You must remember this: our opponents aren’t particularly bright

If you’ve never heard of Ian Miles Cheong, count yourself lucky: he’s nothing but an obsessed right-winger spewing noise non-stop onto social media. It’s still sort of satisfying to see that he’s actually rather dull.

Excuse me, Apple, why is the calculator wrong?
When you key in 50 + 50 and hit the equals key, it’ll give you 100. Multiply that by 2 and you get 200. That’s correct.
But type in 50 + 50 * 2 and it spits out 150. What gives?

It’s not Apple. Try it on any calculator. There are rules about the order of operations, where multiplication is done before addition.

I think I learned that in 5th or 6th grade, or thereabouts.

1. UnknownEric the Apostate says

The sad part is: they’re winning at least some battles and they’re this dense.

2. Matt G says

Addition and multiplication are liberal plots to take away our freedoms.

3. rrutis1 says

Your math rules are just more woke ideology to get us replaced by the Jews!!!!11!1!!

/s JIC ;-)

4. chrislawson says

And he’s still using imperial units in his name!

5. ealloc says

In his defense, if he was an alien from another planet I wouldn’t have thought badly of him. He didn’t get any concept or logic wrong, he just didn’t know the math notation convention that pretty much all earthlings learn in elementary school.

6. OverlappingMagisteria says

Try it on any calculator.

Not always. Cheap 4 function calculators will often ignore order of operations since it involves holding an extra value in memory as you are entering things in. I just tried in on a cheap one i have in my desk and it gave 50 + 50 * 2 = 200.
But I guess it makes sense that he thinks the cheap and wrong way is correct.

7. Snarki, child of Loki says

If yur not doon it:
50 (enter)
50 (enter)
2 (times)
(plus)

yur doon it rong.

8. vairitas says

my dear aunt sarah, i think i learned that very early in grade school

9. Ed Seedhouse says

Surely we should not be bound by arbitrary woke liberal (and probably communist) laws of arithmetic!!
Next up: spelling.

10. dschultz says

Not a new thing unfortunately. Long ago, ca. 1980, I took engineering thermodynamics. The class average on tests was surprisingly low but I (and two others) did much better.
Why? Partly because tests were scored multiple choice. Or no partial credit. So if the result you calculated didn’t appear next to A, B, C, or D, you were in trouble.

I think I did so well because my HP calculator didn’t need no stinkin’ rules of precedence.

11. billseymour says

Someone should tell him about Reverse Polish Notation and make his head explode.  (Snarki @7 gives an example.)

12. billseymour says

And while I was posting that, dschultz @10 mentioned HP calculators which used RPN.

13. tacitus says

@7: Snarki, child of Loki

Do you still code in Forth as well?

14. euclide says

If someone ever invent a time machine, please introduce RPN very early in history :)
This post and countless like it, and all the comments will disappear as the universe settle on the new timeline

btw, there are hp48 emulators on iPhone, which I use whenever I need

15. numerobis says

Calculators that don’t print out the formula they’re evaluating drive me nuts. It’s so easy to make a typo and get a completely wrong result, and have no idea why.

16. says

Facebook has so many memes about order of operations. Really the low hanging fruit of math jokes.

17. larpar says

Since when is an asterisk a multiplication sign?
I could see it if it wasn’t superimposed.

18. says

Depends on the calculator. The calculator that comes with Win11 has two modes. The default mode prints 100 after 50+50*, and 200 after 2=. That makes sense because each binary operator is evaluated by itself – there are no orders of operation. The scientific mode allows me to enter 50+50*2= before it prints 150.

19. seachange says

I remember being taught OoO in fourth grade. Common Core says fifth grade. The pdf for State of California Education Code says sixth grade. Dude was likely home schooled.

I can’t emphasize enough just how awesome HP calculators are. RPN FTW.

