# Chinese chemists will eat us all

April 25, 2007 4:53 AM Subscribe

Win £500 from the Royal Society of Chemistry (or a place on a Chinese science undergraduate course) if your math skills are up to it.

I'd rather win $1,000,000 for solving one of the Millennium Problems, particularly the Riemann (that's REEEman) Hypothesis.

* Birch and Swinnerton-Dyer Conjecture

* Hodge Conjecture

* Navier-Stokes Equations

* P vs NP

* Poincaré Conjecture

* Riemann Hypothesis

* Yang-Mills Theory

posted by chuckdarwin at 5:05 AM on April 25, 2007

* Birch and Swinnerton-Dyer Conjecture

* Hodge Conjecture

* Navier-Stokes Equations

* P vs NP

* Poincaré Conjecture

* Riemann Hypothesis

* Yang-Mills Theory

posted by chuckdarwin at 5:05 AM on April 25, 2007

I'm a bit bemused by them saying, "science undergraduates in England are likely not to have studied maths beyond GCSE level at the age of 16".

At my school Maths was compulsory at AS-level (well, the Scottish equivalent). At A-Level , everyone who wanted to go on to study a scientific subject at uni took three subjects out of Maths, Biology, Chemistry or Physics. Perhaps if you use a very loose definition of the word 'science' or an even looser definition of the word 'university' you could claim that most science undergrads only have GCSE maths, but otherwise I can't see how it's true.

posted by Aloysius Bear at 5:07 AM on April 25, 2007

At my school Maths was compulsory at AS-level (well, the Scottish equivalent). At A-Level , everyone who wanted to go on to study a scientific subject at uni took three subjects out of Maths, Biology, Chemistry or Physics. Perhaps if you use a very loose definition of the word 'science' or an even looser definition of the word 'university' you could claim that most science undergrads only have GCSE maths, but otherwise I can't see how it's true.

posted by Aloysius Bear at 5:07 AM on April 25, 2007

Interesting conflict between the alleged preparation of the chinese students and the attempts to censor the net by their current government.

I don't think any censoring would last long..unless of course they convince such kind of students that it is unamer...ehm..unchinese to say war somewhere is wrong.

I only WISH I had better math teachers....people with a strong math preparation yet not alienated or completely psycologically not prepared to teach.

posted by elpapacito at 5:07 AM on April 25, 2007

I don't think any censoring would last long..unless of course they convince such kind of students that it is unamer...ehm..unchinese to say war somewhere is wrong.

I only WISH I had better math teachers....people with a strong math preparation yet not alienated or completely psycologically not prepared to teach.

posted by elpapacito at 5:07 AM on April 25, 2007

Yeah, no doubt Chinese teaching in maths is better than the UK, where it could definitely do better. But it's also pretty depressing that the Royal Society of Chemistry can't tell the difference between an entrance exam (meant to be very hard) and a test designed to see if anybody has severe problems with maths (and so is designed to be fairly easy). It's an entirely false comparison, and it's been pissing me off every time I've seen this story today. Hello, Mr Chalk, I'm Mr Cheese.

posted by flashboy at 5:27 AM on April 25, 2007 [2 favorites]

posted by flashboy at 5:27 AM on April 25, 2007 [2 favorites]

Oh man, chuckdarwin knows the name of lots of math problems. He must be extra smart!

posted by thirteenkiller at 5:28 AM on April 25, 2007

posted by thirteenkiller at 5:28 AM on April 25, 2007

It's worth noting that these problems aren't that hard per se, they just require really well developed technical ability. You use roughly the same set of identities in the two sets of questions, except 20 times over in the first set.

I've taken some theoretical math courses as an undergrad. It's interesting to note that chinese kids tended not to do better then anyone else. Where I've tended to see educated-in-china kids do really well is in any sort of applied mathematics scenario - e.g. physics, computer science, etc.

The techniques that are considered sophisticated to a lot of the class are second nature to these guys. These lines up with my experience that you don't actually see as many native chinese/orientals in math grad departments as you might suspect.

