Pseudomathematics sympathiser at ScienceBlogs?

EDIT: I maybe went off half-cocked with this. See the following post./EDIT

I’m worried about Culture Dish. In her welcome message newest member of the SciBorg, Rebecca Skloot, links to an article she wrote entitled Tushology, which is about a Manchester Met professor’s mathematical equation for the perfect human arse.


Pity poor mathematics. Perhaps every five years or so an actual mathematical story will make the mainstream press, if an old and easily described conjecture is solved by a sufficiently eccentric mathematician at a time of year when little that is newsworthy is happening. For the most part though what the public gets told is mathematics is this sort of thing: The Formula For X. Look at these examples by the Torygraph or these from the Mail.

To the unscrupulous journalist The Formula For X is great; it writes itself, straight from the press release, just like The Gene for Y and Z Causes (or Prevents) Cancer. In actually fact it is (in some ways) rather a lot worse than those persistence forms of bad science reporting. While gene and cancer stories may turn weak, early evidence of limited influence into simple causation, there is usually some science under it. The “maths” stories are typically formulae paid for out of corporate PR budgets which reduce complex phenomena to a five term polynomial based on no real evidence at all.

And so to the article in question:

David A. Holmes did not wake up one morning and say to himself, Today I’m going to come up with an equation to measure the perfect human posterior. He didn’t think to quantify backsides until a horseracing public-relations person called to ask if he could scientifically calculate what the perfect behind for a jockey would be

Wow. You have at least to admire the shamelessness of that. It a PR lead story all right.

Moving on,

The equation that describes the quality of the female rear end, according to Holmes, is (S + C) x (B + F)/T – V, where S = Overall Shape (“including tendency to droop”), C = Circularity, B = Bounce Factor (not to be confused with “wobble”), F = Firmness (with perfect being “like a comfy bed”), T = Skin Texture and V = Vertical Ratio (the goal: “on the top-heavy side of symmetrical”). For the male rear end, the equation replaces bounce, circularity and vertical ratio with M (Muscularity), L (Leanness) and O (Overall Symmetry).

Hmm overall shape? Bounce factor? What would the units of those be?

The numbers you plug in to the equation come from a list of descriptions. To calculate B for Bounce: “After one flick it wobbles for 30 secs” gives you a 2, whereas “during aerobics it doesn’t even quiver” gives you a 5.

Ahhh I see… arbitrary division into discrete categories. Really these things are going to be no easier to judge than “How attractive is this bottom on a scale of 1- 10?”. Still, maybe the model correlates well to attractiveness:

“There is a massive — and I mean massive — disagreement among the public between the larger, motherly, 1950s womanly bum and the impossible small, pert, athletic, rounded one,” Holmes says. He calls it “the J. Lo bum verses the Kylie bum,” after Jennifer Lopez and the singer Kylie Minogue (who scores close to the ideal). Holmes’s personal bottom line: “The J. Lo bum is more feminine and more representative of Woman; the Kylie bum is actually very close to the perfect male bum — it’s far more androgynous than people would like to admit.”

O! So basically tastes differ and the formula doesn’t really reflect reality at all ; whodathunk it?

I like Typically, I find that going to the front page and clicking on anything produces something more interesting and informative that the vast majority of newspaper articles (unless the blogger is Matt Nisbett, obviously). Certainly I expect to be able to avoid the worst kinds of churnalism. I’m pretty sure that they wouldn’t employ anyone with a record of talking up other kinds of pseudoscience quantum healing, say or global warming denialism. I’m a little disappointed that they consider that associating mathematics in peoples minds with arbitrary formulas pulled out of a morally-challenged professors backside (pardon the pun) to get a few column inches. It’s not even like she hacked it out pay the rent and is embarrased about; she links to it right there in her first post.


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11 Responses to “Pseudomathematics sympathiser at ScienceBlogs?”

  1. Greg Laden Says:

    You really have to get rid of those obnoxious pop-outs that plague my mouse when I try to approach a link to right click on it.

  2. John A. Davison Says:

    I am curious. What do you think of my “Prescribed Evolutionary Hypthesis” and the similar “Universal Genome Hypothesis” neither of which can ever be reconciled with the athgeist inspired Darwinian fairy tale?

  3. John A. Davison Says:

    I am curious. What do you think of my “Prescribed Evolutionary Hypthesis” and the similar “Universal Genome Hypothesis” neither of which can ever be reconciled with the athgeist inspired Darwinian fairy tale?

  4. mattheath Says:

    Greg Laden: Yeah. A lot of people think they are good for technical definitions in maths articles but I’m coming around to the point of view that I should lose them.

    John A, Davidson: I have a high level of trust in the consensus of mainstream scientists as to the value of your work.

  5. mattheath Says:

    Snapshots are now gone.

  6. John A. Davison Says:

    mattheath, whoever that is, apparently just another anonymous unfulfilled blowhard.

    It is Davison, not Davidson. I am unaware of any criticism of my work presented in a refereed journal by what you call “mainstream scientists.” Perhaps you could cite a single example. On the other hand perhaps you can’t. Thanks for esposing your unfounded bias.

  7. John A. Davison Says:

    pardon the typo. exposing not esposing.

  8. John A. Davison Says:

    It doesn’t get any better than this.

  9. mattheath Says:

    ahhh JAD you tire me. I’m not a biologist and so naturally I shan’t be pointing you to any biology papers but since I never referred to this consensus as being in learned journals that is no relevance. In any case it is you have assumed that this consensus is negative; from where did you get such any idea JAD?

    As for anonymous: HAHAHA I’m blogging under my own name and my about page says where I work.

    As for blowhard: I’m not the one turning up on wholly irrelevant comment threads (maths in the newspapers FFS, what does that have to do with biology?) expecting people to care about my tedious ideas (anyone who spends time on science blogs has had a chance to read about your work by now) and caling the blog owner names.

    I don’t get enough comments that you can disturb much so I’m not going to bother banning you, at least for now. But I am henceforth ignoring you.

  10. John A. Davison Says:

    Please ban me so I can add this blog to all the others that still promote and perpetuate the biggest and most enduring hoax ever conceived by the atheist inspired human imagination.

  11. John A. Davison Says:

    It matters not whether you ignore me. What matters is that others who visit this blog may not ignore me. Everyone is welcome at my weblog –

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