Afraid of the truth: article against racist history and bad philosophy taken down for MANIFESTLY FALSE and frivolous reasons, which Conversation hides to insinuate
Synopsis: My article “To decolonise math stand up to its false history and bad philosophy” published in Conversation (Global edition) became very popular, but was then taken down on “editorial grounds”. These “editorial grounds” did NOT relate to a single factual flaw or defect in my argument. The “editorial” ground stated in an email from an editor Southey, was this: “you have sited [sic] only your own work to back up your key points.” This frivolous editorial reason is NOT stated publicly just because it is manifestly false (my article did cite plenty of others), so stating it publicly would immediately expose the dishonesty involved in taking down the article. Before announcing the decision to take down the article, no one asked me to explain my side, presumably because asking me would have brought out the truth on record. Such an editorial reason is especially comic in the context: thus, my article principally aimed to rebut Brodie’s earlier article on decolonisation of math which had very carelessly neglected to cite a huge amount of my prior work on the decolonisation of math and science, work which easily shows up even on a Google search. That large amount of my earlier work therefore HAD to be cited in my article. The flaw was in Brodie’s careless article, not in my attempt to rectify that carelessness.
The real reason why my article was taken down is that it was a dangerous piece of dissent. It hit a crucial weak spot in claims used for racist and colonial domination: the false history which was traditionally used to support the bad philosophical claims of “superiority” whether of the white race or of formal math. The article knocked out the prejudices needed for racist and colonial domination, prejudices of the kind accepted also by those who are not explicit racists. My article explained that a decolonised math is possible; taking it down is also an attempt to derail and misguide the push for decolonisation of universities in South Africa. Hiding the public articulation of the exact “editorial reason” for taking down the article helps preserve racist prejudices in the only way possible: by insinuation, not by appeal to facts or arguments. Had any easy refutation of my deeply researched article been possible, the editors would have simply published a rejoinder, not taken down the article. Such editorial excesses aptly illustrate the weaknesses of the Western academic tradition, which allowed the concoction of racist history in the first place.
In an article in the Conversation, Karen Brodie made the absurd statement that “Much, though certainly not all, of mathematics was created by dead white men”. There is nothing new about this absurd claim: numerous “reputable” Western philosophers, such as Hume and Kant have used this argument from false history to assert the non-creativity of blacks, to morally justify racism and slavery. Likewise, Macaulay used the same false history to assert the non-creativity of the non-West in science, to impose colonial education. That education was designed to created a slave mentality1 which the British very much needed to offset their military weakness as colonisers.
To contest the roots of racism and colonialism it is, therefore, necessary to contest this argument from false history, especially the false history of mathematics and science. This is what I did in my article “To decolonise math stand up to its false history and bad philosophy”, published in Conversation (Global edition) on 24 October. In fact I went a step further. I pointed out that the claim that Western math is “superior”, since based on deductive proof, is analogous to claims of racial superiority: not only is there no evidence for Euclid, there are no deductive proofs in the book Elements he supposedly wrote, AND deductive proofs are inferior and more fallible than empirical proofs, contrary to the deep-seated but erroneous belief in Western philosophy. The fallibility of deductive proofs is clear from the very fact that ALL Western authorities wrongly believed for centuries that the Elements had valid deductive proofs. For simplicity, I did not give my argument from logic, but mentioned only the argument that deductive proofs in math lead to suspect conclusions, since they are based on unverifiable assumption. These suspect conclusions may creep into the practical areas to which math is applied, and I gave an example from physics. This means we must stop teaching formal math in our universities, because this metaphysical Western math is inferior, not superior. I then pointed out my own success in teaching math with an alternative philosophy. The article is re-posted in the previous blog post.
The reception of the article
Within two days of publication the article gathered 16737 readers. About 24% of the readers were from South Africa, and about 35% from US.
These points must be seen against the background of widespread student agitations in South Africa, which have led to the virtual closure of many universities including Brodie’s own university of Witwatersrand. So decolonisation is a very serious issue there, and, as I have been arguing decolonisation of hard sciences is the first step towards decolonisation. But that has to be a serious effort, not the superficial and tokenist sort of thing promoted by Brodie.
