‘Counting’ conspirators at the University of Cape Town (UCT)
Tim Crowe – B.A., M.Sc., Ph.D. & F.U.C.T.
Mathematics began as a formal discipline in the 6th century BCE with the Pythagoreans. They coined the term "mathematics" from the ancient Greek μάθημα (mathema), meaning "subject of instruction". Legend clouds Pythagoras’ ‘accomplishments’. ‘He/she’ may have been a collective of predecessors/contemporaries.
Although, the oldest undisputed mathematical documents are from Mesopotamia and dynastic Egypt, c. 2000 BCE, they show no appreciation of the difference between exact and approximate solutions and scientific problem solving. Most importantly, the documents provide no explicit statement of the need for proofs or logical principles. Pre-Greek mathematics employs inductive reasoning - repeated observations used to establish’ rules of thumb’.
After Pythagoras, the next major mathematical ‘player’, Euclid (c. 300 BCE), systematized ancient Greek and Eastern mathematics/geometry. Also poorly documented historically, Euclid wrote the most widely used mathematics/geometry textbook in history - The Elements. It collected, organized, and deductively proved geometric ideas previously used as applied techniques. Modern Western mathematics has been described as “a series of footnotes to Euclid”, either developing his ideas or challenging them.
Although, much further development of maths occurred over the next four centuries, it built on these foundations.
Or so scientists thought.Decolonization with a ‘big bang’
In response to an occupation of the Dean of Health Science’s suite, Price and Transformation DVC Loretta Feris (professor of law and former vice-chairperson of the Black Academic Caucus) created the Curriculum Change Working Group (CCWG). The CCWG is co-chaired by critical theorist / race theorists Associate Profs Harry Garuba (Centre for African Studies) and Elelwani Ramugondo (Department of Occupational Therapy). Other members were/are Prof. Sandra Klopper (DVC: Teaching and Learning), Prof. Sakhela Buhlungu (Dean of Humanities), Associate Prof. Harsha Kathard (Department of Health Sciences Education), Associate Prof. Denver Hendricks (Deputy Dean of Health Sciences), Dr Kasturi Behari-Leak (Academic Staff Development, CHED), Goitsione Mokou (education master’s student), Rorisang Moseli (2016 SRC President) and Brian Kamanzi (RMF and engineering master’s student).
Apparently without consulting eminent mathematical scientist DVCs Phakeng (National Research Foundation – B-rated) and Daya Reddy (A-rated) and mathematical scientists ‘up the hill’, Feris and the CCWG invited Prof. C.K. Raju to kick off the decolonization debate vis-à-vis maths.
Before I pursue this matter further, allow me to show my envy of maths colleagues. The Department of Mathematics and Applied Mathematics at UCT is the top-rated mathematics department in Africa,
with 20 NRF rated researchers, including 1 P and 5 A-rated researchers. Although I don’t have access to the relevant sources, I gainsay that it’s in the top 50 worldwide. Department members take enormous pride in their central role in the research and teaching of the Faculty of Science and never-ending quest for continual improvement.
C.K. Raju holds an M.Sc. in mathematics from Mumbai and a Ph.D. from the Indian Statistical Institute. He taught mathematics at Pune University before helping to build India's first parallel supercomputer. After a fellowship at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study and the National Institute of Science, Technology and Development Studies, he resumed university teaching. But, his current position as “Distinguished Professor” is at Inmantec (a business school in Ghaziabad) and the Centre for Studies in Civilizations (a NGO in New Delhi) based in India. According to their website, the Centre "aims at conducting, promoting and facilitating studies and research in the broad areas of history, philosophy, culture, science and technology", and "undertakes and promotes research in relation to the past, the present and the future courses, contents, and trends of civilizations in general, and Indian civilization in particular”.
Raju and three panelists spoke/debated at UCT on 19 September 2017. My comments on this event are summarized elsewhere. Here I summarize the what has been described as the post-debate, conspiratorial “Raju Affair”.
