The greatest debate of our era is currently raging online. No it’s not whether the world actually needs meatless eggs. No, it’s not the newly announced federal leaders’ debate that HuffPost Canada is a part of (though we’re pretty excited!). And it’s not whatever U.S. Democratic candidate Marianne Williamson got up to at Tuesday night’s debate.
It’s about how to do math.
This Twitter post, featuring a screencap from a cartoon with a math problem is the latest drama to divide the world.
And the people are truly divided.
Even Queer Eye’s resident home renovator (and probably the guy who knows the most about math) Bobby Berk got into the debate.
And the Google Calculator also seems to think it’s 16...
But this calculator thinks it’s 1.
Here’s the thing — there are probably multiple right answers here.
It’s also probably a regional thing. Those who followed a BEDMAS (often also known as BODMAS) tended to get 16 and those using PEMDAS got one.
BEDMAS stands for Brackets, Exponents, Division, Multiplication, Addition and Subtraction.
PEMDAS stands for Parentheses, Exponents, Multiplication, Division, Addition, Subtraction.
Both acronyms refer to systems of prioritizing mathematical elements when calculating an equation.
A quick poll of the mostly schooled-in-Canada HuffPost Canada office shows that we are staunch defenders of BEDMAS. We also mostly got 1 as our answer. Whereas a quick Google search seems to show PEMDAS as the order of operations of choice in the United States.
So what’s the right answer then? Is it 16? Is it 1? Is it something else entirely?
WATCH: Labrador’s math skills are leaving us impressed.
Well, that’s always going to be ambiguous. A lot of it comes down to how you view the 2 on the outside of the bracket. Is it simple multiplication that you would prioritize with your order of operations of choice? Or is it a distributive and thus part of the bracket?
Where you grew up will probably influence your answer, but mathematicians advocate for more brackets to make things clearer.
“If it still seems unclear, it’s best to include [more] brackets to remove any possible ambiguity,” a math professor told the U.K.’s Mirror newspaper. “Mathematicians do not generally have problems communicating with each other about things like this, but for whatever reason people seem to enjoy posing these kinds of problems on social media!”
BONUS: the case for FOIL
As one astute Twitter user pointed out many people might be forgetting another important part of algebra that could help bring clarity to this problem.
You might have to bring up another long dormant math acronym — FOIL, which stands for First Outside Inside Last when multiplying two sets of numbers in brackets.
Using that logic, the answer again comes up as 1.
Oh, if only my high school AP calculus teacher could see me now.