New Pick-Up Line: What's Your Erdö s Number?
has his price, in this case especially after he has assumed room temperature. Paul
Erdö s, a Hungarian mathematician who left this Earth in 1996, was a prodigy in
his day. A notable eccentric, he usually had no permanent address and worked with
other mathematicians all over the world to author or co-author more than 500 scholarly
papers. To have one's name associated with Erdö s on a publication was, and still
is, a coveted status symbol in the world of number crunchers. Similar to the six
degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon theorem, aspiring mathematicians strive for
an "Erdö s Number," which is the separation from actually having co-authored a paper
with Erdö s himself: an Erdos Number of 1. Co-authoring a paper with someone who
co-authored a paper with Erdö s earns one an Erdö s Number of 2, and so on. So valuable
is the ranking that some high-Erdö s-Number authors are auctioning off their co-authorship
for a stiff price, just to help raise another mathematician's Erdö s Number. Seems
Capitalism has invaded the halls of Academe.