According to the vast majority (ALL?) of UCT’s mathematical scientists, Raju grossly mis-represents the history of Mathematics and uses ad hominem attacks rather than logical arguments to ‘deal’ with his critics. In short, he can be a scientific bully and, from reliable sources, is not averse to using this ‘approach’ on young, black women. My primary guides are, however, applied mathematician Dr Henri Laurie – a free-thinking Afrikaner and son of a member of the Broederbond – who brilliantly taught my daughter, and mathematical physicist Assoc. Prof. Jeff Murugan. Jeff is a black South African of Indian descent whose ‘lived experience’ epitomizes that of the most socio-economically challenged students at UCT, regardless of ‘self-identity’. Like Henri, Jeff is an outstanding teacher, but in pure as well as applied mathematics. Furthermore, he heads a highly productive research group and is deputy HoD and former member of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton.
Since Henri and Jeff are both outstanding lecturers, I have no hesitation agreeing with their negative pedagogical assessments of Raju.
I list a few examples supporting my conclusions using Raju quotes:
Formal mathematicians “facilitated and directed astronomical observation missions in order to help the French better determine the location of St. Domingue, the island that houses the modern nations of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Why? Because this would help make the delivery of slaves and export of the products of their labor more efficient.”
“Many in the UCT faculty judge on prejudice rather than academic content: thus residual prejudices from apartheid may be a major cause of the poor performance of black students.”
“The report about me in the Daily Maverick (29 September) is character assassination, at its worst.“
“Pythagoras is myth and there is no historical evidence for Euclid”.
“Deductive proof doesn’t lead to valid knowledge.”
“Formal mathematics creates a slave mentality.”
“The entire colonial tradition of education teaches us to trust only Western-approved experts, and distrust everyone else.”
The superiority of alternative philosophy of mathematics - zeroism, has been demonstrated by “teaching experiments performed with eight groups in five universities in three countries – Malaysia, Iran and India”.
“My decolonised math is so easy that the calculus can be taught in five days”. This has been “publicly discussed in newspapers, and blogs, and prominently reported in newspapers, magazine articles, interviews and videos”.
“Using Zeroism, I have provided a better theory of gravitation arising from correcting Newton’s wrong metaphysical presumptions about calculus”.
“Academic imperialism begins with Western education, which has not been seriously challenged in hard sciences. Colonialism changed the system of education as a key means of containing revolt, and stabilising Western rule.”
“Since bad history and philosophy of science violently distorted by the religious fanaticism which overwhelmed Europe from the 11th to 17th Centuries, it is necessary to dismantle and expose the falsehoods of this Western history of science and its accompanying philosophy of science.”
“We need to construct a new pedagogy, particularly in the hard sciences, and demonstrate its practical value, to dismantle the Western power structure at the level of higher-education and research.”
“The point about academic imperialism is not just to talk about it, but to end it.”
“Talking about it is useful only in so far as it helps to understand the key causes and remedies.”
“The UCT panel discussion gave the panelists and audience another chance to academically engage with my views and contest them publicly. This did not happen, though it had a mathematician, a philosopher, and an educationist, all senior faculty members from UCT and Stellenbosch. The respondents hardly engaged and did not refute any of my central points. Many in the audience agreed with me. Hence, the panel discussion was widely seen as an academic victory for decolonisation.”
N.B. I was there. The panelists engaged/contested with him. Due to his confusing mode of presentation, it was impossible to “refute” anything he said. Those in the audience who “agreed” with him were mainly young people (students?). There was no “victory”.
“The top mathematician in the world, Sir Michael Atiyah, had tried to grab credit for one of my theories (Time: Towards a Consistent Theory, Kluwer ,1994), and connived to get published a prominent article giving him credit for it.”
“The formal mathematician on the UCT panel [Laurie] asserted he had such magical powers to work with invisible points (obviously not able to transmit it to others!). I then said that talk of invisible points is a deliberate con-trick. Anyone who denies this is deluded.”
“Euclid must fall. some in the UCT community must bear the pain, which is nothing compared to the pain inflicted on blacks during apartheid.”
“On the actual evidence, the anonymous “author of the Elements” was a black woman who was raped and killed in a church.”
“Murugan further tries to frighten people by asserting that students will fall behind if they accept my way of teaching. This is a deliberate and vicious lie. My course on calculus makes math easy, hence it enables students to do harder problems.”
“The students who do my course would get better jobs, because they learn to do things well beyond anything done in current school or first-year calculus courses.”
