Definitely the case for E. O. Wilson. In a recent essay in the Wall Street Journal, he says that many of the most successful scientists are no more than semiliterate in mathematics, and if anything he’s worse than that. But, he says, you don’t really need to know much mathematics in most of biology, and it’s a pity that students are dropping out of science because they fear mathematics.
There are those who differ. Lord Kelvin said “I often say that when you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it; but when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meagre and unsatisfactory kind; it may be the beginning of knowledge, but you have scarcely, in your thoughts, advanced to the stage of science, whatever the matter may be.” Even those who didn’t have much math sometimes wished that they did. Chuck Darwin said “I have deeply regretted that I did not proceed far enough at least to understand something of the great leading principles of mathematics; for men thus endowed seem to have an extra sense.”
E. O. Wilson would have benefited from having that extra sense. If he had it, he might not have suggested that ridiculous “gay uncle” theory, in which homosexuality pays for itself genetically thru gay men helping their siblings in ways that produce extra nieces and nephews. First, that doesn’t even happen – so much for field work. Second, it’s impossible. The relationship coefficients don’t work. Nephews and nieces are only half as closely related as your own kids, so you’d need four extra to break even, rather than two, as with your own kids. Maybe if Wilson had ever learned to divide by two, he wouldn’t have made this mistake.
Biology and softer-headed sciences such as anthropology are absolutely rife with innumerates, and there is a cost. If I hear one more person say that average growth rates were very low in the old stone age, a teeny tiny fraction of a percent [true], and so anatomically modern humans only left Africa after it filled up, which took a hundred thousand years, I’m gonna scream. If I hear another anthropologist say that she could understand how a small group could rapidly expand to fill New Zealand, but just can’t see how they could fill up the Americas, whole continents, in a thousand years – lady, they screwed, they had babies, and they walked. All it took was a weird, unacademic lifestyle in which you raised three kids – pretty easy to do in the Happy Hunting Ground.
I remember talking to a field biologist studying three genetic male morphs of some screwy freshwater fish. In passing, I said ” Of course all three forms have to have the same average fitness, over the long term.” He said ” Why?”, because he was an idiot. Speaking of which – general intelligence and math ability are fairly well correlated. Maybe a lot of these low-math types just aren’t very smart. I’ve never seen any sign that E. O. Wilson is.