The internet has paid ample homage to a post by comically inept math blogger Piper Harron, calling on cis white male sub-humans to to “get out the way” (sic).

To justify her strange opinion she starts off by arguing that “…you live in a world where people don’t succeed in a vacuum …”. She’s right too: a vacuum is defined as a space devoid of matter. Once anyone is in it, it is no longer devoid of matter, so nobody can succeed, or even exist, inside a vacuum by definition.

You may object that she used the term metaphorically and the probably does, yet that is precisely the problem. After alluding to ‘a vacuum’ she proceeds to vaguely hint at anyone from any kind of minority background being disadvantaged. She does not identify the disadvantage, nor its particular relevance to mathematics in any detail.

This, unfortunately is what usually happens. The ‘vacuum’, used as metaphor, does not usually serve to merely illustrate an argument but to substitute an unsubstantiated insinuation for it. By appealing to a vague metaphor, an accusation of discrimination is made without ever being substantiated, and this claim is all too often accepted without further question.

 

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