26 January 2009

Obama's Erdos number

Does anybody know what Barack Obama's Erdos number is? (In particular, is it even defined?)

I learned a few days ago that if the links are people who know each other, my distance from Barack Obama is at most four -- Joe Biden went to high school with the father of a friend of mine. (Yes, this only proves that I'm at distance at most three from Biden; proving that I'm at distance at most four from Obama is left as an exercise for the reader.

Then again, I'm not sure if Obama even has academic publications, or where I'd look to find out if he did. The relevant Wikipedia article says "he published no legal scholarship", citing this New York Times article, though.


Joshua Reich said...

Congratulations, by asking this question, we now both share a "asked about obamas erdos number" number of 0!


I did some digging and couldn't find any support for Obama having an Erdos number.

FWIW, I don't have an Erdos number, but my Bacon number is 3.

Anonymous said...

Obama indeed has no signed, published articles. He published one, unsigned, sole-authored case comment [1]. The Harvard Law Review justifies their policy of unsigned student work by saying this "policy reflects the fact that many members of the Review, besides the author, make a contribution to each published piece." [2] Most papers in mathematics also have contributions by people other than the authors (that's what the acknowledgments section is for), so I don't think this is a viable way of getting Obama a finite Erdos number.

My question to Michael and Josh: Did Obama's image as an "academic" (of constitutional law, no less) affect your opinion of him positively? How does it change when you learn he has no papers, despite 12 years as a "professor"?

[1]: 103 Harv. L. Rev. 823
[2]: http://www.harvardlawreview.org/about.shtml

Joshua Reich said...

It definitely changed my opinion. Not being an academic myself, I forgot about adjunct professors and such who are there to teach rather than research. That said, it never entered my mind to question what Sarah Palin's Erdos number might be.

Ryan O'Donnell said...

Here's a way to give him Erdos Number 8, with a questionable first step:

1. Obama edited the Harvard Law Review when Randall Kennedy published the article "Racial Critiques of Legal Academia" therein.

2. Martha Minow and Randall Kennedy jointly published "Tribute to Justice Marshall" in the Harvard BlackLetter Law Journal.

3. Martha Minow and Peter Galison published "Our Privacy, Ourselves in the Age of Technological Intrusions" in the book Human Rights in an Age of Terrorism.

4. Howard Georgi, David B. Kaplan, and Peter Galison published "Calculation of the composite Higgs mass" in Physics Letters B.

5. Georgi and Kaplan are theoretical physicists so you're basically done. From here
http://www.ams.org/mathscinet/collaborationDistance.html you can get, e.g., Georgi & Andrew G. Cohen,

6. Andrew G. Cohen & Sheldon L. Glashow,

7. Sheldon L. Glashow & Danny Kleitman,

8. Kleitman & Erdos.

Anonymous said...

Of course it's defined. Everybody's Erdös number is defined. It's just that most of them are infinite.

Anonymous said...

I learned a while back about a handy AMS tool: collaboration distance.

It has no results for Obama however.

Anonymous said...

JD, the collaboration distance calculator will only measure publications in the MathSciNet database. Some people think only mathematical papers should count for Erdos numbers, in which case the calculator is doing the right thing (essentially all such papers show up in MathSciNet), but others would count peer-reviewed academic journal papers of all sorts (steps 4 on in Ryan O'Donnell's list) in which case one has to interpret it only as an upper bound.

Also, I've seen the MathSciNet database give too low numbers, when it finds links between two people listed as authors in the same MathSciNet entry that cannot reasonably be interpreted as a joint research publication.

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