Saturday, August 29, 2015

Six degrees of separation (or less)

Science communicator Derek Muller explored the history of the six degrees of separation phenomenon in this piece on his video channel, Veratasium.

At the end of the video, he launched an experiment. Within just a few days, whoever can contact Derek via an email chain of people who know each other in real life, will receive a postcard from Derek.

I got contacted in one such chain and now know my "Muller number" is three. It was surprisingly quick, easy, and fun.

Interesting, too, were the people in the chain, and our connections. Here's how it went down.

  1. Jay McCarthy started the chain by emailing me. Jay is an American Computer Science professor and one of the developers of the Racket programming language. We met in person at St Louis at RacketCon 2014. I highly recommend Jay's fabulously entertaining talk. Jay emailed me because, like Derek, I am an Australian.
  2. I reside in Melbourne, Australia. I learned from his Wikipedia entry that Derek holds a PhD in physics education research from the University of Sydney. I decided to email Michelle Sowey, who is from Sydney and connected in academic and education circles. Michelle is the founder of The Philosophy Club, through which she and her husband, David Urbinder, perform amazing philosophical enquiries with school-aged children. My wife, PatchAndi, went to school with David.
  3. Michelle emailed her friend Kylie Sturgess, who hosts the award winning Token Skeptic podcast. Episode 103 is an interview with Derek Muller.
  4. Kylie has also met Derek in person at various science events, and was kind enough to complete the chain!
So we got from Jay to Derek in just four degrees of separation, in roughly 12 hours!

I look forward to seeing Derek's follow-up, and his postcard to Jay.

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