John Allen Paulos: Who’s Counting?

A reader noticed that Once Upon a Number: The Hidden Mathematical Logic of Stories is currently in the pile of to-be-read-books and kindly sent the link to John Allen Paulos’ Who’s Counting column at Thanks, Dan!

There’s lots of good stuff in the archives. For example, concerning hidden codes in text:

If, to use an example I’ve written about elsewhere, you were to look for prophetic evidence of the Clinton sex scandals in the Constitution, you could look for ELSes that begin anywhere within the document, that have any number of skips between letters of the ELSes, that involve any words spelled backward, diagonally, or any which way. With so much leeway, it would not be too unlikely if you found some ELSes that spell out, say, M-O-N-I-C-A or P-A-U-L-A or G-E-N-N-I-F-E-R or K-A-T-H-L-E-E-N, or something similar–seemingly remarkable, yet utterly insignificant.

The moral of the story: if you look long enough and hard enough, you’ll likely find what you’re looking for. Moreover, if you don’t set up strict rules beforehand for searching the data, and if you throw away all of the boring nonresults, then the interesting sequences that pop up by chance do not mean what they seem to.

Kinda takes the fun out of Pi and The Da Vinci Code, though.