call it a robin.

Mar 5, 2016 at 9:35 PM | Registered CommenterRadical Rodent

RR I think you had all the crunch points in your post even though I do not agree with you ^.^
Firstly I seriously do not agree that all science boils down to mathematics, secondly you said "Dr Rutherford; while she may not have said that she was crunching numbers, that is what she was doing" and "It is the crunching of the numbers that is the science"
the "boils down to" phrase was the most important for me though.
If there is no hypothesis there is no need for any mathematics.
If there is no human inspiration, there is no hypothesis.
The laws of gravity exist because Newton realised that there must be forces at work which we had not previously considered. Oh indeed much mathematics was involved in the development and quantification of those laws but it started with a spark in the human mind and not with mathematics.
I would say that science can not exist without human observation and inspiration but it can not be developed without mathematics.

Mar 5, 2016 at 11:05 PM | Registered CommenterDung

Science comes from our imagination. An imagination as a catalyst for ideas.

Science is knowledge.

And this knowledge is solely a function of humans. Uniquely human. If the planet blows up tomorrow science disappears. The knowledge disappears.

Our brain takes the information it has, somehow processes it and our imagination drives us to makes sense of our world. A uniquely human trait.

That is the only fact about science. Science is imagination. EVERY scientific thought is just ONE person's brain having an idea. The taking of that idea and converting it into a form that others can understand is the scientific process. Be it working in cellar creating a prototype, be talking it over coffee with just one other person. As soon as another human being in some is altered by that idea, in whatever way, that is science.

Science is just throwing the seeds of ideas.

Talk about the scientifc method? This process is the scientiic method. Just because people document a methodology, and a whole learning universe is created around it, doesn't mean the method didn't exist on its own. Methodology comes from us, reflects us, how we collect knowledge, not the other way around.

These ideas we have attempt to fill the gap between complete understanding of our universe (you can call it God if want) and where we are now. For some reason we have an intellectual capacity far in excess of the needs to lead a animal life. Religion beliefs is a just a way for our intellect to fill that gap. People want to take short cuts to the end. People want to say journey is complete, when in fact we haven't really started.

You could say the only true religion is science, but that is different subject.

Maths? Maths is a constant of our universe. We take advantage of it to help us throw the seeds of ideas.

Science is ideas sowing.

Mar 6, 2016 at 5:59 AM | Unregistered CommenterMedia Hoar

No, not a Rocket Scientist either, That book was a standard when I was at college for anyone doing a "technical" course. There was a good trade in second hand copies, it was the Ford Escort of text books, there was also a standard Maths text book but I cannot remember what it was called. I'm well out of date now though, when I was using the Physics text book Quarks were just a theory and there were only supposed to be three.

Mar 6, 2016 at 8:07 AM | Unregistered CommenterSandyS


You must have done your A Levels back when they were more like today's 1st year university courses ^.^

Mar 6, 2016 at 9:48 AM | Registered CommenterDung


Watch this short video and tell me how many branches of science the little girl has already mastered and tell me that she is doing the required maths on the fly.

Mar 7, 2016 at 3:25 AM | Registered CommenterDung

Media Hoar

"People want to take short cuts to the end. People want to say journey is complete, when in fact we haven't really started"

That is a perfect explanation of the state of human knowledge about our climate ^.^

Mar 7, 2016 at 3:33 AM | Registered CommenterDung

Mar 5, 2016 at 7:03 PM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic man

Re Taxonomy; I think I realise our problem now, BYJ's personal method of defining "Science?" is to say that if it does not involve mathematics then it is not Science, hence all Science must contain mathematics. I do not accept BYJ's personal definition unless he can give some rock solid references.

Mar 7, 2016 at 3:44 AM | Registered CommenterDung

I have been reading a great deal about science and mathematics and the relationship between the two.
I can find no definition of science that requires mathematics and I can find many that specifically exclude mathematics and however much BYJ wants to ignore it; semantics plays a huge part here.
The most common definitions of science are drawn from the scientific method and therefore must be based on observations of the physical or natural world and that hypotheses drawn from the observations must be falsifiable by evidence to the contrary.
Mathematics is often excluded from science because it is not based on the scientific method.

Based on everything I have read I would say that BYJ's statements are unsupported.

Mar 7, 2016 at 4:47 AM | Registered CommenterDung

Dung and Raff. You have an opinion, and that's great. But not all opinions are equal.

