Michi’s blog » So that must mean I’ve been a mathematician since 2005?

## So that must mean I’ve been a mathematician since 2005?

• December 8th, 2008
• 4:03 am

http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/features/article2011061.ece

This is a rather atrocious article giving yet another ad hoc “formula” to compute some numeric measurement of something-or-other. In this particular case, it’s about cleavage, and how to avoid showing too much of it, but these “formulae” plague us every time some journalist wants to math up their reporting.

What caught my eye in this particular case was the people they lined up to back up the story.

Mathematician William Hartston, who holds an MA in Maths from Cambridge University, reckons this will save a lot of showbiz blushes on the red carpet.

### 7 People had this to say...

• drscrooge
• December 8th, 2008
• 10:03

0x => O= and the computation makes sense

• Harald Korneliussen
• December 8th, 2008
• 12:45

Ben Goldacre had a whole chapter on such formulas in his book “Bad Science”, which is apparently based on a blog. If you need to read someone who shares your frustrations, it’s here.

• Tom
• December 8th, 2008
• 20:20

Even worse, at Cambridge you get an MA for free 4 years after graduating. (It’s a bit hard to find a link on this since googling for Cambridge+MA invariably lands me on the wrong side of the atlantic). But he really just has an undergrad degree.

• Michi
• December 8th, 2008
• 20:28

@drscrooge: Though if you look at the article, the formula is something like O = NP(blah)/blah, where N is supposed to be “nipples exposed”. So the arithmetic example given is what they claim they want to compute, and it still comes out to nonsense. Essentially, the formula they have is saying that without any actually exposed nipples, breasts cannot be obscene.

@Harald: I know. I have his LiveJournal feed in my list.

@Tom: That just makes it even scarier.

Tom: Oxford does the same. In their defence, they’ve been doing it since long before the concept of a bachelor’s degree existed.

[My own Oxford master’s, being an MMath rather than an MA, was earned.]

I agree with Harald, Ben Goldacre is excellent and I delegate all my ranting about bad science to him. He has a post on this type of story here.

I remember William Hartston from the 1970’s as an international chess master and author of several good chess books; some serious: “The Benoni” and “The Gruenfeld Defence”; some not so serious: “How to Cheat at Chess” and “Soft Pawn”. But nowadays he is the current writer of the distinctly surreal Beachcomber column in the Daily Express newspaper. I suspect that the Sun journalists just phoned him up with a few questions and then twisted what he said to fit their story.

• Michi
• December 13th, 2008
• 16:22

Tristram: I know about and read Ben Goldacre. One of the main reasons for this blog post was that Ben hadn’t posted his rant yet when I wrote it – otherwise I might have channeled my own annoyance into a comment at his blog instead.

I’ve heard more people talk about William Hartston with favourable tones, so he’s probably a decent guy with bad editing instead of the complete fool he looks like in that article.