Best pointless poll ever!

I must thank io9 for taking the spirit of the pointless poll to the next level. They have an article on the term “nerd” and are asking whether it’s a useful label or not. Here are the results so far.

Should we retire the term “nerd”?

You’re dead wrong man, keep the faith! Cool stuff is still happening! Nerd4Life! 10% (169 votes)

You’re way late guy; it was all over by The Phantom Menace, or maybe that Hackers film with Angelina Jolie. 19% (327 votes)

Let’s keep it alive anyway for what’s still valuable. Future generations of misfits will thank us. 26% (449 votes)

Answer 4 19% (323 votes)

Answer 5 27% (476 votes)

“Answer 4”? “Answer 5”? What’s this? The poll software insisted on 5 possible answers, but the pollsters only had 3 choices in mind, so these empty placeholders made it into the listing…and they’re doing quite well.

Personally, I had to vote for Answer 5. After all, 5 is a term in the Fibonacci sequence, while 4 is not.


  1. Ian says

    4 is a very significant number, as it is mentioned in nearly every book ever written. My answer is 4.

  2. Dutchdoc says

    the great 4 vs. 5 debate …

    LOVE a poll like this!

    EDITOR’S NOTE: There were only supposed to be 3 choices in this poll, but a glitch in our polling software created the spurious “answer 4” and “answer 5.” I was going to fix it, but now that the great 4 vs. 5 debate has begun I feel that I must allow the glitch to remain.

  3. says

    Of course, you all know that now, however we vote, we are providing a meta-answer to the continuing validity of the term “nerd”.

  4. says

    1. Let a and b be equal non-zero quantities,
    a = b,
    2. Multiply through by a,
    a^2 = ab,
    3. Subtract b^2,
    a^2 – b^2 = ab – b^2,
    4. Factor both sides,
    (a – b)(a + b) = b(a – b),
    5. Divide out (a – b),
    a + b = b,
    6. Observing that a = b,
    b + b = b,
    7. Combine like terms on the left,
    2b = b,
    8. Add 3b to each side,
    2b + 3b = b + 3b,
    9. Divide each term the non-zero b
    5 = 4,

    So when you vote for answer 4, you’re really just voting for answer 5.

  5. CrypticLife says

    4 is also an unlucky number in Japanese culture, and the reason that some Japanese hotels and buildings eliminate the fourth floor. Given that in anime, the hideous tentacled beast is therefore mostly likely to be on a fourth floor only accessible through the astral plane, I have to go with four.

  6. says

    In all the most useful designs,
    There is beauty. Where one person pines
    For us all to vote “4”
    I will push for one more–
    Cos Limericks all have five lines*

    *There once was a man named Magoo
    Whose limericks stopped at line two.

    There once was a man from Verdunn

  7. SteveM says

    “There is no rule #3.” I would have to have seen them do something similar; say for choice #3: “There is no choice #3”.

    Anyway, 4 being unlucky in Japan; that’s because the Japanese word for 4 is also the word “death” (shi).

    And who the heck designed that poll widget that hardcodes 5 choices? And why are they using it? … nerds.

  8. Feynman says


    1. Let a and b be equal non-zero quantities,
    a = b

    5. Divide out (a – b),

    Can anyone point out the error here?

  9. stogoe says

    Alas, I am late, but 4 v. 5 is a perfect encapsulation of what Nerd-ism is all about – pointless bickering about obscure entertainment. Like whether a Star Destroyer could obliterate the Enterprise (D). Myself, I refuse to engage in fandom wars. Except for 4 v. 5 – it’s obvious that 4 is the correct answer and the 5-lovers are just jealous.

  10. SC, OM says

    Had to go with #3. I’m sentimental. And I never much cared for 4 or 5.

    This poll gives me a pretext to mention my favorite protest metachants:

    “Three word chant! Three word chant”


    “Call!” “Response!” “Call!” “Response!”

  11. Sarcastro says

    The Law of Fives states simply that: All things happen in fives, or are divisible by or are multiples of five, or are somehow directly or indirectly appropriate to 5.

    The Law of Fives is never wrong.

    —Malaclypse the Younger, Principia Discordia, Page 00016

  12. Bostonian says

    @PZ #10

    Of course, you all know that now, however we vote, we are providing a meta-answer to the continuing validity of the term “nerd”.

    OK, that supplied my good hard laugh for the day. It’s also good to see that the admins at IO9 are taking the 4/5 voting with good humor. (Imagine how different that would be if we did it on a fundie or conservative website.)

  13. Doo Shabag says

    Have to go with 4, because it is a square and square is a nice old-timey word for nerd.