As people with little or no scientific training, you are non-combatants. Bystanders. Chumps.
As I would be in the myriad specialist areas I have no particular knowledge of.

You both coming on here trying to define scientific terms is like me bursting into a brain
surgery and trying to tell the surgeon where to stab the scalpel.

I would be told where to go. And quite rightly.

Ditto for you two.

Mar 7, 2016 at 9:14 AM | Unregistered CommenterTheBigYinJames


If only scientists can discuss the nature of science, then only TinyCO2, myself and thee would be able to debate the matter here.This is an open forum and all are entitled to express an opinion. I would agree that an expert opinion should probably be given more weight, but that is a judgement call for each reader to make, not something for you to enforce.


Even taxonomy has become much more mathematical since my day, with the onset of cladistics, numerical taxonomy and phenetics. Most recent of course is bioinformatics and comparative analysis of DNA sequences.

Mathematics has become almost universal asscientific tool. Offhand, I cannot think of a branch of science which does not use mathematics, but I am not happy with using use of mathematics as the defining feature of science.

It smacks of logical fallacies such as

All carpenters use chisels.
Fred is using a saw.
Therefore Fred is not a carpenter.

There is also the problem that accountants and economists use mathematics. Does that make them scoentists?

Mar 7, 2016 at 12:54 PM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic man


you're falling for a fallacy of your own.

"Scientists sometimes do taxonomy, therefore taxonomy is science."

If you look back in the mists of time on the other thread I didn't say science WAS maths, although the rambling which came afterwards implied I had. I actually said "there is no science without maths". There is also no science without taxonomy. I wasn't belittling taxonomy either, it's an essential pre-cursor to science. Mathematics is an essential tool of science, there is almost no area of modem science which avoids using its power.

But neither of them ARE science. I never claimed it.

Incidentally, I wasn't saying only scientists can talk about science, but we are discussing the very nature of the scientific endeavour, defining its terms and content, and I am right to assert that people's opinions should be weighted by the amount of knowledge, education, training and professional experience of the area.

Both Dung and Raff are quick to assert their right to an opinion, but both of them are mere cheerleaders who have attached themselves to opposite sides of a real scientific controversy without having the credentials to justify their position. Raff always includes himself in the lists of "people on the side" along with you and ATTP, completely without justification in my opinion. He is a mere hanger-on, having chosen a tribe to side with, not arrived as a scientific conclusion after careful study. Dung is similar on this side, he's determined he is cheering for the "right" side but has no scientific evidence to back him up, which his why he cheers the various really poor "slayer" type of articles when they come along.

Both the "warmer" and "skeptic" side are riddled with these people - no science to back up their claims, they've just chosen a side which suits their aesthetic, and they are unusually the ones shouting the loudest and causing the greatest amount of acrimony. If you compares your and my view of the science, it's possible we're 99% I agreement, and we would both concede that the remaining 1% still contains doubt. There is some actual real room for debate, but we never hear that because the loudmouths shut down dialog with their tribal shouting.

Mar 7, 2016 at 1:17 PM | Unregistered CommenterTheBigYinJames

Yin, your degree in web design, or whatever it is you do, doesn't make you an authority on science. I don't feel my friend is any less a scientist because a guy who's a whizz with Wordpress plugins says collecting and analyzing isn't enough - he needs to start hypothesizing or theorizing before he makes it. Scientific knowledge has accumulated over centuries and many of its early proponents were probably just interested or even obsessed in collecting and categorizing and analyzing. Your opinion of that as non-science is demeaning to them but is appropriate to your level of hubris.

Mar 7, 2016 at 1:33 PM | Unregistered CommenterRaff

Yin, your degree in web design, or whatever it is you do, doesn't make you an authority on science.

Web design didn't exist when I did my degrees.

My degrees are in electronic materials, which is the physics of the types of semiconductors used in the machines you are typing your replies on. My degrees are all Science degrees, hard science, thousands of lab hours over years of study, which included mathematics and physics to undergraduate degree level, and many specialist subjects on top of this, including courses on programming. The web was just a glint in Tim Berners-Lee's eye.

