# Category Archives: Math Abuse

# Math the Band

How can you not love a band called Math the Band? The bad news is that they aren’t a Tom Lehrer cover band (which, by the way, the world desperately needs!).

The good news is that they are:

…a electro-punk spazz duo from Providence, RI. They use a combination of old video game systems, analog synthesizers and energy drinks to make the fastest, loudest, most party-est music they can imagine. They’ve only cracked their head open on stage ONCE.

— from Math the Band’s bandcamp.com webpage

They are a perfect antidote to feeling groggy during finals week (it’s like injecting Redbull directly into your inner ear!).

You can hear all their music here on their website. And if you want a direct injection of Math the Band, you can see them this Sunday in Norman at the Ampy Shanty!

For an entirely different experience, check out their acoustic version of “Why Didn’t You Get A Haircut?”:

# Ken Ribet vs. Serge Lang

Serge Lang is a mathematician known for inspiring strong feelings. Check out this post on facebook for the story behind:

Thanks to Cathy O’Neil for the heads up!

# Hitler Learns Topology

Here’s the youtube video Dan Guralnik mentioned in his talk. It’s a scene from the film Downfall where Hitler learns about clopen sets in topology. It’s definitely an R-rated scene, so don’t watch it in front of your grandmother!

# Math Abuse

You’ve seen them. It’s those “news” stories where a “scientist” says they have calculated the best/worst movie/holiday/starbucks coffee/fruit/travel destination. And these articles always, always, always have two features:

1) the best/worst is always the product of the sponsor/sponsor’s competitor, and

2) there is always some bogus math formula which makes it look all official and science-y.

At Apathy Sketchpad you can find formulas to compute the best sitcom, the perfect joke, or how to pour gravy.

Besides being absurd, news articles treating these as serious science only serve to cloud the everyday person’s idea of what real science is all about. This leaves people believing in all sorts of pseudoscience, and gives them the idea that taxpayers money on research is being wasted on drivel like this.

People get really worked up about this abuse of math and science. Simon Singh is sponsoring a contest to find the worst example of this kind of formula (makes you wonder if he’ll come up with a formula to calculate the worst one :-)). And Ben Goldacre has taken the time to point out that if you look at units, then some of these formulas are automatically pure nonsense! And as Nikola Petrov told us a couple of weeks ago, you should pay attention to your units!

(Thanks to Dr. Goodey for pointing out Simon Singh’s article)

# We all live in Lake Wobegon

On the radio the other day a psychologist mentioned that 85% of people believe they are above average in intelligence. Even if you haven’t taken statistics, you know that something’s not quite right with that number. Unless, of course, you live in Lake Wobegon where:

all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.

—

Garrison Keillor

This is called the Lake Wobegon effect. For example, 88% of American college students rated themselves as above the median on driving skills and 25% put themselves in the top 1% for leadership ability. Of course, apparently at the University of Nebraska, 68% of the faculty rated themselves in the top 25% for teaching ability. For more examples look here. People, the numbers don’t lie!

Besides being amusing, this effect can have real world consequences. For example, it is blamed as part of the cause for the ever rising pay of CEO’s (If every CEO is above average, then they should be getting paid more than everyone else), and politician’s uncanny ability to get themselves and the country into trouble (if all the people in Congress are smarter than average, why do they keep doing dumb things?).