  14. Quidam says

    1. Let a and b be equal non-zero quantities,
    a = b,
    2. Multiply through by a,
    a^2 = ab,
    3. Subtract b^2,
    a^2 – b^2 = ab – b^2,
    4. Factor both sides,
    (a – b)(a + b) = b(a – b),
    5. Divide out (a – b),
    a + b = b,
    6. Observing that a = b,
    b + b = b,
    7. Combine like terms on the left,
    2b = b,
    8. Add 3b to each side,
    2b + 3b = b + 3b,
    9. Divide each term the non-zero b
    5 = 4,

    So when you vote for answer 4, you’re really just voting for answer 5

    The key to the paradox is step 5, so 5 wins

  15. Chappy says

    This is all getting a bit paradoxical. Future generations of misfits may thank us for the great 4 vs 5 debate, which is making answer 3 look correct.

  16. says

    arekksu wrote (#19): “Wikipedia has this to say on 4 (number): 4 (four) is a number (duh!)”

    I once wrote a very short Wikipedia article on “219483469 (number),” noting that it was of utterly no use whatsoever other than being a prime number. It was “speedily deleted.” (I guess that makes me a nerd.)

  17. JackC says

    Feynman@21 – yeah – I think most of us can. But that’s what makes it fun!

    I use that formula when talking to those deluded souls that believe they are both religious and scientific, and can’t really see anything wrong with teaching alternatives to evolution in grade school.

    I mean – it’s MATH and all, right??


  18. DV says

    1, 2, 3, and 5 are all part of the Fibonacci sequence. 4 is the only unique choice here; it is the only perfect square, the only non-prime (apart from 1, but that doesn’t really count imo), and the only number not part of the Fibonacci sequence.

    4 forever!
    4 for the win!
    Far, får får får? Nej, får får inte får, får får lamm.

  19. Feynmaniac says

    #21 was me. Apologies, not trying to morph.

    I was being nerdy. You’re being nerdy *and* pedantic. ;P

    Yes, now all I got to do is be geeky to win the Socially Awkward Triple Crown.
    _ _ _

    5 is better than 4. Not only is it a prime, but it’s a Mersenne prime AND a Fermat prime. Also, symmetry groups of order 5 or higher are not solvable. Therefore there is no general solution in terms of radicals to polynomials of degree 5 or higher.

    Clearly 5 is better.

  20. D'oh! says

    See…whenever a troll drops in and claims we are sheeple who mindlessly agree with PZ on everything, we voters for 4 can proudly puff out our chests and say “But I voted for 4.”

  21. Rob C. says

    Surprisingly enough, there might really be a case for “4”. No joke! V. I. Arnold (the “A” in KAM theory) argues quite persuasively that “4” is somehow “the right answer” for a bunch of important geometric problems that have deep, serious implications for physics and the nature of reality. The only one I can remember (vaguely) was something about the number of cusps in caustics, which isn’t very convincing, I am afraid. However, his book “Huyghens and Barrow, Newton and Hooke” is well worth reading for people interested in the history of mathematics and science, and so perhaps as a nerdy “Easter Egg” you should all go read it. One quote from memory: “It is Leibniz who brought analysis to the state in which we know it today: that is, fit to be taught by those who do not understand it, to those who will never understand it.”

  22. says

    Why does everybody keep forgetting that 1 is a perfect square (and cube, and its own nth root, etc)? 4 seems kinda weak in comparison.

    But choice 1 in the poll is painfully lame (far more dorky than nerdy), so you may as well vote for the first good prime, which is 5.

  23. Doo Shabag says

    @Feynmaniac #40

    5 is not a Mersenne prime. Your argument falls apart, 4 is superior.

  24. Feynmaniac says

    Correction: “symmetry groups of order 5 or higher are not solvable” in #40 should read “symmetric groups Sn where n if 5 or greater are not solvable”. Apologies for the great distress this may have caused.

  25. Fedaykin says

    Exception in thread “main” java.lang.ArithmeticException: / by zero
    at DivideByZeroNoExceptionHandling.quotient(
    at DivideByZeroNoExceptionHandling.main(
    at PharyngulaCommentFourteen(

  26. Feynmaniac says

    5 is not a Mersenne prime. Your argument falls apart, 4 is superior.

    Arg, I meant it’s a Mersenne prime exponent ( 25 – 1= 31 -> prime).

    That’s it, no more posting until I get my coffee.

  27. says

    @Feynmaniac: I doubt I’m alone now in thinking the Socially Awkward Triple Crown should be a real award…

  28. says

    O/T, but important, especially for Texans: Per a TFN e-mail alert, Texas is determined to outdo the Wahabists of the Taliban and Saudi Arabia in contempt for science:

    The Texas Senate will vote as early as tomorrow on a measure that could prohibit all embryonic stem cell research in state and private laboratories. In fact, the language of the ban is written so broadly it likely prohibits embryonic stem cell research in state buildings or by state employees even if a grant for the work came from some other entity. The language could even potentially eliminate in-vitro fertilization research in the state!

