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Math Idle

Man Uses Drake Equation To Explain Girlfriend Woes 538

Posted by samzenpus
from the less-math-more-social-science dept.
artemis67 writes "A man studying in London has taken a mathematical equation that predicts the possibility of alien life in the universe to explain why he can't find a girlfriend. Peter Backus, a native of Seattle and PhD candidate and Teaching Fellow in the Department of Economics at the University of Warwick, near London, in his paper, 'Why I don't have a girlfriend: An application of the Drake Equation to love in the UK,' used math to estimate the number of potential girlfriends in the UK. In describing the paper on the university Web site he wrote 'the results are not encouraging. The probability of finding love in the UK is only about 100 times better than the probability of finding intelligent life in our galaxy.'"

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Man Uses Drake Equation To Explain Girlfriend Woes

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  • Stunt (Score:5, Funny)

    by ls671 (1122017) * on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @06:57PM (#30758526) Homepage

    Common, this is just a stunt in order to get his picture all over the net in order to find a girlfriend !

    He must count on the fact that girls will try to prove him wrong or that girls will be pleased to be the one in a million girl.

    Brilliant tactic although... ;-))

  • wellll. (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @06:57PM (#30758530)

    What about...

    fraction of women who would find him attractive.
    fraction of women who are hetro/bisexual.
    fraction of women who wont think hes a dick for assuming love is as easy as guesstimating a few numbers.

  • passive and whiny (Score:3, Interesting)

    by drDugan (219551) * on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @06:59PM (#30758568) Homepage

    The pdf:
    http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/economics/staff/phd_students/backus/why_i_dont_have_a_girlfriend.pdf [warwick.ac.uk]

    After getting Fox news coverage and front page Slashdotting N* is
    now significantly higher than the paper estimate. Think 10-100x.

    f(L) is fraction of people in London from N*. Why limit
    yourself to London? You or your partner might move, travel,
    visit friends, soon even if you're looking for love!
    Even within London, the author doesn't count people movement -
    those who come to London over time.

    Further, the author forgets that most all people *like* to find
    productive partnerships. Unlike SETI, where we have no evidence
    that the other party is looking for us, we know that women like
    to find great men just as much you want to find an "attractive,
    age-appropriate woman with a University education".

    Worst, the author spent time write why he "can't find" a partner
    when he would be better served getting out there doing activities
    he loves with other people and having a great time life. Then
    other people will find him, and help find others.

    Truly be yourself and it is uniquely attractive.

    • I agree with what you say, most of the time people just don't put the effort into it. Not only that the guy sounds like a bit of a douchebag, why would you EVER use mathematics for human relationships? Sounds like a bad idea of limiting your horizons and he assumes he knows what kinds of women would be able to charm him or get along with.

      If there is anything about my experience with human beigns is - you don't know shit and have to keep pushing on and meeting people, if you add up all the people you've eve

      • You sound like someone who doesn't have much in the way of standards. Sorry, but there are a lot of things (totally side from looks) that make a person totally un-datable and the sad fact of life is, unless you have no standards, the overwhelming majority of people in the world are un-datable - which then leaves only a small group of people for you to date, which then makes it even harder to find "the one".

        Face it, even if you spend every minute of your life "relaxing and meeting others", there's still an

      • by zmollusc (763634)

        A douchebag? Living in lahndan? Surely not!

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      After getting Fox news coverage and front page Slashdotting N* is now significantly higher than the paper estimate.

      One of these things is not like the other... (at least as far as he's concerned)

  • Writing a paper relating love to reason and math may actually change the probability. Love is not reasonable and can not be reasoned with.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Opportunist (166417)

      Actually it's not reasonable, but predictable. There is actually a (more or less) general consensus on beauty. Basically it revolves around our liking for healthy looking partners that look like they could be partners to viable offspring with.

      Generally, the pale, skinny (or grossly overweight) basement dweller isn't it.

