The simple reason a viral math equation took the internet by storm

Almost a decade nowmathematicians and mathematics educators discuss a particular debate based on school mathematics which shows no signs of slowing down.

The debate is covered Slate, Popular mechanics, The New York Times and many other outputs, centered on an equation that went like this.viral“that it is ultimately aggregated with other phenomena that have “broken” or “divided” the Internet.

If you have yet to weigh in, now would be a good time to see where you stand. Please answer the following:


If you’re like most people, your answer was 16 and you’re baffled that someone else could come up with a different answer. Unless, that is, you’re not like most others and your answer was 1, and you’re equally confused by seeing differently. Do not be afraid, after which we will explain the final answer to this question and why the way of writing the equation should be prohibited.

Our interest was piqued because we have conducted research on conventions about tracking order of operations — a sequence of steps taken when faced with a math equation and were a little confused as to what all the fuss was about.

Obviously the answer is…

Two viable answers to one math problem. Well, if there’s one thing we all remember from math class. that can’t be right.

Many themes emerged from the many articles explaining how and why this “equation” broke the Internet. By entering the expression on the counters, some of which are programmed to respect a particular order of operationswas discussed a lot.

Others, hedging a bit, offer both the answers are correct (which is funny).

The most dominant theme simply focused on performing the order of operations according to the various abbreviations. Some commentators said that people’s misunderstandings were being attributed A misinterpretation of a memorized acronym taught in various countries to remember the order of operations such as PEMDAS, which is sometimes used in the United States; PEMDAS deals with the use of parentheses, exponents, multiplication, division, addition and subtraction.

A person following this order will 8÷2(2+2) become 8÷2(4) by starting with parentheses. Then 8÷2(4) becomes 8÷8 because there are no dimensions and “M” is multiplied, so 2 is multiplied by 4. 1.

Image of the acronym pemdas spelled out with reference to parentheses, exponents, multiplication, division.
Were the different ways of teaching the order of actions responsible for the confusion?

In contrast, Canadians can be taught to remember BEDMAS, which stands for Parentheses, Subscripts, Division, Multiplication, Addition and Subtraction. Any 8÷2(2+2) following this order will become 8÷2(4) due to starting with parentheses (same as parentheses). Then 8÷2(4) becomes 4(4) because (no exponents) and “D” stands for division. Finally, by multiplying ‘M’, 4(4)=16.

Don’t miss the multiplication sign

For us, the expression 8÷2(2+2) is syntactically incorrect.

We argue that the crux of the debate is that the multiplication sign before the parentheses was omitted.

Such an omission is a convention of algebra. For example, in algebra we write 2x or 3a, which means 2 × x or 3 × a. When letters are used for variables or constants, the multiplication sign is omitted. Consider the well-known equation e=mc2, which suggests the energy calculation e=m×c2.

So the real reason 8÷2(2+2) broke the internet stems from the practice of omitting the multiplication sign, which was incongruously brought over from arithmetic algebra.

Inappropriate priority

In other words, is the expression correctly “spelled,” that is, represented as “8 ÷ 2 × (2 + 2) = ?” ”, there will be no going viral, no duplicity, no broken internet, no heated debates. No fun.

8 ÷ 2 × (2 + 2) =?
If the problem were correctly stated as 8 ÷ 2 × (2 + 2) = ?, there would be no heated debate.
(Egan J. Chernoff), The author is provided

Finally, omitting the multiplication sign results in improper multiplication priority. All commenters agreed that adding terms in parentheses or parentheses was an appropriate first step. But confusion arose considering the proximity of 2 in (4) to 8 in 8÷2(4).

We want it to be known that writing 2(4) dealing with multiplication is inappropriate, but we get that it is done all the time and everywhere.

A beautiful symbol of multiplication

There is a very nice sign for multiplication, so let’s use it: 2 × 4. If you are not a fan, there are other symbols such as 2•4. Use either as you wish, but don’t skip.

As such, for the record, the debate over one vs. 16 is now over. Answer: 16. The case is closed. Also, there really shouldn’t have been a debate in the first place.

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