Now I’ve never been one of those corporate slaves, that thrive off slogans, abbreviations and other bits of psychobabble. However, there is one mathematician that has coined a phrase that I cannot ignore. In fact, he’s coined two little nuggets. What’s more, I had the privilege of being led by him in a webinar earlier in the month.
Rob Eastaway, author of Maths On The Back Of An Envelope, offered many insights into ‘not letting the questions beat you’ when making sense of the world around you.
According to Rob, it is possible to test the potential validity of statistics and data through rough calculations.
To take a topical example at the moment, the reopening of schools requires 2m social distancing, along with 15 children per classroom (plus 1 teacher). Each person, therefore, needs a protective bubble of 2m (1m in every direction). Using a rough approximation of π = 3.1, we get an area per person of 6.2m². 16 x 6.2 might be a bit tricky, so let’s make it 16 x 6. 10×6 = 60, 6×6 = 36. Roughly, therefore, we need somewhere in the region of 100m² area in each classroom, more if we are to move around at all. Each classroom would need to be similar to 10m x 10m. Is YOUR classroom this big?
Taking this idea further, Rob has coined the term ‘zequals‘. This is where every number is rounded to 1 significant figure, which, in the above example, would require the calculation to be 20 x 6, which would be 120m².
I fully appreciate that I’ve single handedly destroyed Rob’s fantastic work by my crass writing, so I would encourage you to find out more about him yourselves. He can be found on Twitter as @robeastaway as well as other platforms. He is a regular on Numberphile, and below is a video of a recent talk on this topic that he gave at the Royal Institute in London.