      • I said love not beauty, there is a significant difference in the two. Beauty is much closer to lust than love.
        • by Rei (128717) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @07:25PM (#30758918) Homepage

          Love, too, is surprisingly predictable. Take two people who would not automatically rule each other out romantically, put them in frequent contact with each other, give each a significant need (sexual or not) that isn't being met in their life but is met through the other, and odds are surprisingly high that they'll end up in a relationship. And there are all sorts of actions that dramatically increase the odds. For example, confessing your feelings to another person tends to encourage them to reciprocate even if they hadn't had the feelings before. That's why the #1 and #2 rules for if you're trying to avoid having an affair are that if you develop feelings for someone else, immediately cut off contact with the person insomuch as is possible and *never* confess your feelings to them.

    • Sounds like someone doesn't understand Statistics.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Chyeld (713439)

      So what you are saying is love is affected by the uncertainty principal and to observe it or attempt to quantify it in a meaningful manner fundamentally changes it?

    • Love is not reasonable and can not be reasoned with.

      So love is like the terminator. I'll be Backus.

  • This guy is being too picky and unwilling to compromise
    • by HTH NE1 (675604)

      Tyrol: How many of us ended up with the people we really wanted to be with? Got stuck with the best of limited options? And why? Because the ones we really wanted, the really loved, were dead, and dying, or turned out to be Cylons and they didn't know it. If Boomer had...
      Adama: Listen.
      Tyrol: If I had known...
      Adama: Let's - let's go.
      Tyrol: No. No. I didn't know.
      Adama: Let's go home.
      Tyrol: I didn't know. So I buried my head in the sand, and I took it, and I settled. I settled for that shriek. Those dull, vaca

  • by Luyseyal (3154) <swaters@@@luy...info> on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @07:05PM (#30758644) Homepage

    This is taken directly from this episode of This American Life [thisamericanlife.org] with Ira Glass.

    -l

  • What are the odds? (Score:4, Informative)

    by newsdee (629448) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @07:06PM (#30758650) Homepage Journal

    He should try lottery or SETI@Home next. From TFA:

    But in the end Backus defied the odds. Asylum reported that Backus has a girlfriend of about six months. "She's from London," he told the Web site. "And she meets all my criteria."

    Good for him, but not very good for his theory...

    • by tool462 (677306) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @08:08PM (#30759432)

      I'm thinking some of his numbers were off. Particularly his estimate of the number of women in the acceptable age bracket. He had 5%, but I'm betting it's more like 68% for your average person (+/- 1 standard deviation) and that's the combined concept of "people he would find attractive that would also find him attractive". The human race simply would not exist if you could only bring yourself to schtup 5% of the population and only 5% of those would let you. That already increases his chances by a factor of almost 300. That brings his odds back to 1 in 1000, which seems reasonable and realistic. Then factor in the number of women he can poll in his productive years in search of those 1/1000ths (compared to the number of planets he can poll for signs of civilization in his lifetime) and the odds of finding someone rapidly approach one. Which makes intuitive sense, since as I mentioned before, the human race still exists.

      The people who need to be worried are the outliers. The folks who are 2 or 3 deviations from the mean in terms of attractiveness (physically, mentally, emotionally, materially). Those on the high end may be forced to settle. Those on the low end may have to sample outside their species.

  • This bodes well for the possibility of finding alien life.

  • Um... (Score:5, Funny)

    by thestudio_bob (894258) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @07:09PM (#30758702)
    What's the mathematical odds that he might be gay? (Not that there's anything wrong with that)
  • In Soviet Russia... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by rwa2 (4391) * on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @07:09PM (#30758704) Homepage Journal

    ...the chicks actually dig intelligent guys.

    Really.

    So do chicks from just about any eastern bloc country for that matter.

    • It should be noted that any use of the Drake Equation does not make you intelligent - at all.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Totenglocke (1291680)
      So basically you're telling us what we already know - that it's only American (and possibly Canadian) girls who only want to date morons.
    • by xtracto (837672) on Thursday January 14, 2010 @02:38AM (#30761678) Journal

      That is a myth.

