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Wednesday, August 07, 2019

Why Mathematicians Hate That Viral Equation | Science - The New York Times

Kenneth Chang, science reporter at The New York Times reports, It’s formatted to confuse people, and there are no interesting underlying concepts.

Photo: Carl Court/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Math can be useful. It can also be elegant, even beautiful — a word you’ll often hear mathematicians say when they describe the discovery of a nugget of surprising insight.

That seemingly simple equation that ricocheted across the internet recently was neither useful nor elegant. By now, you’ve likely seen it:
8 ÷ 2(2+2) = ?

“I HATE this,” Amie Wilkinson, a mathematician at the University of Chicago, commented on a Facebook post by a colleague about the equation, echoing the disdain felt by many mathematicians for the trending question.

Kenneth Ribet of the University of California, Berkeley described it as “irksome.”
“I didn’t care. I wasn’t interested,” said Greg Kuperberg of the University of California, Davis. “I stared at it a little bit and moved on.”...

For mathematicians, equations like this one — something that looks like what you learned in school, but which has been twisted with intentionally ambiguous notation — reinforce the trope that the core of math consists of memorized recipes of calculation.

“It implies that the point of mathematics to trip up other people with stupid rules,” Dr. Wilkinson said.

Additional resources 
Viral math problem baffles mathematicians, physicists | Mathematics - New York Post