This piece by E.O. Wilson has been much shared and much griped about in my circles, but I think it’s a case of a provocative headline (“Great Scientist ≠ Good at Math: discoveries emerge from ideas, not number-crunching”) prepended by the WSJ to an essay that says something much more modest and defensible. I’d paraphrase Wilson like this. Being good in math is like being a good writer. Everyone agrees:
- You can do great science and be a terrible writer;
- Being better at writing is a worthwhile aspiration for any scientist.
The conjunction of these two statements in no way feels like a denigration of writing. Nor is Wilson denigrating math.
I’ve said this before but it’s important so I’ll keep saying it — when you write an opinion piece for a publication, you don’t write the headline — the editors do, and they’ll put whatever loosely relevant headline will generate the most clicks.