Culture 3 min read

This Simple Math Equation Divided The Internet

Image courtesy of R.A. Fuertes

Image courtesy of R.A. Fuertes

A math equation went viral on the internet this week, with hundreds of Twitter users baffled over the right answer.

Considering the general lack of interest in mathematics in the United States, you have to wonder why this equation is so controversial. Well, grab a pen or a calculator, and solve this: 8 ÷ 2(2+2).

So, what was your answer? 1 or 16?

No one can decide conclusively. While some of Twitter users are convinced that the answer is 1, others argue that it must be 16.

At this point, you would think that some brilliant math or physics major would swoop in to end the madness. But, that only stoked the fire further. Now, the fight has gone viral.

So, which is the correct answer?

The Simple Math Equation That’s Not So Simple

The answer to this problem depends on the way you go about solving it. Depending on the part of the world where you learned math, you can either use the BODMAS or the PEMDAS method.

With the former, the order of the equation would be Brackets, Orders, Division, Multiplication, Addition, Subtraction. The order of the PEMDAS method, on the other hand, is Parenthesis, Exponents, Multiplication, Division, Addition.

The Public Awareness Officer for the American Mathematical Society, Mike Breen, whose job it is to spread the awesomeness of maths also weighed in on the issue.

In a statement to Popular Mechanics, Breen said:

“According to the order of operations, you solve whatever is in the parentheses first. That gives you 4. Then, in PEMDAS, multiplication, and division take equal precedence, so you’d do the first that occurs from left to right. So you’d do 8 divided by 2 first, which is 4. Thus, it’s 16, according to the classic order of operations.

But the way it’s written, it’s ambiguous. In math, a lot of times, there are ambiguities. Mathematicians try to make rules as precise as possible. According to a strict order of operations, you’d get 16, but I wouldn’t hit someone on the wrist with a ruler if they said 1.”

So, technically, both answers are right?

Whatever your answer may be, it turns out the equation was written in this confusing way intentionally. The post was meant to cause chaos on the internet.

Well, it worked.

Read More: DeepMind’s AI Mathletes Flunk High School Math Exam

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Sumbo Bello

Sumbo Bello is a creative writer who enjoys creating data-driven content for news sites. In his spare time, he plays basketball and listens to Coldplay.

Comments (6)
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  1. Profile Image
    Monalisa Rout November 19 at 3:10 pm GMT


    • Profile Image
      James Kelly October 25 at 1:50 am GMT

      88 but not only 88 two 8.s kissing then you can’t tall if it vertical or horizontal

  2. Profile Image
    7 Mischief Managed April 13 at 4:06 pm GMT

    It’s 16 because in the order of operations it’s Parentheses, Exponents, Multiplication or Division, Addition or Substraction. The order of the “or”s depends on the order they’re placed in the equation, not whether you write it PEMDAS or PEDMAS.

  3. Profile Image
    Alexander De Ridder Admin August 01 at 11:17 pm GMT

    I got it right! 🙂

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