There are several simple ‘order of operations’ problems (memes) circulating on Facebook currently. This past weekend I saw this one “6-1×0+2÷2=?”. Over 2,500 people had answered it, 624 had liked it and 243 had shared it. Interestingly I noticed at least half of people have forgotten their order of math operations and therefore answered the problem incorrectly.
From observing people over the years it seems no matter what question you pose, or what great thing you offer - even if obviously in their benefit, there will always be a group who disagrees or don’t feel it’s a good thing. I think perhaps it’s some sort of innate survival mechanism left over from ancient days so that we wouldn’t all run over and eat those same delicious red berries.
I was curious how this question would be answered in a more professional setting, and so I posted the same problem to the Next Gen Market Research Group (NGMR) which I moderate on LinkedIn. I understood I would be far less likely to get a “1″ and more likely to get a “7″ as an answer.
In fact everyone who answered in NGMR answered 7, though they did so carefully at first, some probably thinking it was a trick question. I guess market research professionals are either much better at math than others, and/or more likely, folks in a professional group on LinkedIn are more hesitant to speak their mind quickly or take a guess and be incorrect than they are on Facebook.
As I said at least half the answers on Facebook to these questions are incorrect. To this one question in particular at least half answered with a “1″ but there were also several “3.5″ and “5’s”.
Now in my mind, there’s nothing wrong with being wrong if afterwards you can admit your error and learn from it. What surprised me most were the subsequent quite angry arguments adamantly defending their incorrect answers.
To give you an idea, here are just a few comments of the more than 2,500:
does anyone really ever get the answer….. ?????
the answer is 1 that is if you solve from left to right.
I change my answer to 5 (I suck, I had to write it down instead of doing it in my head:)
(6-1)X(0+2)/2=5 actually it’s begining algebra = 5×2=10 divided by 2. I tought Algebra ay Tampa Catholic High School in Tampa 1973- trust me. I know what I’m talking about here
too many people try to make things look difficult so they feel smarter. lets just do the math the way it’s written. first we have the #6then we’re asked to -1 which is 5 then we’re ask to multiply it by 0 which then the answer is 0 then we’re asked to add 2 now the answer is 2 and finally we’re asked to divide by 2 which now gives us 1.
I got “1″ but I can see how one could also get “7″
The answer is clearly 1. I aced the math regents. If you don’t see that you don’t deserve a high school diploma!
Why does this silly Facebook post matter at all? Well it’s basic math - there’s just one answer, it’s not up for debate.
Sometimes I wonder if this debating what is true, and what is the correct point of view on the problem is what’s the main problem currently in US politics. Even within our industry I hear ‘methodological’ arguments even within the NGMR group where some feel story is more important than data. Analyzing 40 tweets or a focus group is just as important as findings from a n=1000 US Census Rep survey.
Not sure what the answer is, but I think I agree with Mark Twain who once said “It’s easier to fool people than to convince them that they have been fooled”