60-Second Science

Scientific American Math Doc Defends Algebra Ed

Evelyn Lamb, math Ph.D., responds to poli-sci professor Andrew Hacker's argument that most students do not need an algebra class. Steve Mirsky reports

“I disagree that algebra doesn’t do anything for our lives.”

Evelyn Lamb, math PhD and Scientific American writer, on the WNYC radio program the Takeaway. She’s responding to political science professor Andrew Hacker. In The New York Times, he suggests that, although all students should attain what he calls quantitative literacy, most do not need the rigors of an algebra class.

But “it’s in all sorts of fields, not just STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math). But, also, real estate agents use algebra and geometry every day. Anyone in finance. Budgeting in your own home. Understanding loan terms and mortgages. All of these are applications of algebra.”

You can listen to the full interview with Lamb and a previous one with Hacker at An article by Lamb about the need for algebra is at

Lamb also noted that another mathematical discipline comes in handy when she sews: “There is topology—the number of holes in your garment matters, or else you can’t put on your pants.”

—Steve Mirsky

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

[Interested in science and the Olympics? Check out the new Scientific American e-book, the Science of Sports: Winning at the Olympics. Available in most popular e-book formats including for the Kindle and the Nook. Just $3.99 wherever fine electrons flow or electromagnetic waves pass.]

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