American Culture

Mathematics: FAIL

I have to ask – what mathematical ignoramus came up with the term “partial zero emission vehicle?” Partial means a fraction, and you can’t divide zero by anything without getting zero again. Divide zero in half? You get… zero. How about 10% of zero? Yup, still zero. Divide zero by a million and – it’s a shocker, I know – you still get zero. Divide zero by any number you can think of except zero*, and the answer is zero.

I get that the “Partial Zero Emission Vehicle” is a class of low emission vehicles defined by the state of California. I get that. But that just makes this even scarier. It means that the majority of a committee thought that committing a mathematical fail was a good idea. And it means that none of the committee members who voted against it was able to make a compelling argument not to commit an offense against the 3rd Grade mathematical concept known as “simple division.”

This laughably bad attack on elementary mathematics makes the chemistry fail that is “Carbon-free” sugar look positively brilliant by comparison. At least failing to understand the chemical composition of sugar (C12H22O11) has carbon in it is a junior high or high school screw-up. But elementary division? Really?

Call it a “low emission vehicle,” or a “super-low emission vehicle,” or even “just-a-tiny-bit-above-but-not-quite-zero emission vehicle.” There’s a ton of good synonyms and related word for “low” in your handy thesaurus, after all. And some words that are similar to “zero” might have worked too – “abyssal emission vehicle” sounds downright cool to me, and without the mathematical precision that “zero” demands.

There were options, people. Next time, try to choose one that doesn’t require mangling 3rd Grade math, OK? Thanks.

*And for those advanced math folks out there, it doesn’t work when you divide zero by zero either. Taking the partial differential equation of both the numerator and denominator when the limit of both goes to 0 produces values that are either constants, 0, or infinity. None of them are “partial zeros” either.

Image credit: Motortrend

5 replies »

1. Come on now says:

We all know what they mean by that. This is a bit of a joke. The interpretation of the wording is intentionally twisted to be funny (I hope). The vehicle is zero emission part of the time. This “mathematical fail” is more of a “reading comprehension fail,” on the part of the poster.

• What part of “I get it” did you not understand? I understand where the term comes from, although I think that’s absurd too. Every single hybrid qualifies as “partial zero,” and when you consider where the electricity comes from for an electric vehicle, no vehicle is necessarily “zero emissions”. Heck, give me enough bureaucratic rope and I could argue a gas guzzling SUV was a “partial zero emissions vehicle” because it doesn’t emit anything either – when it’s not running.

But the wording hasn’t been twisted in any way. “Partial zero,” however you look at it, is mathematically absurd.

2. Anonymous says:

The PZEV is a regulatory category, not a description of the emission level. What it means is that a vehicle that meets PZEV requirements earns partial credit towards the Zero Emission Vehicle requirement. I understand that on its face it seems odd, but it serves a purpose that makes sense to those involved. It is amusing to see you immediately leap to the conclusion that the ARB staff are idiots. Have you compared the air in LA today to what it was 20 years ago? Brought to you courtesy of the hardworking staff that you so arrogantly condemn.

3. Dr. Denny says:

Gee. Arrogant? Really? Why not add, in appropriate places, “Credit” and “Requirement” to the category name? Add me to the arrogant class of grammar nerds.

4. Ann says:

Geez! Thanks for the clarification, Brian! I thought I was getting crazy!