I then went in to spend seven years working in the R&D department of a large technology company. During that time I got playing with the very early pre-web days of the internet, and was given the job of maintaining the group's internal web presence. As the web took off, I moved into the internet area within the same company, and eventually left to set up companies of my own, which for the last 15 years have subcontracted to larger companies, university departments, a few MoD manufacturers looking for bespoke control systems, middleware, intranet and extranet applications. I spend most of my time designing n-tier data layers, appraising emerging technology, and managing the contractual side of the company, and of course spending the money. I don't do any web design, I'm not very good at it, I have people who do that.

So, I'm not using my Science degrees, but most people except academics, don't. Internet is where the money is.
Thanks for showing an interest in my résumé. I'm available for Bar Mitzvahs.

As I said in my previous reply to EM, I was not berating or demeaning taxonomy. Much of it is done by scientists. The work done on top of taxonomy is excellent science, but the job of taxonomy is not science., just like the job of setting up the test tubes is not chemistry, and the job of marking student exam papers is not physics. Not everything that a scientist does as part of his job is actually science.

Mar 7, 2016 at 2:01 PM | Unregistered CommenterTheBigYinJames


BYJ I have all the credentials I need to take part in the climate debate so if you would like to tell me what I lack then I can enlighten you.

This particular discussion we are having is based on a statement you have made which many have disputed, including MartinA who is himself a mathematician. You have not supported your statement in any way and feel no need to do so. This says a great deal about you.
For some reason you have started to lump me in a group with Raff, ATTP and Entropic Man, they will all tell you that I have spent hours arguing with them and suggested they should be ignored or banned. However I am proud to group with them when they dispute your ridiculous, unproven, unsupported, personal definition of science (with or without a capital S).

Mar 7, 2016 at 2:08 PM | Registered CommenterDung


The OED defines science thus.

1The intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behaviour of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment.

That definition encompasses the whole process from observation and data collection to inductive reasoning, what is loosly described as the scientific method.

I tend to see science mostly as an attitude of mind, a desire to know more about physical reality. Any activity which contributes to that goal is part of science. For me the core of that definition is "systematic study", being rigoursly objective in observation and putting aside ones own beliefs, seeing what the data tells you. As you know, that is bloody difficult!☺

Your own approach would seem to stress the inductive reasoning aspect of science and downgrade the structure of which it is the pinnacle, the same rather arrogant attitude of that theoretical physicist Ernest Rutherford. You need the same intellectual rigour throughout the process.

Of course, not all scientists are talented in the same ways. I knew a brilliant field biologist who could be relied on to find and identify almost every organism in an ecosystem. Another had expertise in laboratory analysis. Their colleague was brilliant at inducing the energy and nutrient flows in the same ecosystem, but was as practical as a chocolate teapot. To produce the final understanding they were all necessary.

Mar 7, 2016 at 2:21 PM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic man

Being necessary doesn't mean you take part. The janitor who opens the factory gate in the morning is necessary, and without him opening the gate, no widgets get created that day... but that doesn't mean he is responsible for the widgets.


For some reason you have started to lump me in a group with Raff, ATTP and Entropic Man

If only you would actually read what I wrote.

I am only lumping you in with Raff. Although disagreeing with ATTP and EM on a few things, they at least have skin in the game. You and Raff do not. You are noise.

Mar 7, 2016 at 2:49 PM | Unregistered CommenterTheBigYinJames

Front up BYJ

BYJ I have all the credentials I need to take part in the climate debate so if you would like to tell me what I lack then I can enlighten you.

"skin in the game"?

Your current behaviour is worse than trolling; you are just name calling and abusive and you are not answering straightforward questions such as to give any scientific support for your claim that all science involves maths. Oh dear BYJ how the mighty are fallen.

Mar 7, 2016 at 3:15 PM | Registered CommenterDung


would you please respond to the question that is the title of the thread, otherwise please raise the tone here by commenting on some other unsuspecting thread.

Mar 7, 2016 at 3:31 PM | Registered CommenterDung

Dung, you invited me here by creating this thread and targeting me in it. I had already answered that question on the other thread. You didn't like the answer. The name of the thread is taken almost verbatim from a reply of yours to a point made by me. Your intention for this thread was to garner support for your position, and heap ridicule on me.

Don't play the OT card now things haven't gone your way.

Mar 7, 2016 at 3:55 PM | Unregistered CommenterTheBigYinJames


would you please respond to the question that is the title of the thread, otherwise please raise the tone here by commenting on some other unsuspecting thread.

Mar 7, 2016 at 3:31 PM | Registered CommenterDung

Mar 7, 2016 at 4:14 PM | Registered CommenterDung