Why Biology Students Have to Learn Calculus
Have you ever found yourself sitting through required college courses, thinking, “I’m a [major] Major, dangit, so why am I sitting through this [seemingly unrelated] class! I’ll never use this [actually valuable] information later!”
As a major in a biological science, I heard a lot of fellow bio majors gripe about the calculus requirement. (I happen to love math, so taking math classes didn’t bother me.) There are a lot of reasons why you’re required to take those “useless, required” courses in college: you should be a well-rounded student; you might find that you enjoy a different field than what you’re majoring in; learning new subjects helps your brain to grow and mature; etc.
But apparently there is a new reason: so you don’t waste your time reinventing basic calculus. Case in point, this paper:
(If you are not laughing your ass off right now, you may have slept through math class too many times.) Published in 1993 (yes, in the 20th-fucking-century) in a biology journal. Do you think if this person took a basic calculus class in college, they would’ve written a paper on how to figure out one of the fundamental concepts of calculus?
According to the abstract:
In Tai’s Model, the total area under a curve is computed by dividing the area under the curve between two designated values on the X-axis (abscissas) into small segments (rectangles and triangles) whose areas can be accurately calculated from their respective geometrical formulas. The total sum of these individual areas thus represents the total area under the curve. Validity of the model is established by comparing total areas obtained from this model to these same areas obtained from graphic method Gess than ±0.4%).
(Emphasis mine.) What a concept–you calculate the area under the curve by using shapes, and calculating the area of the shapes. (Of course, that assumes that you know basic algebra and trigonometry–I’m not sure we can make that assumption.) Genius! If we would’ve had this method around in the 17th century, just think of how advanced our society could be right now! (Before the “Tai Model,” the way that people calculated the area under a curve was physically cutting out the graph and dropping it into a tub of water, then running out naked screaming, “Eureka!” Right?)
It gets better.
Other formulas widely applied by researchers under- or overestimated total area under a metabolic curve by a great margin.
Seriously? Other researchers have no clue what an integral is? (Take a look at the number of times this paper has been cited for another laugh–even up through 2013.)
Fellow life science majors, this is why you need to take math classes, so that you don’t “invent” a centuries-old formula and then name it after yourself. On that note, is there some sort of formula to calculate the number of rotations that Newton and Leibniz (and every high school math teacher) have taken in their graves? (Note: there is likely no such formula, and thus I will invent one and call it “Mary’s Postulate.” Muhaha.)