Naturally, racists were livid with rage. In fact, even those whose self-image is that of white liberals, and who are willing to condemn explicit racism, become extremely uncomfortable when some of the root beliefs that form the basis of racism are challenged. That is equally true of those with a colonised slave mentality. This is also what happened here. The fact that there was no way to contest my thesis on factual grounds and no valid counter-arguments only frustrated them further.
The editor steps in
In the meanwhile, the message had gone to a large number of people that formal math is based on a claim of superiority as flimsy as the claim of superiority used for apartheid; it had gone viral that formal math was based on a false history and bad philosophy and that a successful alternative was available. Some people obviously panicked, for a core element of the justification for racism and colonialism was being exposed as faulty.
Soon, an editor of the Conversation, Caroline Southey, stepped in. She said the Conversation has decided to retract the article. “The reason for this is that we did not follow normal procedures in editing your article. We require authors to reference others in the arguments that they make. In this instance you have sited [sic] only your own work to back up your key points.”
Note clearly that she did not refer to a single factual flaw in the article: nothing at all wrong with the facts or what I had written. She did not point to any flaw in my arguments. Just that, according to her, there were too many self-citations.
The article was then abruptly withdrawn.
The Conversation has since then informed a number of sites which had re-posted the article that it was withdrawn for “for editorial reasons” but deliberately refrained from mentioning that the stated “editorial reason” was too many self citations, which would sound comic if mentioned. (To add to that comedy, she does not even spell cite correctly!) Naturally hiding these reasons makes them sound as if they are more serious: a wanton and deliberate act of insinuation.
Further, the reason privately given by Southey, is not given publicly because it is MANIFESTLY FALSE. This can be very easily checked. Simply examine the article, it cites Karen Brodie, it cites Clagett’s Egyptian source book for the Rhind papyrus, it cites the Principia of Whitehead and Russell, it cites the book on Decolonising the University by Claude Alvares and Shad Faruqi. Therefore, Southey either lacks academic rigor or just dishonestly twisted the facts in the reasons she gave in private. Further, one of the citations to some 22 clips archived from the Sun, Malaysia at http://ckraju.net/blog/?p=61. As can easily be checked, it involves a large amount of material written by others, and the link to the blog is just a compact way of referencing that material: a compactness essential for the format used by Conversation. It is absolutely false to call it a self citation. But Southey lacks the academic rigor to check facts, or is deliberately twisting them. Further, in the article there are citations of newspaper articles and interviews. A newspaper or magazine article which concerns me, is nevertheless work done by others. It is decidedly DISHONEST to call it a self-citation as Southey does (though only in private).
Further, since my basic story was to point out how much of my past work on decolonisation of mathematics Brodie had missed, I HAD to cite a lot of my own work, for I am the first person to have started working on decolonisation of mathematics, and hard sciences in general. This is the “crime” of pioneering work that Southey is pointing to! And, Southey says it is illegal to cite all the past work Brodie missed because of her slipshod scholarship! How can I be ahead of Whites? Apparently no academic subject can begin until several Whites/Westerners approve and take note of it. Decolonisation contests that colonised mentality: it would be absurd to look to the West for academic guidance for decolonisation.
Double standards are characteristic of racism, and Southey’s double standards are manifest. She appreciates Brodie’s utterly careless “scholarship” of not even conducting a google search before writing her article, and won’t take that article down: it is up to her standards of rigor. Just because Conversation made the mistake of publishing Brodie’s poorly researched article, therefore, I HAD to cite a whole lot of my work to drive home how much material Brodie had missed, and to show that the Conversation did not maintain its advertise academic rigor in publishing the Brodie article. Therefore, Conversation did the right thing in carrying this article. But in Southey’s eyes, the crime is mine: even if Brodie missed or suppressed a large amount of my work, there is a rule or academic convention (where) that I am not allowed to cite my work to correct Brodie’s mistake.
Why not ask for an explanation?
Further, some citations to my work are actually citations to others. Thus, to establish that fractions were introduced in the Jesuit syllabus only in 1572, I sent (an earlier editor) the following query:
As regards your query about the date of 1572 [for introduction of fractions in Jesuit education], I have the following references which I consulted in the Jesuit Archive in Rome, and the Vatican.