      I am currently living in ex-GDR where there are lots of "eastern bloc" countires. I've traveled to Bulgaria, Croatia and CZ and have good friends from Serbia and Syria.

      From this experiences, I have to agree with the other AC wo stated that chicks over there look for RICH and CONFIDENT guys.

  • Such garbage... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Taikutusu (1479335) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @07:10PM (#30758708)

    http://xkcd.com/384/ [xkcd.com]

    Congratulations, you can google some numbers and stick them into a formula. You're brilliant, and it's oh so funny to come up with bullshit statistics like "only 100 times more likely than finding intelligent life in the universe".

  • I'll wager his value for "penis" is too small and "dick" too large... Oh the irony.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Oh come on, it's obvious. He doesn't have a girlfriend because he is the type of guy who would use the Drake equation to figure out why he doesn't have a girlfriend. Duh.

  • Ironically (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Monkeedude1212 (1560403) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @07:11PM (#30758728) Journal

    One of the reasons he can't find a girlfriend is because he is one of those people who USE the Drake equation. But seriously, look at his Criteria.

    Backus found that of the 30 million women in the UK, only 26 would be suitable girlfriends for him. His equation looked at the total number of women in the country, then narrowed it down using relevant factors including the number of women in London; the number of "age-appropriate" women (those aged between 24-34); women with a college degree; and those who Backus would find physically attractive.

    Okay - so how do you POSSIBLY apply a statistical analysis on something as subjective as a womans physical attractiveness?

    • by Thiez (1281866)

      > Okay - so how do you POSSIBLY apply a statistical analysis on something as subjective as a womans physical attractiveness?

      He assumes he finds 1 in 20 women attractive. Note that this number does not say anything about WHAT he finds attractive in a woman, since that information is irrelevant for the equation. I don't see why this wouldn't work and how the 'subjectiveness of a womans physical attractiveness' would interfere.

    • Re:Ironically (Score:4, Informative)

      by Eudial (590661) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @08:07PM (#30759422)

      Okay - so how do you POSSIBLY apply a statistical analysis on something as subjective as a womans physical attractiveness?

      Just walk around with a notebook and walk around, writing down whether women you see are attractive or not. When you've seen 50-ish women, you've got a decent statistical sample.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by the_womble (580291)

        Okay - so how do you POSSIBLY apply a statistical analysis on something as subjective as a womans physical attractiveness?

        Just walk around with a notebook and walk around, writing down whether women you see are attractive or not. When you've seen 50-ish women, you've got a decent statistical sample.

        Walk around noting stuff win a notebook in London, and you will probably get arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism Act.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by compro01 (777531)

      Okay - so how do you POSSIBLY apply a statistical analysis on something as subjective as a womans physical attractiveness?

      Actually, a study found that what men find attractive is rather consistent.

      http://www.wfu.edu/news/release/2009.06.25.a.php [wfu.edu]

  • Big Bang Theory (Score:4, Informative)

    by schnits0r (633893) * <nathannd@sBOYSENasktel.net minus berry> on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @07:13PM (#30758748) Homepage Journal
    Wasn't this done on the big bang theory?
  • It is intuitively obvious that anyone who's inclined to "use the Drake Equation to explain girlfriend woes" is significantly less likely to have a girlfriend in the first place.

  • I know the whole thing is probably not to be taken too seriously, but looking at the paper I would say there are at least a couple of shaky assumptions.

    First he's defining a rate of people who live in London. That ignores people moving in or out, or even people willing to move closer. So the figure should be higher I think.

    Then he mentions he will only find 5% of "physically attractive" candidates. In other words, he is limiting himself outside of 2 times the standard deviation of the population. That's a r

  • Perhaps he would do a lot better if he stopped refusing to date non-aliens?
  • by Goodgerster (904325) <goodgerster @ g m a i l . com> on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @07:25PM (#30758904)
    He is studying at the University of Warwick, which is near Coventry. It is far away from London. He is "studying in London" in the same sense that all Californians are residents of San Francisco. Has FOX News' target audience never heard of any English city besides London?
    • Has FOX News' target audience never heard of any English city besides London?

