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12:56pm on Sunday, 29th April, 2007:



Every once in a while, some publicity-seeking scientist publishes a mathematical formula to express something incredibly mundane. Here's one mentioned in the Independent today:

I used to complain that whenever these articles were written, they didn't give the units. Now, they don't even give the variables. What's L? What's As? What are E, N, A, C, B and S? Beats me. As could be "time spent asleep in seconds", I guess, but what's the term for "time spent at work"? Shrug.

The formula doesn't even make sense as a formula. ((L+As)/2)2 looks to me a lot like it should be (L+As), but is that really a multiplication? There's an actual multiplication sign later on (or it is a variable, x?), so it might just be some formatting error. Then again, it could simply and inexplicably not have been optimised. What's going on here?

The article here takes a swipe at all these experts who produce such formulae, which is fair enough, but making something more impenetrable than it was already by not telling us what the terms mean and by formatting it weirdly is almost as bad as the original crime.

Maybe I should create my own formula, accounting for all the factors that increase your chances of getting a wacky formula into the pages of national newspapers.

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Copyright © 2007 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).