Everybody's Mad About Math

Everybody's Mad About Math

By Dr. Eugene Maier

While looking through my files the other day I came across the results of a research project I undertook a number of years ago. I never published the results—my project protocol wouldn't meet the stringent conditions that publication requires—but the information I gathered points to an irrefutable conclusion: everybody's mad about math.

It's something I had suspected for a long time, and I wanted evidence to support my belief. Hence the study.

The design was straightforward. My copy of Webster's—at least the one I had at the time I concocted the study—listed ten different meanings of the word "mad". So I made up a checklist containing these ten meanings, in the order given in the dictionary, and gave it to students and other audiences and asked them to check all that applied to them. Here's the list:

Check each word that applies. When I do math, I become:

INSANE ______

SENSELESS _____

ILLOGICAL ______

FURIOUS _____

ANGRY _____

ENRAPTURED _____

RABID _____

HILARIOUS _____

FRANTIC _____

WILD _____

Since everyone who participated in the study found something to check, the obvious conclusion is that everybody's mad about math. But not in the same way. Here are the percentages of checks each item received.

INSANE 10%

SENSELESS 8%

ILLOGICAL 10%

FURIOUS 15%

ANGRY 18%

ENRAPTURED 8%

RABID 2%

HILARIOUS 2%

FRANTIC 22%

WILD 5%

Although my study may lack scientific stature, it does give us math purveyors a glimpse at the mood of our customers. A third of the responses indicate that math makes many simply downright mad: furious, angry. Over a quarter of the responses point to pleads of insanity—math makes people crazy mad: insane, illogical, senseless. Another third of the responses speaks of giddiness: in the presence of math, people turn foolishly and frenetically mad: rabid, hilarious, frantic, wild.

Only a small fraction of the responses indicate the madness of enthusiasm and desire—as in "I'm just mad about Mary (or Maury)"—only one in a dozen responses indicates the rapture of the math enthusiast. Which raises the question: Why is this response so paltry? You could conduct a follow-up study to research the matter. Unless, of course, you already know the answer.