Eugenia’s Rigid Focus on the Wrong Answers

We had been aware of Eugenia Cheng, of course, as the happy new face of mathematics popularisation. We hadn’t paid her much attention, however, until seeing her in a very bad maths documentary; the badness wasn’t Cheng’s fault but she fit right in. Then, in synch with the appearance of her weirdly pushy new book, Cheng wrote a very silly article for the Guardian. Now, with her most recent WSJ column (Murdoch, paywalled), Cheng has tripled down on her silliness.

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The Indelicate Art of the Mathematics Documentary

Mathsy people try very hard to like mathematics documentaries. They will frequently claim that they like them. But they don’t, really, not often, not much. For non-maths people it is much simpler: they don’t like maths documentaries and, if not so intimidated as to hold their tongues, they are generally happy to say so.

The sad reality is that most mathematics documentaries are bad. They are bad art, and they make for bad education.* This was brought to mind by a new Netflix documentary, A Trip to Infinity, and by a recent invitation. The invitation I’ll get to later. The documentary is bad.

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