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What happens when maths goes horribly, horribly wrong? – Matt Parker © Getty Images

Matt Parker: What happens when maths goes horribly, horribly wrong?

Published: 05th March, 2020 at 15:52
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Sums are hard, but imagine the consequences when getting the wrong answer leads to disaster. Comedian and maths whizz Matt Parker explains what happens when rounding errors and miscalculations get the better of our equations.

Throughout history, engineers have watched their bridges disappear into the waters below, all because of tiny changes in design unexpectedly affecting their structural integrity. Elsewhere, generals have stood aghast as missile defences miss their target by a country mile thanks to rounding errors, and bankers have seen their profits tumble as a result of spreadsheet quirks.


Maths can get a bad rep, especially when even the slightest miscalculation can lead to catastrophe. In his new book, Humble Pi: A Comedy of Maths Errors (£9.99, Allen Lane), stand-up comedian and general maths whizz Matt Parker digs out his calculator to work out why so many disasters can arise from simple mistakes - often with deadly consequences.

In this week’s Science Focus Podcast, he describes some of history’s most incredible maths mistakes and how they were made. He also explains the joy of calculators, how, despite many teachers' best efforts to crack a joke, maths can actually be funny, and how he celebrates a very special day in the mathematician's calendar through the medium of pie (the kind that you eat).

You can find Matt on Twitter and YouTube at @standupmaths, so be sure to tweet him any maths jokes, disastrous rounding errors or novel uses you’ve found for pi (both the mathematical and edible varieties). We’d love to hear them too, at @sciencefocus.

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Alexander McNamaraOnline Editor, BBC Science Focus

Alexander is the former Online Editor at BBC Science Focus.


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