“Murugan might lose his job if decolonisation is implemented and he doesn’t retrain. He did not reveal his other conflict of interests. He is a collaborator - and a student - of G.F.R. Ellis, an influential UCT academic from apartheid days, whose work I attacked at the UCT panel discussion.”
“That is UCT math department for you, no evidence needed for anything. The UCT math department is clearly part of the math problem facing blacks in the country, for it uses lies and mere authority to block serious alternatives from being tried out.”
“Because Western universities were totally owned by the church, over the centuries, the imported math was wrapped in a variety of myths and superstitions.“
“Deductive proofs can be used to prove any pre-desired conclusion, from suitable postulates, validated on the strength of mere authority in anti-empirical formal math.”
“Ellis won the million-dollar Templeton award, for science and religion, for helping to pass off such key politically-motivated church dogmas as “reputable” though not refutable “science”.
“Global general relativity, created by Penrose and Hawking, is an example of “reputable” Western pseudoscience in action.”
“The singularities of Hawking/Ellis are just an artefact of bad (formal) math.”
“Students must choose to eliminate the myths and superstitions of formal math. It leads to greater conceptual clarity. This is beneficial to the students even though it diminishes colonial authority. Black students still suffering under that authority need to be liberated. They should not wait for approval. Students must claim the right to choose between the practical value of normal math against the myths and superstitions of formal math, unreasonably enforced by the formal math community. They must claim the right to institute parallel decolonised courses, and decide for themselves which courses are better.”
“I would like to take this occasion to thank the Deputy Vice Chancellor Loretta Feris and the Curriculum Change Working Group for showing the courage to organize this panel discussion in the midst of such a muck of prejudice. What is has achieved is to expose the academic bankruptcy of the fuming opponents of decolonisation: they have used up the entire arsenal of academic and non-academic swear words, without advancing a single serious academic argument! This shows it was a greater victory for South Africa.”
In short, a handful of UCT non-mathematical, critical (race?) theorists invited a ‘conspiracy theorist’ to talk about decolonisation of science. In addition to wasting the valuable/limited time of overworked/underpaid academics, the Transformation DVC and CCWG should consider the impact on the morale of ignoring the views of its best, brightest and most dedicated academics, choosing to favour, dare I say conspire with, Fallists who ‘lapped up’ his ‘views’.In the cyber journal Ground Up. Jeff Murugan puts it best: “
“The changes that Raju advocates in his decolonising mathematics project amount to a neo-bantu education that, if implemented in South Africa, would see students unable to compete in the global marketplace of ideas.”
Jeff wrote at length on Raju’s ‘views’ to DVC Feris, VC Price, DVC and Maths colleague Daya Reddy and Dean of Science Anton Le Roux, stipulating that I do not pass on his comments. But, I will say that they are a devastating refutation to say the very, very least from cultural as well as academic perspectives.
In response to a question whether giving official sanction to Raju, who dismisses almost the entire body of work done by UCT’s mathematic scientists, is a productive way of taking forward the decolonisation debate, Feris replied:
“Professor Raju was invited not so that his views by necessity replace existing ones, but rather as a departure point for debate. Raju challenges existing dogma at a time when we as a university are reflecting on our colonial history and the ways in which we as a country have embraced colonial epistemology. Raju’s message to students is that they should question Western Authority on science and insist instead on empirical evidence on truth. To faculty, he asks that if we teach the exact similar science as taught in the West, we should be able to justify why that is so. First – we must explain our exclusion of other approaches to science from other parts of the world. Secondly, we should demonstrate the benefits of science as taught and understood in the West, and explain why local communities may be rendered only beneficiaries, and never co-producers of scientific knowledge. Professor Raju essentially rejects the notion that the Western philosophy of science and maths is objective and universal. This aligns with the decolonial questioning of Western thought as the singular truth. Professor Raju invites us to think about philosophy other than that which originated in the West, Eastern and African philosophies of science and maths. It seems to me like a constructive way to engage in a discussion on decolonial thinking, regardless of the discipline.”
I close with a George Ellis quote:
“His talk has nothing positive to contribute to the discussion, not just because he advocates replacing the internationally agreed approach to mathematics and physics by his own idiosyncratic views, but particularly because he explicitly advocates ignoring the views of international experts on scientific topics in his decolonial approach to science and maths. If UCT were to follow that route, we’d better close down the science and engineering faculties. The degrees we will produce will be worthless.”