Mathematics and Biology: E.O. Wilson’s opinion

Great Scientist ≠ Good at Math

For many young people who aspire to be scientists, the great bugbear is mathematics. Without advanced math, how can you do serious work in the sciences? Well, I have a professional secret to share: Many of the most successful scientists in the world today are mathematically no more than semiliterate.

Update: Don’t listen to E.O. Wilson by Edward Frenkel

It would be fine if Wilson restricted the article to his personal experience, a career path that is obsolete for a modern student of biology. We could then discuss the real question, which is how to improve our math education and to eradicate the fear of mathematics that he is talking about. Instead, trading on that fear, Wilson gives a misinformed advice to the next generation, and in particular to future scientists, to eschew mathematics. This is not just misguided and counterproductive; coming from a leading scientist like him, it is a disgrace. Don’t follow this advice—it’s a self-extinguishing strategy.


About Artem Novozhilov

I am an applied mathematician interested in studying various evolutionary processes by means of mathematical models. More on my professional activities can be found on my page
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2 Responses to Mathematics and Biology: E.O. Wilson’s opinion

  1. I was pretty disappointed with Wilson’s article, although not surprised. The widespread math-phobia in biology… well… scares me. There is a nice discussion and commentary on this at Dynamics Ecology by Jeremy Fox and more recently by Brian McGill. It is also interesting to see the wide differences in reaction to this article on places like reddit, with more math-minded communities dragging it through the dirt while ecologists/biologist tend to support it.

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