Christoph Clavius, ca.1575? “A Method of Promoting Mathematical Studies in the Schools of the Society”, Document No. 34 in: E. C. Phillips, “The proposals of Father Christopher Clavius, SJ, for improving the teaching of mathematics”, Bull. Amer. Assoc. Jesuit Scientists (Eastern Section), Vol. XVIII, May 1941, No. 4, 203–206. Also, Christophori Clavii Bambergensis e Societate Iesv, Epitome Arithmeticae Practacae [Practical Arithmetic], Rome, Dominici Basae, 1583, Tr. into Chinese by Matteo Ricci.
How do I give a link or reference to it?
Since no online link was available, and Conversation demands that I use only such an online link, not the usual method of citation, I eventually gave a link instead to my own book Cultural Foundations of Mathematics which cites that reference. How does this count as a self-citation?
In fact the utterly false claim, that I had not cited any other work was put as a comment by one troll, as part of a systematic vilification campaign. Assuming that the falsehood of the comment was apparent, I responded to it as follows.
What a strange idea of academic rigor! So, if one can indoctrinate or buy ten people, who believe in the myth of Euclid it becomes rigorous regardless of the facts!
Recall what the poet James Russell Lowell said: They are slaves who dare not be / In the right with two or three. So, talk of “academic rigor”, in the sense of compliance with popular Western opinion, is just another excuse to impose slavery!
That is exactly what decolonisation resists
Clearly this understanding of academic rigor conflates popularity with truth, and relegate facts to the background. This is exactly how the church-inspired Western academic tradition could perpetuate absurd myths like those of virgin birth and Euclid for so long. (The reference to indoctrination in the above quote is to the fact that Western education and scholarship was fully controlled by the church until the 19th c., see the article cited above.)
All this would have come out, had Southey followed the simple process of asking for my side of the story. But for Southey that is not part of academic rigor: facts do not matter, nor truth. Southey was obviously desperate to take down the article, and had no time to implement the simplest academic processes, for the knowledge was going viral that formal mathematics is founded on the same false history used to justify racism, and similar bad philosophical claims of superior Western knowledge.
Why not be civilized and write a refutation?
The other academically rigorous thing to do would have been to ask someone to write a rebuttal, the way I wrote a rebuttal of Brodie. However, the drift of the comments had already shown that it was impossible to contest my carefully researched thesis with facts or arguments. Therefore, taking down the article was the only other possibility. Now, that is an admission of defeat, an admission that it is completely impossible to save false racist history agains facts, or save the bad philosophy of formal mathematics against my arguments. To save it, the only way left was to choke dissent with force, and then spread calumny, a classic propagandist tactic.
Here is a specific example, of how those enraged by my article were unable to contest it. Sean Mfundza Muller a senior lecturer in economics at the University of Johannesburg actually tried to defend Brodie’s claim about dead white men. He said of my article that ot “willfully [sic] misunderstands Karen Brodie’s statement about the proportion of mathematics produced (to date) by ‘dead white men’”. I asked him (a) how on earth that proportion was calculated, (b) who had done it, and (c) whether that calculation of proportion was based on real history or racist history like that of Euclid, Archimedes etc., and (d) what methodology was used to determine the color of their skins based on texts from 1800 years later. Challenged thus, he had no answer, and changed the topic!
The next tack was to try to belittle. Muller said, “That contradicts the implication that the author is demonstrating something that is denied by the mathematical community.” In fact, formalists do accept that the deductive method only leads to relative truths (see the video of the conversation with the Dalai Lama, in an earlier post). But they do NOT accept that the deductive method is INFERIOR to the empirical method, as I argued in the article: on the contrary they have long been asserting its superiority and using that claim of superiority to advance racist history, and colonialism. Anyway, if what I said is accepted by the math community, why teach that inferior math? As a specific example, I pointed out that the assumptions of set theory lead to the conclusion, contrary to commonsense (Banach-Tarski paradox), that a ball of gold may converted into n balls of gold identical to the original. We trust this nonsense only on grounds of Western authority, and I asked him whether he accepted this conclusion in the economics he taught. Obviously he had no answer.