When it comes to actual mathematics, everyone's on a much more level playing field - it's too much of an art. When it comes to application, though, a lot of countries are wiping the floor with english speakers, and deservedly so. There's a lot of things - social stigma, quality/style of education - which are seriously undermining math ability in english speaking countries.

posted by Alex404 at 5:29 AM on April 25, 2007

I've taken some theoretical math courses as an undergrad. It's interesting to note that chinese kids tended not to do better then anyone else. Where I've tended to see educated-in-china kids do really well is in any sort of applied mathematics scenario - e.g. physics, computer science, etc.

The techniques that are considered sophisticated to a lot of the class are second nature to these guys. These lines up with my experience that you don't actually see as many native chinese/orientals in math grad departments as you might suspect.

When it comes to actual mathematics, everyone's on a much more level playing field - it's too much of an art. When it comes to application, though, a lot of countries are wiping the floor with english speakers, and deservedly so. There's a lot of things - social stigma, quality/style of education - which are seriously undermining math ability in english speaking countries.

posted by Alex404 at 5:29 AM on April 25, 2007

Also, thanks flashboy. That makes takes the english speaking test a lot less depressing. Stupid journalists.

posted by Alex404 at 5:31 AM on April 25, 2007

posted by Alex404 at 5:31 AM on April 25, 2007

Those two problems cover the same subject matter. The first question is "harder" but if you can answer the second you should be able to answer the first, I would hope. It would just take longer.

posted by delmoi at 5:34 AM on April 25, 2007

posted by delmoi at 5:34 AM on April 25, 2007

thirteenkiller - If I were extra smart, I'd solve one of the fucking things (which was my original point).

posted by chuckdarwin at 5:34 AM on April 25, 2007

posted by chuckdarwin at 5:34 AM on April 25, 2007

*Finally*, my Further Maths A-level is actually going to earn me some cash.

posted by chrismear at 5:35 AM on April 25, 2007

Oh on a side note ... most people never meet college level calculus , but how many know what is the difference between having your money treated with this equation

and with this one

where t=number of years and i=annual interest rate

in any bank contract ?

posted by elpapacito at 5:42 AM on April 25, 2007

*W=money(1+it)*and with this one

*W=money(1+i)^t*where t=number of years and i=annual interest rate

in any bank contract ?

posted by elpapacito at 5:42 AM on April 25, 2007

elpapacito: There is no difference. Any bank that tries the first one on me isn't going to have me as a customer for t>1.

posted by edd at 5:45 AM on April 25, 2007

posted by edd at 5:45 AM on April 25, 2007

If I could only find an abacus that uses RPN, I'd be set.

posted by three blind mice at 5:49 AM on April 25, 2007

posted by three blind mice at 5:49 AM on April 25, 2007

Alex404, maybe you are talking about the cram school phenomenon. Applied mathematics is definitely amenable to rote memorization, and that's honestly not a slight against the students who have put in the time and effort (and money) to do the cramming. But I do have a theory that the best mathematics departments are the ones which fail the most Asian candidates :)

Right you lot, that's enough chit-chat, I want to see some solutions! Remember to show your working.

posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 5:54 AM on April 25, 2007

Right you lot, that's enough chit-chat, I want to see some solutions! Remember to show your working.

posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 5:54 AM on April 25, 2007

chuckdarwin, I believe thirteenkiller was telling you, relatively politely, that nearly everyone who cares even a little about such things has heard of the Millennium Problems by now. Telling us about them, plus how to pronounce Riemann, makes you look like a doofus, not an insider.

posted by gleuschk at 6:38 AM on April 25, 2007

posted by gleuschk at 6:38 AM on April 25, 2007

How is a test of Euclidean geometry indicative of anything? Who remembers this? It would show a deeper understanding (and not just a memorization of identities) to explain the difference in Leibniz and Newton's philosophy of calculus. Or why it took so long for calculus to develop. Or a multitude of other things that show you aren't just spitting out things that can be quickly googled but have an actual understanding of mathematics.

posted by geoff. at 7:10 AM on April 25, 2007

posted by geoff. at 7:10 AM on April 25, 2007

*laughs* Someone I know took me to task about the my pronunciation of REEEEEEEEman the other night (which is why I wrote that). I lost my grip on reality there for a second.

I'm guilty of being a little too interested in these problems, I think.

