The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Article in New York Times Wrong About Math Problem

The following number phrase may be simplified to what number?
Please state what you think and why. Then we’ll discuss it.


Why is this in general theology?

This is, like, really old news Paidion. Do you live under a rock! Lol…

That was a mistake on my part. I had intended it to be in the Members-Only category.

I have now changed the title of the thread. The former title was a hasty generalization on my part; I regret making it.

What is the difference how old the “news” is, Gabe? Does its old age imply that everyone is aware of it?

Yes, everyone should be aware of it. I think it hit every major news outlets.

Greetings Gabe,
I just went to the website you provided in your initial response. Now I understand why you called it “news.” I truly wasn’t aware that this math problem became major news. I guess I hadn’t yet emerged from under my rock.

What actually happened is that I stumbled upon this article in the New York Times:

I was surprised that the writer of the article had the incorrect number as the simplification of the math expression. So I thought I’d see what the members of this forum thought the answer should be.

Also, I checked it out on my excellent hand calculator (a CASIO), and found that it gave the correct answer.

I’d say 16, what is right?

I’ll move it to the member’s only category somewhere. (As soon as I figure out how…!)

I think Paidion created the topic again somewhere else. I cannot for the life of me figure out how to move a topic from one category to another (this engine is barely anything like our prior one), but I can move the posts to the other topic. I think. I hope. :wink:

Good grief! – well I thought I knew what Paidion’s other thread was, but now I can’t find it again!

Site engine… headache inducing… off to mow lawn…

Greetings Earthling,


Nope! That’s what the New York Times said the answer was.
It would be 16 if it had been written this way: 8÷2×(2+2)
But the phrase is actually 8÷2(2+2)
So the multiplication of the 2 by the (2+2) must be performed before the division.
Thus the correct answer is 1.

Paidion, your dogma is strong.

But the problem lies in the fact that the question is set up to be misleading and of course there is a correct answer. The truth is that regardless of whether you have been taught math algebra with the BODMAS system (brackets, order, division, multiplication, addition, subtraction) or the PEMDAS one (parentheses, indices, multiplication, division, addition, subtraction), the answer is still 16.

Begin by solving the bracketed addition and you get 8 ÷ 2 x 4 =?. Then, according to both BODMAS and PEMDAS, you solve it from left to right.

Most math experts will come up with 16. As someone said, the equation isn’t really written properly, so as to bridge the gap of some ambiguity. I know Paidion was a math teacher, but I will take the word of mathematicians over a math teacher, and even so, this isn’t really math. This is language/syntax we are dealing with. A proper equation wouldn’t leave such ambiguity.


A Parting Shot from Rhett Allain, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Physics at Southeastern Louisiana University, Who Delivered the Final Verdict and Decisively Shut Us All Up

This is the math version of, ‘What color is this dress? Blue and black or gold and white?’ My answer is that you do parentheses first, so that becomes:


Next, you go from left to right.

8/2 is 4, so it is


Now you get 16.

Of course this isn’t math. This is convention. We have conventions on how to write these things just like we have conventions on how to spell stuff. But still, there are different conventions. Some people spell it as ‘gray’ and others as ‘grey.’ We still understand what’s going on. For me, I would write this more explicitly so that there is no confusion. Like this:

8/(2*(2+2)), if that’s what you are trying to do. That way no one will get it wrong.

And… This. By far the best explanation of why 16 is the correct answer.

I haven’t been taught either BODMAS or PEMDAS.However, I have been taught at high school, teachers college, and university (where I earned a B.Sc. degree with a major in mathematics) that the distributive property must be calculated first. In this case, 2(2+2) requires the distributive property to be applied. The 2 immediately before the parentheses is distributed among the numerals within the parentheses. If a, b, and c represent numbers, then a(b+c)=(a×b)+(a×c). In this case, the distributive property would apply as follows:

2(2+2) = (2×2)+(2×2)=4+4=8

So since the number phrase begins with “8÷” followed by this distribution we have:

It also yields the same result, if you just do the multiplication before the parentheses first:
2(2+2) = 2×4 = 8

Not much wonder that I’m dogmatic about this!

“What about the distributive property?”
This is irrelevant to the answer. The distributive property is about how to multiply over a grouped sum, not about a precedence of operations. It is definitely true that:

8÷2(2+2) = 8÷2(4)

The issue is whether to do 8÷2 first or 2(4) first. PEMDAS says to go from left to right.

The distributive property is indeed relevant since because of this property obviously in 2(2+2), the number 2 before the parentheses cannot be separated from this property as if a multiplication sign could be inserted between it and the parentheses as in 2×(2+2). For when you do that the distributive property disappears, and the number 2 before the parentheses could then be operated first with the 8 and the division sign.

However, it seems that you are unable to admit this, and so we are at an impasse. That is often the case with theological issues as well (not necessarily between you and me), and so I am thinking that perhaps this thread belongs in the theological category after all!

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Well, I am sure glad we have a high school math teacher to show up a bunch of PhDs. :laughing:

I have no interest in “showing up” anyone. I am interested only in the facts, in this case the conventions of mathematics. It doesn’t take a PhD to be aware of those conventions.

Also having a PhD does not qualify a person to be aware of all the facts in this life. Indeed, I have observed a man who was more aware than most others of many aspects of life—my father— and he had only a grade 6 education. I recall once when I was in high school and being fascinated with algebra, and how it could be used to solve difficult mathematical problems. I thought I’d demonstrate this to my father by giving him such a math problem. He took a pencil and paper, made a few arithmetical calculations and produced the correct answer! I recall that at the time that I was a bit disappointed that my little “demonstration” had failed.