UW introduces math for good & evil

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University of Waterloo

The newest course offered by the Peace and Conflict Studies (PACS) program at Grebel may seem like a math course, but, it is open to students from all faculties regardless of a student’s comfort (or discomfort) with math. The creators of the course believe that Math for Good and Evil is the first course designed through the collaboration of the Math and PACS departments at UW, and maybe the first Math and Peace course in Canada. 

PACS professor Lowell Ewert and Math lecturer Judith Koeller co-teach the course, occasionally inviting guest speakers who work in the intersecting fields. 

“We explore the peace implications of topics like democracy, social change, health, and environment,” Judith explained. “In every topic there are places that math and CS play a role: election models that best reflect the popular vote, how killer drones interact with the laws of war, the ethics of predatory loans and misleading casino games, the racialization of search results” and the list goes on.  

“The ‘silo’ approach to education, in which each discipline independently pursues excellence and assumes that collectively this will add up to a good society, is being tested.”  

Math for Good and Evil was created to more broadly and thoughtfully explore the peace implications of math-based initiatives.  

This is vital for students in every program, as an understanding of the role that math plays in society leads to an appreciation of its role in creating a more just world. The course also encourages math students to consider ethical implications in their field. 

“There are many math graduates from UW who never have any ethical training as part of their degree. This course gets students thinking about what kind of ethical issues they might face in their careers,” Judith explained.

Lowell noted that the course has been teaching him, too.