20. says

Whether you understand the proper order of operations or not, a quick glance at the numbers should tell you the difference is whether you add or multiply first.
Americans aren’t good at math, and Republicans are especially shaky with it. Was it O’Reilly who thought Canadians had a longer life expectancy than Americans because the United States has a larger population? Hell, they’ve been telling us for over 40 years that slashing taxes on the wealthy results in more tax revenue for the government.
Don’t get me started on their complete failure to grasp non-linear math and non-linear systems (like climate and accumulation of wealth).
I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard somebody say “I’m lousy with math,” or “I suck at math” and actually sound proud of it. With compound interest, I would be much better off, if not actually rich.
Then again, I’m the guy who once tried to solve a quadratic equation in a dream, and recently tried (and failed) to factor the number 961 in his sleep*, so I might be an outlier (another term Republicans struggle with).
*It’s 31 squared.

21. anxionnat says

I learned math long before calculators were a thing: addition and subtraction in first and second grade; multiplication and division in third–and yes, we did them all by hand. My dad had a slide rule and showed me how to use it, so I was pretty good in 7th grade, when it was on the curriculum. We also learned to do addition etc in our heads. To this day, I can do quickie estimates in my head–and people act like I’m some kind of genius. Nope–just early training and no calculators.

22. @21: I can do the same, but I can do it thanks to my husband teaching me the basics of common core. Break down the problem then piece it back together. I wish I had this back in the 1980s.

23. OverlappingMagisteria says

Since when is an asterisk a multiplication sign?

It’s been used in computing for ages since keyboards don’t have a multiplication sign.

24. mordred says

Hmm, don’t know when I last used a calculator. Every comouter I work with has some kind programming language interpreter installed (including my smartphone), and I find it much more comfortable to type my calculations into one of them.

Or I simply use emacs lisp: (* (+ 50 50) 2)

25. pilgham says

Does he think 50 * 2 + 50 should be 2600?

26. Matt G says

Even my parents understand order of operations, and when they were kids, numbers only went up to the thousands, not the millions like they do today.

27. stevewatson says

FB often serves me “math problems” like that. The number of commenters who stubbornly refuse to understand operator precedence, or are otherwise deeply confused about how to evaluate fairly basic expressions, is rather depressing. Happily, there’s always lots of people who do get it, and are happy to tell the first type what fools they are making of themselves.

28. beholder says

There are rules about the order of operations, where multiplication is done before addition.

Those are suggestions, not rules. `50 + 50 * 2` is ambiguous and badly communicated. Parentheses are one solution to this.

If the calculating fascist wants an unambiguous statement he could have typed `2 50 50 + *` instead. Even a 5th or 6th grader would understand that evaluates to 200 according to the rules of postfix notation.

29. says

@23 Use an x instead? In Germany we used the · (central dot) character. I liked the x when I got to the States – it was easier to see, and less ambiguous among the chicken scratches on the blackboard. On a computer the x introduces an additional ambiguity, which is why we use the asterisk.

30. birgerjohansson says

Overlapping Magisteria @ 6
I am a dinosaur who still use pen and paper as much as possible. Using a parenthesis is still the most natural form of notation for me.

I use calculators for subsets and then multiply, divide etc in a separate operation. It is not elegant but as an endangered species who was taught using slide rulers I am entitled to a lack of elegance.

31. says

In the extreme right universe everyone has to obey the rules except them.

32. vereverum says

2+2 will also give him what he thinks is a wrong answer, i.e. 4 and not 22.
a long time ago.

33. stevewatson says

@28: Were you in the FB comments I was referring to above? Because someone there said exactly the same silly thing. No, BEDMAS (or whatever acronym you were taught in school) is not a suggestion, it is in fact a rule, unless that’s been repealed in the oh, ~55 years since I was taught it. If so, then I missed the memo. In fact, that’s exactly the kind of question that would have been on the test back then, to make sure we’d actually learned the material.
There is no ambiguity, not according to the conventions of grade school arithmetic, nor according to the C++ compiler I just tried it on.

34. beholder says

@17 larpar

Since when is an asterisk a multiplication sign?

Longer than you’ve been alive, possibly.

Or not, if you were born before 1958 when FORTRAN was first released.

@33 stevewatson

No, you have a case of mistaken identity — I don’t use FB. The highly intelligent, attractive, and ultimately correct FB commenter in question may have watched the same video I did from Minute Physics called “The Order of Operations Is Wrong”, however, which explains what I said in slightly more detail.

