Here is a list of “mathematical formulae” and “scientific equations” which detail every aspect of our day-to-day lives, all “calculated” or “devised” by “scientists”, “academics”, “economists” and “mathematicians” from various embarrassed universities. These are all taken from the Telegraph. Don’t imagine other newspapers are better…
- The Perfect Sitcom: quality = (rd+v)f÷a+s
Dr Helen Pilcher, a neuroscientist (according to the Telegraph) whored her name to this ‘research’ which was commissioned by UKTV Gold to promote their endless repeating of that clip of Del Boy falling through the bar: f in the equation means “the amount someone falls over”. This is about the level of humour the Telegraph seems to like, because…
- The Perfect Joke: x = (fl + no)/p
In this case, n represents “the amount someone falls over”, and is raised to the power of “the “Ouch” factor”. It won’t surprise you to learn that this is the work of the same Helen Pilcher, although this time helped by comedian Timandra Harkness. It should be some measure of Harkness’ fame that I wouldn’t like to guess what gender the name Timandra indicates. To their very limited credit, the telegraph article does include rants from Jimmy Carr, Bernard Manning and Ruby Wax explaining that the formula was stupid (in their own obnoxious ways). Also Nicholas Parsons, but he’s not obnoxious. Why was this in the news? “The Comedy Research Project, a live stage show featuring Helen Pilcher and Timandra Harkness, will be performed at the Science Museum’s Dana Centre on June 15 and 22 .” I bet that was a fucking blast.
- The Perfect Day: quality = O + NS + Cpm÷T + He
This was pulled out of the arse of Cliff Arnall (not Lou Reed), a psychologist and former tutor at Cardiff University, because Wall’s Ice Cream asked nicely. The Telegraph notes it “does not take into account the gloomy forecasts for the British economy, fears caused by falling house prices, rising inflation and stagnating pay rises, England not playing in the Euro 2008 and a damper than normal start to the summer”. All the factors in the formula are utterly subjective and the whole thing is worse than most. The comments on the Telegraph pages are fun. This is especially perverse because in 2006 the perfect day was three full days later. (The Telegraph really do obligingly report this, from either end, every time they’re asked.)
- The Perfect Bra: formula not supplied
This one is actually real (albeit slightly over the top) research! It could genuinely improve your life (moreso if you are a woman). I know; I was as surprised as you are.
- The Perfect Rugby Kick: KP = CSP – s + w + r + yn + cr + sc + mt + xn + ctw
This is just a shopping list of things that affect a rugby kick. And “y to the power of n represents other factors”. My word. This drivel comes to us no thanks to “Andrew Cushing and Prof Paul Robinson at University College Worcester for the research company QinetiQ”.
- The Price Of Cleaning: price = time × £6.16/hour
This is a note that the average wage has increased, listed in terms of how much people lose out on by not being paid to brush their teeth (30p, although it doesn’t say how much they save by not having to get private dental treatment if they don’t brush). Barclaycard convinced Prof Ian Walker, an economist at Warwick University to endorse it.
- The Perfect Marriage: formula not supplied
“Prof James Murray of the University of Washington” says this formula has a 94% success rate in predicting if a couple will divorce, although really I’d want to know sensitivity and specificity, otherwise you could conduct a survey of evangelical Christians and the terminally ill, say they’ll all stay together, and declare yourself the winner. They later ran a second article about how it was nonsense.
- The Perfect Chip: formula not ready at time of press
That’s right, because Dr Gama Khan won’t just sign off on whatever nonsense Tesco ask — that, or Tesco asked for a big long experimental phase they can publicise for months. Khan says “The competition is intense because everyone wants to go down in history and finally crack the secret of the perfect frozen oven chip. I am looking at a lot of chips. Some days I’m testing them continuously from 9.30am to 4pm. It actually can get quite sickening, particularly when I always smell of chip fat.” And it’s true. Everyone wants a slice of the elusive Nobel Prize in Fast Food.
- The Perfect Football Penalty: odds of scoring = (X + Y + S) — (T + I + 2B)÷8 + V÷2 – 1 [simplified]
This was commissioned by Ladbrokes, and is credited to “by scientists at John Moores University in Liverpool”, which quickly becomes “Dr David Lewis, a mathematician”. I think this quote tells you all you need to know about the mathematical ability of everyone involved in this report (emphasis mine):
- The Perfect Sandcastle: 0.125S = OW
This simply states the ideal ratio of sand to water. Personally, I would just use the pre-prepared wet sand b the beach, which must surely be about right because it does seem to work. “Prof Matthew Bennett, the head of environmental and geographic sciences, Dr Brian Astin, the head of the School of Conservation Sciences, and Rob Haslam, laboratory and technical services manager, then spent two days testing the samples for their suitability for sandcastle building. … Teletext Holidays, which commissioned the research, will be holding a sandcastle-building championship on July 24  in Great Yarmouth.” This work was replicated the following year by “an MIT team, led by Sarah Nowak and Arshad Kudrolli” who reached exactly the same conclusion (although they phrased it in a simpler way). This might be nearly useful to some engineers somewhere.
- How To Open Champagne: P = T÷4.5 + 1
P and T are pressure and temperature. I think this is not made up, although not really that useful in real terms: essentially it says that if you cool the champagne it is less likely to explode on you. This comes from “Dr Steve Smith, a lecturer in wine studies at Coventry University”, who “was commissioned to develop the formula after a Marks & Spencer survey found that 50 per cent of women are too frightened to open a bottle of bubbly because they fear that the cork will fly out prematurely, hitting them or a precious ornament”.
- The Perfect Place To Shop: D=f(m,b,c)
The function f is undefined. “Retail and consumer trends expert Tim Dennison has come up with a formula to help Yellow Pages calculate how diverse and lively high streets are.” It says little town streets are more diverse than city centre ones. Nobody is surprised.
- The Perfect Newspaper: no formula
It’s the Telegraph. Shocking. I suspect this is bad self-congratulatory reporting of some tiny little statement the academics made, but then I work for Manchester University so I am biased (although I’m not certain which way).
- How To Pour Gravy: amount of gravy = (W – D÷S) ÷ D — 100
According to “Dr Len Fisher, an independent food scientist at Bristol University… who was funded by the manufacturer Bisto”, this is important because “more than 150,000 gallons of gravy is left every week.” Hard to see what Bisto have to gain by this, except of course that they’re in a newspaper.
- The Perfect Book: formula not done at time of press
…although it’s going to be Agatha Christie, says Dr Roland Kapferer.
- The Perfect Biscuit: formula deemed to complicated for Telegraph readers
This was led by Professor Bronek Wedzicha of Leeds University and “half funded by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and half by United Biscuits.” The researchers insist that this is real research rather than a publicity stunt, and I see no reason not to believe that, especially since they spent £91,000 on it.
- The Perfect News Story: “never trust your own instincts” but rely on “tried and tested formulas, bland ingredients and using up old scraps and leftovers from the day before, particularly the choicest cuts from the Daily Mail – no matter how stale.”
Dr Lewis and his team found the six variables that influence a successful penalty kick are: V = velocity of ball once struck, T = time between placing ball on spot and striking the ball, S = number of steps in run-up to strike, I = time that the ball is struck after goalkeeper initiates his dive, Y = vertical placement of ball from ground, X = horizontal placement of ball from centre and B = striking position of boot.
Some time I might do this for other newspapers, although I’m not sure I could read the ones in the Daily Mail faster than their hacks can produce them, so perhaps I won’t.