How do departments get their names?

Jean Joseph, at the AMS Grad Math Blog, asks why some departments are called “Department of Mathematics” and others are called “Department of Mathematical Sciences”. The obvious explanation is that the “Mathematical Sciences” ones are more applied, but that doesn’t necessarily hold.

“Department of Mathematics” is much more common; I get 9,090,000 Google hits for it, compared to 531,000 for “Department of Mathematical Sciences”, for a 17 to 1 ratio.

In my Googling, the first ten hits for “Department of Mathematics” are the departmental web pages of Berkeley, Stanford, Washington, Purdue, Penn State, Florida State, Chicago, Wisconsin, MIT, and UCLA.

The first ten hits for “Department of Mathematical Sciences” are the departmental web pages of Carnegie Mellon, Clemson, Montana, Delaware, Michigan Tech, New Jersey Institute of Technology, Cincinnati, Florida Atlantic, Montana (again), and Central Connecticut State.

I don’t know how to interpret this data; obviously the “Department of Mathematical Sciences” schools are less notable, but that makes sense simply because there are less of them. (Besides, I don’t want to be on record as insulting Carnegie Mellon because someone I love is in Pittsburgh.)

Now, historically statistics departments tend to be more applied in their outlook than mathematics, so if Joseph’s idea is right, then perhaps we’d expect “Statistical Sciences” to be more common, relatively speaking.

For “Department of Statistics” I get 4,640,000 hits; the first ten are Berkeley, Stanford, Washington, Penn State, Texas A&M, Oxford, UCLA, Chicago, Purdue, and Michigan. For “Department of Statistical Sciences” I get 63,400 hits, for a 73 to 1 ratio. The hits here start with Cornell, University College London, Duke, Cape Town, Padua, Virginia Commonwealth (which is actually “Statistical Sciences and Operations Research”), VCU again (this time a listing of their faculty), VCU again (some sort of “handbook”), VCU again (the page of Paul Brooks), and a flyer about Padua’s department. Interestingly, Cornell can’t make up its mind what to call its department; the HTML title of their page is apparently “Department of Statistics” but the banner at the top of the page identifies them as “Department of Statistical Science”.

So if anything, math departments are more likely to add “science” to their name than stats departments. Why?

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5 thoughts on “How do departments get their names?

  1. “Department of Mathematical Sciences” seems so wishy washy. Almost like they’re apologizing in advance– “yes, er, we are mathematicians, um, please excuse that, uhh, oh but look, we do SCIENCE too!”

  2. ““Department of Mathematics” is much more common; I get 9,090,000 Google hits for it, compared to 531,000 for “Department of Mathematical Sciences”, for a 17 to 1 ratio.”

    “I don’t know how to interpret this data; obviously the “Department of Mathematical Sciences” schools are less notable, but that makes sense simply because there are less of them.”

    Now how did you come to this conclusion (that there are fewer of them)?

    Using the number of Google hits is a bad idea.

    First, I assume you realize there aren’t 9090000 math departments in the world. So a lot of departments are being mentioned over and over on many pages. And you can bet that some departments will be mentioned a LOT more than others. Hence, it’s not at all obvious that “Department of Mathematics” is more common. A 17 to 1 ratio sounds like a lot, but it need not be. If a math professor in one of those departments went on a murderous rampage in class, then just due to the number of blog posts/news articles you’ll get a widely skewed statistic.

    (I don’t really doubt that your conclusion is correct – just pointing out that it is far from justified).

  3. beetleb2: These are all excellent points. And if the ratio was, say, 2 to 1, then I wouldn’t trust it. (For one thing, Google hit counts aren’t all that trustworthy.) But at a 17 to 1 ratio in Google’s claimed hit counts, I’m pretty confident that “Department of Mathematics” is far more frequent than “Department of Mathematical Sciences”.

    Of course it wouldn’t be hard to, say, find a list of all the universities in the US and take a random sample of them. But I don’t think it’s necessary here.

  4. Again, I don’t really doubt the conclusion, but I think it’s more honest to say up front that you’re making an assumption, rather than appearing to justify it.

    Regarding 17 to 1, consider this scenario.

    Suppose only half of the departments are “Department of Mathematics”. Further suppose that in terms of “rank”, they’re all the top half (i.e. DOMS is always lower than any DOM). Now it’s understandable that the number of pages referring to a higher ranked department will be greater than one referring to a lower ranked one. For simplicity, let’s take a scale of 0 to 2 (0 being the lowest ranked, 2 being the highest ranked department). Assume the number of pages for a given department scales with x^3 (x being the rank – between 0 and 2). To get the ratio of pages mentioning DOM, integrate the function from 1 to 2 – you’ll get that there are 16 times as many mentions of DOM than DOMS, despite their being equal in number.

    Now this analysis is REALLY shaky – starting with the assumption that DOMS is always lower ranked than DOM. But I think you get my point…

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