Review: Simon Singh talks The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets

The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets

Friday, 18th October 2013 at Crescent Arts Centre, Belfast – as part of the Belfast Festival at Queen’s

After the disappointing news of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Radio Show Live at the Grand Opera House, Belfast having been cancelled earlier in the week I was bouncing with excitement as Friday drew near as it meant Simon Singh in the flesh discussing his latest book, The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets (available at a good bookshop near you).  Singh intends to “blow the lid off a decades-long conspiracy to secretly educate cartoon viewers“.

Simon Singh is a best selling author with a PhD in Particle Physics whose books include Fermat’s Last TheoremThe Code BookBig Bang and Trick or Treatment? Alternative Medicine on Trial.  I would strongly recommend anyone with an interest in maths, science or general debunking of pseudoscience pick up one of his books (again, from a good bookshop near you).

Singh is also well known for his battle against a libel case taken against him by the British Chiropractic Association due to a column he published in the Guardian newspaper querying the effectiveness of some of the claims made that chiropractic treatment can be used for conditions as diverse as infant colic and ear aches.  Subsequently, he won the right to rely on the defence of fair comment and the British Chiropractic Association withdrew their case.

Singh’s talk gave the audience an overview of what his latest book is about together with some very interesting facts about the 25 year old show and its writers, many of whom it turns out were professional mathematicians with some having given up either an academic career or promising educational future to write on the Simpsons and, later, Futurama.  A small selection of the varied examples of math based in-jokes and references were highlighted during the talk from Maggie’s alphabet blocks spelling out E=MC2 to the very obscure jokes that will only be seen when the scene is paused and you have a very deep understanding of mathematical theory.  Interspersed throughout the talk was a quiz gauging the mathematical understanding of the audience, jokes and anecdotes.  A very entertaining hour was had by all.

After the talk Singh took questions from the audience culminating in him providing a background to the libel case brought against him.  It highlighted the need for an overhaul of the libel laws which have now been passed and are in effect throughout England, Wales and Scotland reducing libel tourism and frivolous litigation.  The result of the new libel laws also means that one does not need to fear having a lawsuit brought against them just for expressing a reasonable opinion.

Unfortunately, Singh’s throat rebelled causing the author to finish the Q&A and the night was drawn to a close with a book signing afterwards.

It was a fun and fact filled evening underscored with a serious undertone with an erudite and concise writer who is not only well versed in his subject of choice but obviously very passionate about it.  I am looking forward to discovering more from the book.

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