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Even Some Scientists Are Math-Challenged

TUESDAY, June 26 (HealthDay News) -- Scientists pay less attention to new theories that are jam-packed with mathematical details, a tendency that presents a barrier to scientific progress, according to a new study.

A team at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom found that scientific articles with many equations on each page are seldom referred to by other scientists. Articles with the most math details are referenced 50 percent less often than those with little or no math content, according to Tim Fawcett and Andrew Higginson, researchers in the university's school of biological sciences.

"This is an important issue because nearly all areas of science rely on close links between mathematical theory and experimental work. If new theories are presented in a way that is off-putting to other scientists, then no one will perform the crucial experiments needed to test those theories. This presents a barrier to scientific progress," Fawcett said in a university news release.

A long-term solution would be to improve the mathematical training of science graduates. There's also a more immediate fix.

"Scientists need to think more carefully about how they present the mathematical details of their work. The ideal solution is not to hide the maths away, but to add more explanatory text to take the reader carefully through the assumptions and implications of the theory," Higginson said in the news release.

The study was published June 25 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

More information

The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics has more on math education.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: University of Bristol, news release, June 25, 2012

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