Mathematics: FAIL

Posted on March 12, 2012


I have to ask – what mathematical ignoramus came up with the term “partial zero emission vehicle?” Partial means a fraction, and you can’t divide zero by anything without getting zero again. Divide zero in half? You get… zero. How about 10% of zero? Yup, still zero. Divide zero by a million and – it’s a shocker, I know – you still get zero. Divide zero by any number you can think of except zero*, and the answer is zero.

I get that the “Partial Zero Emission Vehicle” is a class of low emission vehicles defined by the state of California. I get that. But that just makes this even scarier. It means that the majority of a committee thought that committing a mathematical fail was a good idea. And it means that none of the committee members who voted against it was able to make a compelling argument not to commit an offense against the 3rd Grade mathematical concept known as “simple division.”

This laughably bad attack on elementary mathematics makes the chemistry fail that is “Carbon-free” sugar look positively brilliant by comparison. At least failing to understand the chemical composition of sugar (C12H22O11) has carbon in it is a junior high or high school screw-up. But elementary division? Really?

Call it a “low emission vehicle,” or a “super-low emission vehicle,” or even “just-a-tiny-bit-above-but-not-quite-zero emission vehicle.” There’s a ton of good synonyms and related word for “low” in your handy thesaurus, after all. And some words that are similar to “zero” might have worked too – “abyssal emission vehicle” sounds downright cool to me, and without the mathematical precision that “zero” demands.

There were options, people. Next time, try to choose one that doesn’t require mangling 3rd Grade math, OK? Thanks.

*And for those advanced math folks out there, it doesn’t work when you divide zero by zero either. Taking the partial differential equation of both the numerator and denominator when the limit of both goes to 0 produces values that are either constants, 0, or infinity. None of them are “partial zeros” either.

Image credit: Motortrend