FUN: Six Degrees of Erdös

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Science  16 Jul 2004:
Vol. 305, Issue 5682, pp. 317
DOI: 10.1126/science.305.5682.317c

In April, somebody paid more than $1000 on eBay for the chance to get a better Erdös number by becoming co-author on a paper. Newbies can learn what the number signifies and mathematicians can calculate theirs at The Erdös Number Project from Jerry Grossman of Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan.

Paul Erdös (1913–96) was a famous Hungarian mathematician whose oeuvre totals more than 1500 works. An Erdös number indicates a person's intellectual proximity to him, based on common publications. Erdös scores a 0, his more than 500 co-authors rate a 1, their collaborators get a 2, and so forth. Visitors can work out their own Erdös number or see how various illuminati stack up. For instance, thanks to a paper he co-authored in 1979 when Windows was but a dream, Bill Gates rates an Erdös number of 4. The site's data can also help researchers studying collaboration and networks (NetWatch, 8 February 2002, p. 935).

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