Muller went on in this manner: “the argument latches on to some uncertainty about the details of Euclid’s life and uses this as a basis to propose the author’s own pet theory”. If it were only a question of “some uncertainties”, I asked him, why he did not claim my long-standing Euclid challenge prize of ZAR 40,000 (Rs 2 lakhs), by supplying what serious evidence there was about Euclid? Well you can guess what he did: changed the topic! I further pointed out that my claim that the Elements was the work of a black woman was based on the balance of probabilities, since all the evidence points to the work originated in Alexandria in Africa, between the +4th and +5th c. CE, after Theon and before Proclus. As a scientist, I said I was always willing to change my opinion, but ONLY if he provided evidence, which he had not done.
Of course there was the standard accusation of chauvinism which all white and colonised academics instantly spout, when colonial knowledge is challenged. I have long been pointing to this tactic: so I agreed with him that Western history since Orosius and the Crusades has been absurdly chauvinistic, and totally lacks credibility, since it is not supported by facts. In the next round he tried abuse: I told him that I did not doubt his ability to abuse, but only his ability to provide evidence. The facts that whites abused blacks during apartheid did not prove the superiority of whites. On the contrary abuse is a sure sign of defeat in an academic argument.
The next step was the usual vilification which again underlines the absence of any serious facts or arguments against my thesis: if there are any strong facts or arguments why would vilification be needed?
Meanwhile the article was growing in popularity.
The moral of the story
Clearly Western scholars cannot produce any evidence for the false history used in defence of racism and apartheid, or in defence of the claim that “Much, though certainly not all, mathematics is the work of dead white men.” Nor can they defend the bad philosophy of formal mathematics, which teaches faith in Western authority, and leads to invalid knowledge. So the only way they have is to use their control of academics to suppress dissent, and promote their point of view. For this purpose they refer to their academic rituals, and make up the rules as they go along. (Even children understand such tricks of cheating by inventing new rules.) Where is the rule about how much an article should cite others? There cannot be such a rule, because it all depends on circumstances. In the context, the point was to point out that Brodie had not referenced my work, a huge amount of which was readily available. That huge amount of my prior work HAD to be cited.
So, taking down the article was a dishonest act to save racist history and the resulting bad philosophy. If editors like Southey can be either so dishonest or so totally lacking in academic rigor in the case of such a widely publicised article, imagine what all happens with secretive peer review which demands implicit trust in editors. Western academic approval is tied to political convenience, even in math.
In fact that secretive academic system was invented by the church precisely to censor dissent. The church needed such a secretive system to cover up the gross weaknesses in its dogmas. But that system is now used by imperialists to subordinate non-Western academics to Western control. As I have argued in Ending Academic Imperialism we must reject that secretive system, and a declonised academic system must move on to a more transparent and public process of assessment. The traditional system in India, at least, was that of open debate, and this is helpful.2 I have been asking for such an open debate on formal mathematics for some time,3, 4 but the formal mathematicians are the one’s refusing to participate, for their jobs are threatened.
In any case, basing academic knowledge on mere trust reduces it to faith-based knowledge. That is exactly why Western history of science went wrong: far too much of it is unreliable since based on mere faith. Combined with the central teaching of colonialism (that only the West must be trusted, and the non-West distrusted) this faith is faith in the West, so it perpetuates Western hegemony. To change that false history and put an end to racism, formal math, and academic imperialism, we must also overthrow this Western/church academic system designed to suppress dissent and promote blind faith in the West.
Black students should certainly not believe an iota of that false Western history. Be sceptical, insist on evidence. If serious evidence cannot be provided, throw that history out of school and university texts. Now is the time to start a new academic system not controlled by whites.
As for Conversation, the case of the vanishing article and cooked up editorial reasons not stated publicly has made a mockery of their claims of academic rigor. If they are at all serious about those claims they should begin by sacking editors like Southey. They will not recover their credibility unless they show some more spine to stand up to racist and other trolls.
1C. K. Raju, “Education and counter-revolution”, Frontier Weekly, online. Similar version edited and republished as an article “Decolonising the hard sciences” in Frontier Weekly 46(7) 25-31 Aug 2013. http://www.frontierweekly. com/archive/vol-number/vol/vol-46-2013-14/46-7/46-7-Decolonising% 20Hard%20Sciences.html. Originalathttp://ckraju.net/papers/Educationand-counter-revolution.pdf