Monday, February 01, 2010

Is the Drake Equation for hookups borrowed from The Big Bang Theory?

The Drake Equation was devised in the 1960s by pioneering astronomer and "extraterrestriologist" Frank Drake who was the main founder of SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence). The equation essentially lists the product of a variety of probabilistic terms related to intelligent life arising on an earthlike planet somewhere in the universe to come up with an estimate of "N", the number of intelligent civilizations in the universe.

The equation's rather limited utility can be gauged from the fact that over the years, estimates of N have ranged from "infinity" to one to essentially zero. In any case, it does provide for a useful way of thinking about the sheer number of obstacles that would come in the way of a mirror image of myself arising a million light years away and saying "Howdy".

But Peter Backus does not care as much about green-blooded aliens as he does about very much red-blooded earthly females. He has used a modified version of the Drake equation to calculate his chances of finding a girlfriend in 2010. You can read his paper here.

While some of the analysis of the terms is delightfully droll, it does seem uncannily similar to a Drake equation for hookups that the great Howard Wolowitz formulates in an episodes of The Big Bang Theory. As a BBT fanatic, the episode immediately popped up in my mind when I read about Backus. It's Episode 20 in Season 2, "The Hofstadter Isotope". Watch Howard expound on the equation just after Sheldon rattles off the terms.

There is no indication in Peter's article that he was inspired by this episode. If he was, I think poor Howard deserves a nod. If not, the odds of both Peter and Howard coming up with such a formula are...well, similar to estimates of N.

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