    This is the most dangerous attack on stem cell research we have seen in Texas to date. And it will be voted on in the Senate this week.

    If we don’t convince senators to strip this ban out of the state budget, Texas could quickly become a backwater for scientific research.

    1. PLEASE contact your state senator and Lt. Governor David Dewhurst (512-463-0001) immediately! Tell them to remove the stem cell funding ban from the budget.
    2. Then forward this e-mail to your friends and family. Tell them this issue is important to you and ask for their help.

  29. aratina says

    I voted 4 because without it we wouldn’t be able to write the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything and because 4 is the number of legs on a grasshopper :> and because octopi have no middle finger.

  30. Strangebrew says


    I mean, third base.
    I mean…

    Wot?…who got to third base?…(what is third base actually?)

  31. co says

    Fibonacci’s original sequence doesn’t contain 4, ’tis true, but the generalizations (all called ‘Fibonacci sequences’) can easily include 4: 0, 2, 2, 4, 6, 10, … is one example.
  32. co says

    Response to myself in #66:
    Actually, the generalization is more formally called a “Lucas sequence”, which includes the Fibonacci sequence as a special case.

  33. davem says


    The only number whose square root can be added to itself to make the square again.

    Its square root can be raised to the power of its square root to make itself.

    It’s the number of fundamental forces of nature.

    It’s the first digit of 42, and is followed by its square root in the number 42. Obviously, it’s the number behind the answer to everything.

    ..and the ultimate answer for this blog: it’s the number of arms on each side of a squid. ’nuff said.

    I’m really surprised anyone is taking 5 seriously as a contender.

  34. Flori-DUH Rob says

    Voted for 5, simply because that’s exactly how many Intelligently Designed fingers we all have (great for holding bananas). Except for the ones who have gotten too close to dangerous machinery of course.. BUT THAT’S HOW MANY THEY STARTED WITH.

  35. Qwerty says

    Brock @ 14: Is that the new math?

    Cuttlefish, OM @ 17: I am sure I could sense your next line which would be:

    There once was a handsome hero.

    p.s. – Every good and bad poker hand has five cards; so, I voted for five. Nerds rule.

  36. aratina says

    Also, 4 is lame because it’s all pointy.

    Depends on what font you use. In some fonts, 4 is square.

  37. says

    The poll fails to contain the correct answer, 42. Therefore, it is a Vogon plot. The winner will be treated to a live reading of Ode To A Small Lump Of Green Putty I Found In My Armpit One Midsummer Morning. This is a very rare experience, enjoyed only by those those have been nailed to the floor.

    Everyone who votes for the wrong answer—which, of course, is all of them—will be removed to make way for a vitally important hyperspacial sewer pipe. Along with the planet.

  38. says

    @Qwerty (#76): Yeah, New Math is great. Learning is much easier when you don’t have to obey the ground rules, like that kid who complained that his bio paper shouldn’t have to conform to standards of evidence and therefore he could freely invoke the metaphysical ;)

    @Flori-DUH Rob (#74): I dunno about you, but I started with 10 fingers :p They’re just conveniently grouped in fives.

    @AdamK (#75): Five is also the sides on the Pentagon, which controls our thought patterns in cooperation with the Bavarian Illuminati. You only *think* you want to scare away sheepy christians because that’s what *they* want you to think, ya get me?

  39. Kirian says

    Any number larger than 4 seems to show up on my calculator here as simply “A Suffusion of Yellow.”

    I can’t see any good reason to vote for a suffusion of yellow, so I have to go with 4.

  40. AdamK says

    There are so many important points and persuasive arguments on this thread, I may have to start from the beginning, mull it all over, and possibly rethink my vote altogether!

  41. says

    I would have voted for any prime number. (5) seemed the prim-est…

    Are Fibonacci numbers also ‘prime?’

  42. ddd says

    What, so now you’re going to bash every inane Internet poll out there? Wow. Whatever you do, stay away from Facebook.

  43. Feynmaniac says

    Are Fibonacci numbers also ‘prime?

    Not necessarily. The first few Fibonacci numbers are 0,1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21…..The first two numbers are 0 and 1. After that each number is the sum of the previous two.

    A Fibonacci prime, as the name suggest, is a Fibonacci number which is also prime. It is currently unknown if there are an infinite number of them.

  44. says

    Not to be swayed by PZ’s clearly arbitrary choice of the number 5 I have gone for 4 which is clearly a far superior number.

