Tuesday, 15 January 2013

The nonsense math effect

Good to know ;-)

Kimmo Eriksson
The nonsense math effect
Judgment and Decision Making, 7 (2012), pp. 746-749.

Abstract. Mathematics is a fundamental tool of research. Although potentially applicable in every discipline, the amount of training in mathematics that students typically receive varies greatly between different disciplines. In those disciplines where most researchers do not master mathematics, the use of mathematics may be held in too much awe. To demonstrate this I conducted an online experiment with 200 participants, all of which had experience of reading research reports and a postgraduate degree (in any subject). Participants were presented with the abstracts from two published papers (one in evolutionary anthropology and one in sociology). Based on these abstracts, participants were asked to judge the quality of the research. Either one or the other of the two abstracts was manipulated through the inclusion of an extra sentence taken from a completely unrelated paper and presenting an equation that made no sense in the context. The abstract that included the meaningless mathematics tended to be judged of higher quality. However, this "nonsense math effect" was not found among participants with degrees in mathematics, science, technology or medicine.


  1. However, the same effect may have been produced by quoting an irrelevant Latin or Greek tag which might lead to those ignorant of those languages to make a similar error.

  2. No, windwheel, that just makes the author look like an ass, as per:

    e^i(ass) = cos(ass) + isin(ass)

    Where ass is any author quoting Latin or Greek in their abstract.It is a rudimentary identity.