      London is a city in Connecticut, right?

  • Apparently he has no attraction value, since that is also one of the keys of finding a potential girlfriend. Anyone with sufficient attraction (for instance, fame, money) would be hard-pressed to escape from potential suitors/stalkers/paparazzi.

  • Hmm, or am I wrong?

    I only can find this one: http://xkcd.com/384/ [xkcd.com]

  • Maybe (Score:4, Funny)

    by CharlieG (34950) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @08:02PM (#30759366) Homepage

    Pesonally, I think he doesn't have a GF because he's the type of geek who thinks of explaining why he doesn't have a GF with the Drake equation

  • Maybe... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Nidi62 (1525137) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @08:15PM (#30759486)
    Maybe if he had spent the time and effort he did writing the paper on going out and trying to find a girlfriend instead, he'd have had one?
  • Seinfeld (Score:5, Funny)

    by istartedi (132515) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @08:24PM (#30759584) Journal

    JERRY: Elaine, what percentage of people would you say are good looking?

    ELAINE: Twenty-five percent.

    JERRY: Twenty-five percent, you say? No way! It's like 4 to 6 percent. It's a twenty to one shot.

    ELAINE: You're way off.

    JERRY: Way off? Have you been to the motor vehicle bureau? It's like a leper colony down there.

    ELAINE: So what you are saying is that 90 to 95 percent of the population is undateable?

    JERRY: UNDATEABLE!

    ELAINE: Then how are all these people getting together?

    JERRY: Alcohol.

  • by scorp1us (235526) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @08:37PM (#30759684) Journal

    I work it in reverse. (And that does not mean "up the butt")

    For every 3 girls I talk to, I'll get one number.
    For every 3 numbers I get, I'll get a date.
    For every 3 dates I get, I'll get a 2nd date.
    For every 3 2nd dates I get I'll score.
    For every 3 girls I score with I will continue to date.
    So this means I'll actually have 1 in 243 chance of meeting a girl I like beyond just sex.
    Given that I date about once a week (on average) that mean every 4.6 years I'll be in a relationship.

    And checking my work, that works out to seem right.

    I *HIGHLY* recommend the book "Mathematics and Sex" which I believe I bought because of a /. book review...

    In it, it says 12 relationships is what you need to find your best match. Given 4.6 * 12, I'll be 56 before I find the one...

  • by Linknoid (46137) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @08:42PM (#30759720) Homepage
    I once did a similar calculation for my city of 200,000, and came up with an answer of approximately 2. At that point I concluded I would never find either one of them, and gave up.
  • by peter303 (12292) on Thursday January 14, 2010 @09:48AM (#30763966)
    The mistake is presume that the factors are independent of one another. When you assume independence you can take the logical intersection of the probabilities which is multiplying less-than-unity probabilities together. You can obtain a rather small result choosing enough factors. But if the factors are correlated, the correct mathematics is the largest probability number. Both the astronomical conditions and girlfriend factors are correlated to some degree makeing the results less than valid.

    This is the identical mistake made valuating debt securities. The mathematical underpinning was that you can offload most of the risk into a "junk tranch" by assuming failures like foreclosures are statistically independent. By "drake equation magic", i.e. multiplying probabilities to obtain the group probability, the group risk appears rather small. Independence is a decent assumption during good economic times because economic failures are more individual luck or actions. But during a recession, economic failures are correlated, making the group statistical model invalid. The so-called good-risk securities turned into garbage and the junk securities became gold.

    I fear since a economics grad student does not understand probability like so many of his peers, this does not bode well for the future economy.

The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not "Eureka!" (I found it!) but "That's funny ..." -- Isaac Asimov

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