Math wizards, are you ready to solve a problem that's baffling the internet?
A seemingly simple math equation on Twitter has even the most skillful mathematicians scratching their heads.
It began early this week when a Twitter user named Em tweeted the equation 8 ÷ 2(2 + 2) = ?.
Many calculated the problem and came up with an answer of 16. But others did the math just as confidently and came up with an answer of 1.
But how can that be? Math is logical! Math is consistent!
Sure, but in this case folks are disagreeing about the equation's order of operations, the collection of rules that dictate the order of the steps used to solve a math problem.
Students in the U.S. learn the order by the acronym PEMDAS, which stands for parenthesis, exponents, multiplication, division, addition and subtraction, typically from left to right. In the U.K., India, and other parts of the word, students learn BODMAS: brackets, orders, division and multiplication, and addition and subtraction.
The problem here is that people are reading the equation in two different ways.
"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," Mike Breen, the public awareness officer for the American Mathematical Society, told Popular Mechanics.
As the internet's taught us, nothing fires up mathematicians more than disagreeing about their favorite subject. They wasted no time trolling one another over their seemingly wrong answers.
"Some of y’all failed math and it shows," one commented.
"I've never seen someone this confident over a wrong answer," wrote another.
One user boasted, "I have 2 math degrees it’s 1."
"Might want to get your money back then," someone cracked back.
So what's the correct answer?
Everyone agrees to solve the problem, we need to start by adding the 2 + 2 in parenthesis, because parenthesis (or brackets), get tended to first. What next?
Folks who choose to multiply the 4 × 4 get an answer of 16. But those who divide 8 ÷ 8 get their answer of 1.
But, math isn't a "choose your own adventure" book, is it? There's always another rule, as Steven Strogatz, a mathematics professor pointed out in the New York Times.
"The standard convention holds that multiplication and division have equal priority. To break the tie, we work from left to right," writes Strogatz. "So the division goes first, followed by the multiplication. Thus, the right answer is 16."