90 Degrees and 60 Minutes

Last week, and a year late, 60 Minutes got to the story of the two black American kids who came up with a “trigonometric proof” of Pythagoras’s theorem. Their report was sweet, manipulative and absurd. The two girls were charming, their mathematics teacher and their school more generally seemed cultured and intelligent, the 60 Minutes reporter was a beaming idiot, and the girls’ impressive and unexplained achievement was blown out of proportion by a factor of about a thousand. There was not a mathematician in sight.

We wrote about the story a year ago and there’s not much point in going through it again. Those interested in the weirdness, meaninglessness and already-doneness of proving Pythagoras via trig can look here, here (Proof #6), here and here.

Of course it is not news for the news media to screw up a mathematics story; it is entirely predictable. In the case of 60 Minutes there are clues that they knew the story was much less than it appeared, and thus that they simply didn’t care. That’s the nature of trash TV. As for the Guardian‘s silly follow-up report, it is not clear that the author was clear on the smallness of the story, but he obviously didn’t care to look. That is the nature of trash journalism. Of which increasingly often the Guardian offers stellar examples.

3 Replies to “90 Degrees and 60 Minutes”

  1. Sad. Two talented girls fell victim to trash journalists. At some point, if they decide to continue with maths, they will learn the true extent of their ‘discovery’ and will be very much disappointed.

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