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James Wynn and G. Mitchell Reyes

Dec 7, 2021

Arguing with Numbers

The Intersections of Rhetoric and Mathematics

Pennsylvania State University Press 2021

One pervasive stereotype about mathematics is that it is objective, unbiased, or otherwise exempt from the influence of human passions. James Wynn and G. Mitchell Reyes's edited collection will be a revelation even to mathematics professionals who don't take this strict view. The essays in Arguing with Numbers: The Intersections of Rhetoric and Mathematics (The Pennsylvania State UP, 2021) explore the interplays between rhetoric and mathematics that have shaped scholarly and popular culture through to the present day.

Opening the collection are both an historical sketch of scholarship at the intersection of these disciplines, from their division in ancient Greece to their hesitant reunion since the mid-twentieth century, and also a taxonomy of modern research into three distinct approaches, which we review in our discussion. The remaining essays use these approaches to probe the impact of mathematical rhetoric on the sciences (including Hantaro Nakaoka's analogical "Saturnian" model of atomic spectra), on cultural norms and institutions (including the influence of David X. Li's Gaussian copula on the behavior of financial markets), and on relations between mathematics professionals and the lay public. This last part contains a chapter on the legacy of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics that highlights the importance to mathematics professionals of understanding the rhetorical dimensions of our discipline.

Bookending our discussion, Drs. Wynn and Reyes related the story of their edited collection, which makes the point that a cross-disciplinary exchange is needed to help both disciplines better understand their connections to each other and more responsibly manage those connections. Their suggestions will resonate with mathematicians interested in challenging narratives of objectivity, in diversifying our ranks, and in developing responsible rules and principles for the use of social and personal data. The analytical tools demonstrated in this book abet this effort.

Suggested companion works:

    James Wynn is Associate Professor of English at Carnegie Mellon University. He is the author of Citizen Science in the Digital Age: Rhetoric, Science, and Public Engagement and Evolution by the Numbers: The Origins of Mathematical Argument in Biology.

    G. Mitchell Reyes is Professor of Rhetoric and Media Studies at Lewis and Clark College. He is author of Stranger Relations: Mathematics, Rhetoric, and the Translative Force of Mathematical Discourse (in press with Penn State University Press) and coeditor of Global Memoryscapes: Contesting Remembrance in a Transnational Age.

    Cory Brunson is an Assistant Professor at the Laboratory for Systems Medicine at the University of Florida. His research focuses on geometric and topological approaches to the analysis of medical and healthcare data.

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    Cory Brunson

    Cory Brunson is an Assistant Professor at the Laboratory for Systems Medicine at the University of Florida. His research focuses on geometric and topological approaches to the analysis of medical and healthcare data.

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