A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from November 11, 2015
“Mathematics is the second-cheapest department at any college”

An old joke tells that mathemtics is the second-cheapest department at any college because all you need is a pencil, paper and a wastebasket. Philosophy is the cheapest because you don’t need the wastebasket. The joke implies that philosophy holds on to bad ideas.

“Mathematics is the second-cheapest profession, requiring only paper and pencil and a wastebasket” has been cited in print since at least 1991. The origin of the joke is unknown.

“Mathematics is the cheapest science” is a related saying from Hungarian mathematician George Pólya (1887-1985).


Google Books
Notices of the American Mathematical Society
Volume 38, Issues 6-10
1991
Pg. 900:
... mathematics is the second-cheapest profession, requiring only paper and pencil and a wastebasket (I’ll leave unnamed the profession that makes do without the wastebasket...).

Google Groups: talk.origins
[OT] academic joke
r norman
9/1/04
(...)
Mathematics is the second cheapest department to supply:  all they need is some paper, pencils and a few erasers.

Philosophy is even cheaper: they don’t bother with erasers.

Free Republic
Someone posted the other day that mathematics is the second cheapest science because all you need is a pencil, paper and a wastebasket. Philosophy is the cheapest, because you don’t need the wastebasket.
734 posted on 12/9/2005, 5:14:39 PM by js1138 (Great is the power of steady misrepresentation.)

International Skeptics Forum
Why Natural Philosophy (Science) is ********
Paul C. Anagnostopoulos
9th December 2007, 01:07 PM
With which they might buy ...

But wait, first the joke. What is the cheapest department to run at a university?

Well, pure math is the second cheapest. All they need are paper, pencils, and wastebaskets.

Philosophy is the cheapest department: They don’t need any wastebaskets.

anotherpanacea
September 2, 2008
An old joke
Joshua Miller
Probably my readers have all heard the old joke: Mathematics is the second cheapest department to run, because all you need are pencils, paper, and waste bins. Philosophy is the cheapest, because you can dispense with the bins.

The implication is that we hold on to everything, even bad ideas and bad work.

University of Leeds—Philosophy (2015)
Henry Merivale
PhD student

(...)
Internet, books and people
There’s a joke among mathematicians that theirs is the second cheapest department in the university, because all they need is a pencil, a notepad, and a waste-paper basket; philosophy is the cheapest, because they don’t need the basket.  I find that all I need is a computer with the internet, books, and intelligent people around to talk to and bounce ideas off.  Leeds has plenty of all three.

Facebook
Educational Quotations
February 9, 2015
“Mathematics is the cheapest science. Unlike physics or chemistry, it does not require any expensive equipment. All one needs for mathematics is a pencil and paper.”
― George Pólya

Fusion
November 11, 2015 9:55 a.m.
MAN VS. MACHINE
Yes, Marco Rubio, philosophy matters—and we could use a lot more of it
by Felix Salmon
(...)
There are lots of reasons to like philosophy. For one thing, it’s cost-efficient. A welder needs a large infrastructure of metal and heat to do her job, while philosophers are cheap even by academic standards. (As the old joke has it, a mathematician is the second-cheapest professor at any college: All she needs is a pencil and an eraser. But the cheapest is the philosopher, who only needs the pencil.)

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityEducation/Schools • Wednesday, November 11, 2015 • Permalink