Sorry for being a doofus; I'm pretty good at it sometimes.

posted by chuckdarwin at 7:11 AM on April 25, 2007

I'm guilty of being a little too interested in these problems, I think.

Sorry for being a doofus; I'm pretty good at it sometimes.

posted by chuckdarwin at 7:11 AM on April 25, 2007

three blind mice- thanks for that link.

I really had always thought that RPN was an enthnic slur about how stoopid* a system it was.

*actually, I understand that it probably makes more sense, but I always preferred TI to HP calculators

posted by MtDewd at 8:33 AM on April 25, 2007

I really had always thought that RPN was an enthnic slur about how stoopid* a system it was.

*actually, I understand that it probably makes more sense, but I always preferred TI to HP calculators

posted by MtDewd at 8:33 AM on April 25, 2007

**three blind mice**writes

*"If I could only find an abacus that uses RPN, I'd be set."*

What you want is an abacus with a stack, right? Voila!

posted by Araucaria at 11:07 AM on April 25, 2007

The Chinese Uni. question is about the same level as my (c.1988) A-level maths. It's a little longer than the typical school problem, but not more difficult. 20 years ago I would have polished it off in no time. Even today I can solve it quite easily, with only the occasional pause to wonder what atan(sqrt 3) is!

Anyone who cannot solve the problem doesn't deserve a place at Uni to study maths or physics. Am I wrong?

posted by mr. strange at 4:12 PM on April 25, 2007

Anyone who cannot solve the problem doesn't deserve a place at Uni to study maths or physics. Am I wrong?

posted by mr. strange at 4:12 PM on April 25, 2007

*It would show a deeper understanding (and not just a memorization of identities) to explain the difference in Leibniz and Newton's philosophy of calculus. Or why it took so long for calculus to develop.*

But these things wouldn't show that the person had any ability to

*do*mathematics. The "philosophy of calculus," whatever that means, doesn't help you solve a physics problem, or anything else for that matter.

*The tests are set for prospective science undergraduates.*

Not philosophy majors.

posted by number9dream at 8:12 PM on April 25, 2007

Perhaps I should better state it as the metaphysics of mathematics, though I have two texts that use the phrase "philosophy of the calculus" I don't suppose you'd object to me dropping the article

The lack of solving problems such as "Zeno's Paradox" and Hume's objections to calculus has not impeded its ability to be applicable, it does not mean that the objections are not valid and of real concern. Do not fall into the trap of induction, calculus may work well much as Newtonian physics worked well until, you know, it didn't.

I would be more interested in training students not to become black boxes in solving problems. My area of research has been the fallacy of assuming congruence in probability distribution. Obviously this is an area where lack of knowledge about the reasoning behind mathematics is somewhat over expressed, but many researchers will simply tell you they are just "solving a problem" without realizing they are using a binomial distribution which lies outside the domain of what they're studying (whether it be a Levy distribution, etc.).

posted by geoff. at 9:05 PM on April 25, 2007

*the*, it is somewhat of an antiquated term.The lack of solving problems such as "Zeno's Paradox" and Hume's objections to calculus has not impeded its ability to be applicable, it does not mean that the objections are not valid and of real concern. Do not fall into the trap of induction, calculus may work well much as Newtonian physics worked well until, you know, it didn't.

I would be more interested in training students not to become black boxes in solving problems. My area of research has been the fallacy of assuming congruence in probability distribution. Obviously this is an area where lack of knowledge about the reasoning behind mathematics is somewhat over expressed, but many researchers will simply tell you they are just "solving a problem" without realizing they are using a binomial distribution which lies outside the domain of what they're studying (whether it be a Levy distribution, etc.).

posted by geoff. at 9:05 PM on April 25, 2007

Aloysius: Scottish education is better, in many respects.

posted by bonaldi at 9:12 PM on April 25, 2007

posted by bonaldi at 9:12 PM on April 25, 2007

*It would show a deeper understanding (and not just a memorization of identities) to explain the difference in Leibniz and Newton's philosophy of calculus.*

Oh, so you want our(1) math program?

(1) Me = current student there. No, I am not a 19 year old, I just screwed up college the first time around. Shaddup.

posted by gignomai at 1:01 AM on April 26, 2007

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