Sharon Bertsch McGrayne's "The Theory That Would Not Die" Quotes 1

Unlike the Poles, the British agency charged with cracking German military codes and ciphers clung to the tradition that decryption was a job for gentlemen with linguistic skills. Instead of hiring mathematicians, the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS) employed art historians, scholars of ancient Greek and medieval German, crossword puzzlers, and chess players. Mathematicians were regarded as “strange fellows.”

The British government and educational systems treated applied mathematics and statistics as largely irrelevant to practical problems. Well- to- do boys in English boarding schools learned Greek and Latin but not science and engineering, which were associated with low- class trade. Britain had no elite engineering schools like MIT or the École Polytechnique. Two years into the war, when government officials went to Oxford to recruit men proficient in both mathematics and modern languages, they found only an undergraduate mathematics major teaching himself beginning German. The government did not even plan to exempt mathematicians from combat. Knowing that their skills would be needed eventually, mathematicians quietly spread word to their colleagues to register with the government as physicists because they at least were considered vital to the nation’s defense.

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