Taking lessons from Goldacregate, I’ve removed all the rant and sarcasm from this post.

In this article in today’s Observer, we’re advised that this:

P^{A} = gU_{G} + min(k – g, (1 – g)(1 – r))

is an “intimidating” equation”. Only if we’re easily scared! It relates the profit gained from dynamically priced airline tickets to some variables. This equation really is a very straightforward it says:

“profit equals two things multiplied together plus the smallest of two other things”

Using a Greek letter (capital pi) with a superscript following is a bit of showmanship, P would have done perfectly well in this instance. You can read the paper from which it is drawn here. It is written in the style of a paper in pure mathematics, which might explain the intimidation of the journalists in question.

I wrote a little bit about maths a while back: maths is the language of much of the science I do, but its a convenient tool – it’s not an end in itself. The seed of “Goldacregate” was a query by a journalist as to how to read out an equation, the thing is that practitioners rarely speak equations out loud: they scribble them on the nearest available surface (often illegibly, and incorrectly) or fight endless battles with machines to get them into electronic documents. Furthermore there is a long and dishonourable history of public relations companies using essentially meaningless equations to promote products and services.

For non-users of equations they are simply a cloak, a cloud of chaff thrown up to hide the truth beneath. For users, they are a compact and exact way of writing down the truth.

The next time you see an equation, don’t be scared beneath it there is something simple which can be said.**Unexpurgated version: **Ah, bless, the economists are playing at being scientists by using an equation and the journalists have got the vapours at the impossible complexity of it all. Nasty equation: please, don’t hurt me.

Aug 22 2010

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