It is not the equations that are the problem

In the latest issue of PNAS there are several articles which the mathematically minded among you (and are involved in the mathematisation of your own fields) might enjoy.

James Gibbons asks the equations be not thrown out with theory bathwater.

Chitnis and Smith argue that mathematical illiteracy impedes progress in biology.

Adam Kane has some suggestions for improving mathematically heavy papers.

Andrew Fernandes argues that there is no evidence of equations impeding communication among biologists.

Finally, Fawcett and Higginson whose paper started all these comments, give their version:

 It is not equations that are the problem; it is equations without sufficient accompanying text to explain the assumptions and implications for a broad biological audience. We do not recommend the indiscriminate removal of equations from scientific papers.

Explaining the mathematics in sufficient detail for a broad audience can, however, require considerable space. As a pragmatic solution acknowledging the constraints many journals impose on article length, we suggested that authors might move some of their equations to an appendix. Our viewpoint is that essential equations capturing the assumptions and structure of a model should be presented in the main text, whereas less fundamental equations, such as those describing intermediate steps to solutions, should be presented in an appendix.

A nice set of articles worth your time.


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