What matters is the algorithm. Effectively communicating the steps in that algorithm is important, and counting on the reader to correctly interpret a rather clunky operator precedence leads to wrong answers. And that’s terrible.

35. jenorafeuer says

Order of Operations is one of those things that isn’t really useful on something dead simple like this, but it gets more and more useful and necessary as you start getting into algebra and polynomial equations. You can’t tell me that:

ax³+bx²+cx+d

is really more ambiguous if you have to explicitly specify the order of operations by writing it as:

(a×(x³))+(b×(x²))+(c×x)+d

The more complicated an equation gets, the more important it is to have things like implicit order of operations to simplify what is necessary to write it down.

36. jenorafeuer says

Sorry, I rewrote the above while writing it, and somehow instead of

is really less ambiguous if you have to…

or

is really more ambiguous than if you have to…

I ended up with something halfway between them which was completely wrong.

37. says

I remember him being on the right side during GamerGate. There were some Nazi accusations from his past, but Gaters being who they were, I wasn’t sure how much to believe. Then yeah, he flipped entirely to their side.

Now Brianna Wu, another frequent target of theirs, is inching her way to the right, though she is smarter than Ian and wouldn’t be perplexed by grade school math.

38. Dennis K says

Wait till he hears that 120 is actually 5!

39. Pierce R. Butler says

On a whim, I copied IMC’s “50 + 50 * 2” and pasted it into the system-provided calculator on my iMac.

It promptly displayed “50502”.

I wrote out the same string on an iPhone, copied it … and found the iPhone calculator won’t let me paste, just copy. :-P

40. Jim Balter says

the math notation convention that pretty much all earthlings learn in elementary school.

Unfortunately not; they may be taught it but few of them learn it. This is made clear by the steady stream of Facebook posts involving order of operations that 90% of the commenters get wrong.

BTW, most students are taught PEMDAS (or, equivalently, BIDMAS), which is an incomplete set of rules, which is why there are so many pointless arguments about the answer in these posts when there’s an implicit multiplication. For the full scoop on order of operations, with citations, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lLCDca6dYpA

41. Jim Balter says

Order of Operations is one of those things that isn’t really useful on something dead simple like this

It obviously is, since Cheong got the wrong answer (and many people do).

You can’t tell me that:
ax³+bx²+cx+d
is really more ambiguous if you have to explicitly specify the order of operations by writing it as:
(a×(x³))+(b×(x²))+(c×x)+d

No, of course it’s not more ambiguous, it’s just much harder to read.

If writing this as an expression in a computer program, I would probably write it as `a*x*x*x + b*x*x + c*x + d`
or possibly `((a*x + b)*x + c)*x + d`

42. John Morales says

[…] or possibly `((a*x + b)*x + c)*x + d`

Whether or not that’s more efficient, it’s prettier.

(Esthetics takes many forms)

43. Jim Balter says

Sorry, I rewrote the above while writing it, and somehow instead of
is really less ambiguous if you have to…

Neither one is ambiguous. The ambiguities come when the rules are either arbitrary and unusual, as with, say, `a << b & c | d << e`, or formally ambiguous as with, say, `i++ + i++`.

44. Jim Balter says

Whether or not that’s more efficient, it’s prettier.

Modern compilers go to extraordinary lengths to optimize code by rewriting expressions into equivalent forms, so programmers should generally write for clarity rather than (usually ineffectively) attempting manual optimization. Which of my two forms is clearer is a subjective, though I think in a language like Wolfram where square brackets are used for arithmetic grouping, `[[a*x + b]*x + c]*x +d` is easier to read. And then of course there’s LISP: `(+ (* a x x x) (* b x x) (* c x) d)`

45. Jim Balter says

Or not, if you were born before 1958 when FORTRAN was first released.

Try the 1668 edition of Johann Heinrich Rahn’s Teutsche Algebra

46. Jim Balter says

it is in fact a rule, unless that’s been repealed in the oh, ~55 years since I was taught it

I pity your students. BEDMAS is not a rule, it’s a mnemonic that is a partial approximation of the rules used by professional mathematicians, engineers and physicists. As https://youtu.be/lLCDca6dYpA?t=472 states, “no one actually uses PEMDAS after primary school”.

