: views from the Hill

Friday, April 30, 2004


Sent a link to this off to his nibs a day or two ago. Found it written up in the Merc this morning.

eBay item 3189039958 (Ends Apr-30-04 09:58:51 PDT) - DECREASE YOUR ERDOS NUMBER! scientific coauthorship

As Kevin Bacon is to acting, Paul Erdös is to writers of scientific and mathematical papers. The auction's over, but the writeup for the eBay auction offering an Erdös number of 5 is a keeper. madd_greg paid $1,031.00 for the privilege of co-authoring a paper with someone with an Erdös number of 4.

update: Science News has an update on the Erdös number auction on eBay. ("Theorems for Sale: An online auctioneer offers math amateurs a backdoor to prestige" by Erica Klarreich)

Turns out that madd_gregg was really "Jose Burillo, a mathematician at the Polytechnic University of Barcelona in Spain with an Erdös number of 3 [who]—wrote that he had placed the winning bid 'to stop the mockery this person is doing of the paper/journal system' and called the auction a 'travesty.'"

William Tozier "whose Erdös number is 4 ... launched the auction as a joke, in his words, 'one morning before I'd had enough coffee.'" He used the exercise as an experiment in social networking. He told four friends about the auction and asked them to spread the word, then tracked how the news carried.

Although the first auction was a bust due to the Burillo sabotage, Tozier is considering running the auction again. He says he would like to use some of the money earned to set up a collaborative community where amateur mathematicians would have the opportunity to work with academic mathematicians and others with similar interests. Tozier said he received more than one hundred responses from non-mathematicians who were interested in his offered collaboration because they feel excluded from any opportunity to discuss their mathematical work with the academic mathematical community.

Read the Science News article for more detail.