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.
Listen to more episodes of the Science Focus Podcast:
- There’s no such thing as Blue Monday – Sir David Spiegelhalter
- Inside the mind of a comedian – Robin Ince
- Finding the fun in science – Dara Ó Briain
- What’s the deal with algorithms? – Hannah Fry
- Is religion compatible with science? – John Lennox
- What does it mean to be happy? – Helen Russell
If you like what you hear, then please rate, review, and share with anybody you think might enjoy our podcast.
You can also subscribe and leave us a review on your favourite podcast apps. Also, if there is anybody you’d like us to speak to, or a topic you want us to cover, then let us know on Twitter at @sciencefocus.