47. Jim Balter says

Those are suggestions, not rules. 50 + 50 * 2 is ambiguous and badly communicated.

Ah, I see now why Steve said it’s a rule. Yes, this is very very wrong. 50 + 50 * 2 is unambiguously equal to 150, and has been for hundreds of years.

48. Jim Balter says

Dude was likely home schooled.

Dude (Ian Miles Cheong) lives in Malaysia and as far as anyone knows has never stepped foot in the U.S.

49. consciousness razor says

Your order of operations has no power here, PZ. My calculators are made of time machines…!

50. says

It’s all about the engagement. If he gets enough engagement on his stupid ones, he’ll get more visibility on his stupid hateful ones.

Which is why the added context on Xitter is such a nice feature: it satisfies my siwoti, while not having to engage further. In surprised The Musk hasn’t killed the feature yet.

51. says

I think now I understand a bit more about how teh Rethuglicans think they won the election in 2020. And, for that matter, in 2000:

They got the order of operations wrong. “Votes cast” is always evaluated before “victory speech,” which in turn is always evaluated before “vengeance of the righteous.” Says so right in the owner’s manual. They wanted to jump right to vengeance.

please excuse my dear aunt sally

53. jacksprocket says

Tacitus @13: Nobody codes in Forth. Forth codes in you.

54. says

Cheong not being good at math is the least of his problems. He’s Malaysian Chinese and supporting people in the US and other parts of the West who’d want him to be a third class citizen if he tried to move to this side of the Pacific. If they’d let him in at all. On top of that he apparently has never set foot in the US, even though it’s the focus of his ‘activism.”

55. tacitus says

If writing this as an expression in a computer program, I would probably write it as a*x*x*x + b*x*x + c*x + d
or possibly ((a*x + b)*x + c)*x + d

When it comes to writing code, the rule should always be “clarity first” especially if you expect someone else to be maintaining your code.

Depending on the language, there can be terser ways to write expressions, but unless they’re commonly used and programmers are expected to know them, it’s always better to “punctuate” your expressions (additional parentheses and spaces, etc.) in a way that minimizes the chances of future mistakes.

56. weylguy says

YouTube is overloaded with so-called puzzles involving arithmetic operations. Those of us who learned PEMDAS in elementary school see no problems at all, but many Americans (Republicans) are convinced that their calculators contain conspiratorial Democrat Party lies.

57. Jim Balter says

When it comes to writing code, the rule should always be “clarity first” especially if you expect someone else to be maintaining your code.

Um, we already discussed that and its subjectivity.

it’s always better to “punctuate” your expressions (additional parentheses and spaces, etc.) in a way that minimizes the chances of future mistakes.

Do you have an algorithm to determine that, dummy? Sometimes clarity is achieved by having fewer parentheses, a point I already made.

58. Robbo says

RPN is my preferred choice since 1985

the “=” for calculations on a calculator isn’t really an operator like + / – x ^ etc…JUST SAY NO!

plus you don’t need () when using RPN.

I can hardly use a “regular” calculator because it takes too much effort and is too slow to type in complex calculation with parentheses etc.

@Dennis K
LOL

We should sell t-shirts that say:

Math Elites claim:
120=5!
How can 120=5?

59. Kevin Karplus says

Not “any calculator” The good HP calculators that use RPN (reverse Polish notation) don’t have “=” keys. To do the two calculations you would key in either 50 50 + 2 × to get 200
or 50 50 2 × + to get 150.
Unfortunately, HP has stopped making calculators, and finding a good RPN calculator is getting harder and harder.
I’ve used RPN calculators exclusively since my first HP-45 in 1974, given to me as a graduation present from college. (It was \$395 then, equivalent to about @2623 now.)

60. Kevin Karplus says

@Helge 29. It isn’t an x but an ×—a totally different character that happens to look rather similar. It is only used for cross products after middle-school, though (except by ignorant people, of whom the US has a surplus).