    If you need the reasons why then you are obviously not a nerd.

  45. 'Tis Himself says

    Being a geek rather than a nerd, I had to vote for the non-nerdy answer, i.e. 4.

  46. AdamK says

    I hear the Catholic Church is currently screening their seminary applicants in order to weed out any who have the appearance of being likely to vote 4.

  47. William says

    They should have included Plan 9, since that would have incorporated both Answer 4 & 5.

  48. says

    I voted for four. Someone up there said that only cool people voted for five. I’m a nerd(AND a geek). So I had to vote for four.

  49. AdamK says

    Answer 5 is currently at 50%, with the four incorrect answers splitting up the remainder. (Answer 4, at 17%, is in second place.)

  50. Charles Tye says

    4 or 5? Let’s check out A000045 in the OEIS.

    PZ was right, this is a Fibonacci question after all.

  51. Mobius says

    4. Answer 4 is clearly superior. After all, 4 is the square of a prime number, and the only such square that is even.

  52. says

    Ah, but 4 is both a perfect square and the square of a prime number. More square = more nerd = vote 4.

  53. Elwood Herring says

    If it was my poll I would have had these choices:

    Answer 4: Answer 5 is correct
    Answer 5: Answer 4 is correct

    And even possibly:

    Answer 6: I refuse to vote on this silly poll!

  54. Alan C says

    nerds are nonconformists, so if you voted for 5, the most popular answer, you are not a nerd.

  55. cap says

    i got to the link, clicked it, and voted for “Answer 5.”
    then looked and found out half of everyone else voted “Answer 5.” then read the rest of the post to see that pz voted “Answer 5”.

    i have a debate today in political science class. hopefully when i get asked a difficult question i’ll be able to just say “Answer 5” and have half of the class agree with me.


  56. Hairhead says

    Nerd is a term of pride, a compliment. It stands for:





    or (from the Simpsons)





    not to mention:




    Defenestrators (for the macho ones)

    Any other suggestions?

  57. says


    See…whenever a troll drops in and claims we are sheeple who mindlessly agree with PZ on everything, we voters for 4 can proudly puff out our chests and say “But I voted for 4.”

    Me, too!

  58. anthonzi says

    Wow, they’re talking about nerds and they don’t even know how to script their polls properly?

  59. Dahan says

    I just don’t agree with you on this PZ.

    Four’s the number to go with in this case. I think you need to revisit this after a long and prayerful look at the things the number four has to offer. God bless you in this struggle.

    I suppose I’ll have to add: ;)

  60. says

    SC #26, your “three word chant!” chant reminded me of a chap I knew who started the following chant at a protest:

    What do we want? A radical change to EU transport policy!
    When do we want it? At the next intergovernmental conference!

    Perhaps unsurprisingly, he was a physicist.

  61. croor singh says

    Personally, I had to vote for Answer 5. After all, 5 is a term in the Fibonacci sequence, while 4 is not.

    technically, a fibonacci sequence is defined only by the addition rule. you can start with any two numbers as initial conditions. take -1 and 2, for example, and you’ll find that 4 is a member of the sequence, not 5.

  62. Don Smith says

    But “Five is right out” so I voted for 4.

    Before the sequence there was the Fibonacci cycle: start with 0 and 0 and after 4π terms you end up back at the beginning.

  63. Lotharloo says

    Five wins!!!!
    It is the first number that invalidates Fermat’s conjecture!
    2^2^0 + 1 = 3
    2^2^1 + 1 = 5

    2^2^4 + 1 = 65537 (prime)
    2^2^5 + 1 = 4294967297 (not prime!)

    So, 5 beats Fermat so 5 wins!

  64. Hairhead says

    Oh come off it, even I TOTAL nerd, know the bases:

    First base: kissing

    Second base: hand on breast

    Third base: hand on genitals

    Home run (score): intercourse

    Brought to you by the Home Run Nerd(tm)

  65. Last Hussar says

    Now it could be argued the fact that people will not only argue for 4 or 5 proves the premise of the question is wrong, and the fact that 4 and 5 are leading proves the point.


    As every good nerd and geek knows

    thou count to three, no more, no less.

    Three shall be the number thou shalt count, and the number of the counting shall be three.
    Four shalt thou not count, neither count thou two, excepting that thou then proceed to three.
    Five is right out

    Ergo THREE is the correct answer- we need to preserve nerds so there is someone to quote Monty Python in the future.

  66. Neff says

    4 is superior.

    Without 4, 5 does not exist. Without 4, 5 is 4. 5 is dependent on there being a 4. A thing compared to that which it is dependent upon is always inferior of the two subjects.