Is math useful? - Poll results

By Murray Bourne, 25 Oct 2007

Recently I ran a poll on Interactive Mathematics and asked users:

The math you are studying now - how useful is it for your future job?

The response from 1000 voters was quite encouraging:

Very useful: 51%
Not useful: 24%
Somewhat useful: 14%
Don't know yet: 11%

Most users of the site are currently studying mathematics at school or college level.

The result is encouraging to me because for years I needed to respond to this kind of question from my students:

What are we doing this stuff for? We're never gonna use it!

And then adults would love to say things like:

You teach math? But it's so useless! I have never used any of that stuff since school.

And even in a recent squareCircleZ post, It's fun to hate math, math educators like Underwood Dudley are throwing up their hands saying:

... algebra and subjects beyond it are, for almost everyone, not practical, nor are there any applications that anyone needs

I was starting to get the impression that the vast majority of students (and people generally) believed that mathematics was just an exercise in passing exams. And that concerns me because I have really enjoyed finding out what all that stuff was for when I started to teach more applied engineering mathematics. A large portion of my working life has been trying to convince students (and adults) about the utility of math.

In this (very unscientific) poll at least, the majority of readers (65%) believe the math they are studying has relevance for their careers.

Considering the 11% of users who responded with "I don't know yet", at least they have not been turned off by the strong societal pressures against math and are keeping an open mind.

You can see the results of previous IntMath polls. [The current poll asks about the use of math software. You can vote on any page on Interactive Mathematics.]

See the 9 Comments below.

9 Comments on “Is math useful? - Poll results”

  1. praveen says:

    going beyond algebra in maths is a sheer waste and is not useful in anyway in our practical is just a sheer exercise of passing in exams and nothing more!

  2. Murray says:

    Hmmm - and the computer that you used to type your comment? Was it designed, optimized and built with basic algebra?

    And do you use a computer every day?

    Seems to me that you have disproved your own case...

  3. EMMANUEL says:

    math is useful in our daily living!!!!!!!!!
    there's always math in every work!!!!!!!
    if ur an accountant you should know how to add, subtract, multiply, or divide!!!!!



    ??? E. R. ESCALA ???

  4. crusader says:

    Murray, that's all fine if you want to be a computer designer. But sorry, not my kind of job.


  5. Murray says:

    @Crusader: Out of the top 30 jobs according to the US government, math is vital for more than 20 of them. Sure, not all jobs, but most.

    Here's a list of "Big demand, good pay" jobs from CNN.

    Nine out of those 10 jobs have math at the core.

    Math may not be for you, but it's sure going to help a lot of people join the job market.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Useless? Math is not useless. Math has helped me develop a stronger character. It may be useless to most of you in a practical sense, but math's practicality comes in many, many forms. If you think math is useless, then you're either speaking from absolute ignorance and probably too unwilling to put forth any ounce of effort to pass your baby math classes like college algebra or one of the calculus domains, or you're too, too closed-minded. Math is not only a science, it is an art, and if you think most who do math are robots, then I am super glad you think that they are, since if you think only robots can do math, then you're too __ (I'm pretty sure you spontaneously created an adjective to describe yourself in this scene right?) to even understand one of nature's most essential creations.

  7. Mauricio says:

    Math is useless at all. In fact of the matter, science is useless at all. Cientifics working to create drugs that are produced only when are profitable, poor people in poor countries keep dying because they are not in profitable market. Thousands of unemployed professionals are starbing and hopeless in Europe abd America, because banks have used complicated algorithms to steal their wealth and keep their countries in debt. The more you study the more your energy and wealth is sucked to give it to Colleges and Professors that are profiting of the idea that education is good for man... In America you can find phd working in supermarkets, driving cabs or unemployed. Science and Math are serving the 1% to get richer and the 99% to get homeless. This is without considering that real analysis or topology are useless in real life. Even the applied mathematics is worthless, the big gains in Finance is just due to insider trading, it doesn't matter if you really know or understand Black & sholes, after all if you have the right information you make the profit without studying anything at all. Ponzi Schemes are also winners, and you don't need abstract algebra or corporate finance for doing so. Printing bills, ponzi schemes, the more phds from Ivy league are running the federal reserve and wall street, the more the people is suffering all around the world.

  8. rayalynn leyva says:

    math is useless?ofcourse not ..mathematics is so useful...First it is useful in our daily lives Second we use this in school in work also when we were dont say that math is useless..

  9. IdPnSD says:

    Real numbers are not objects of nature. Therefore they must be false. You should not try to create anything using something that is false, like real numbers. Your creation will be false too.

    In real world you always get something like 3+4=5. Because every object in nature has a upper limit. In the above example the limit is 5, and you cannot go beyond 5. It is a very common practice in engineering to limit all variables. This makes math non-linear and is no longer valid. Same is true with infinity. Laplace Transform (LT) uses infinity. No large number can be an approximation of infinity. If you replace infinity by any finite number in LT, then the characteristics of LT will completely change, it will no longer have poles. Thus when you use LT in engineering you introduce poles and create a false, unreliable engineering. Similarly if you replace infinity in Fourier Transform by a finite number, uncertainty will vanish and Quantum Mechanics will become wrong.

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