And you thought you'd never use physics . . .

This story is blowing up all over the interwebs, but just in case you aren’t surfing the “math” section of Google news, here’s what happened (from Katie Scott writing in Wired UK):

“A physicist faced with a fine for running a stop sign has proved his innocence by publishing a mathematical paper, and has even won a prize for his efforts.

Dmitri Krioukov is a physicist based at the University of California in San Diego. When faced with a court hearing over allegedly driving through a stop sign, he put together a paper called The Proof of Innocence, which he has since published. The abstract for the paper reads: “A way to fight your traffic tickets.” The paper was awarded a special prize of $400 that the author did not have to pay to the state of California.

Krioukov’s argument is based upon the premise that three coincidences happened at the same time to make the police officer believe that he had seen the physicist run a red light, when, in fact, he hadn’t. He writes: “[In this paper], we show that if a car stops at a stop sign, an observer, e.g., a police officer, located at a certain distance perpendicular to the car trajectory, must have an illusion that the car does not stop, if the following three conditions are satisfied: (1) The observer measures not the linear but angular speed of the car; (2) The car decelerates and subsequently accelerates relatively fast; and (3) There is a short-time obstruction of the observer’s view of the car by an external object, e.g., another car, at the moment when both cars are near the stop sign.”

As Physics Central explains, because the police officer was around 30m from the intersection where the stop sign was situated, “a car approaching the intersection with constant linear velocity will rapidly increase in angular velocity from the police officer’s perspective.”

The physicist even created graphs showing what would have happened to his angular velocity if he had either been driving at a constant linear velocity or had made a quick stop and then accelerated back to speed, which is what he claims happens (actually, he sneezed, causing him to brake harder than usual). It was during this sneeze stop that another vehicle obscured the police officer’s view of Krioukov’s car, argues the paper.

The conclusion of the paper? It isn’t the police officer’s fault but he/she was wrong as their “perception of reality did not properly reflect reality.” Bet that’s a statement the other officers loved to remind them of.”

I love this story because it’s precisely how nerds (like me) use fancy sounding math to win arguments.  In my case, I just wait for people’s eyes to glaze over, then I’m pretty sure I’m winning.  Since part of my job is to develop strategy based on data, especially analytics, most of my discussions with clients end with eyes glazed over.  I don’t mean for it to happen, it’s just that a large part of my career was spent have arguments with other STEM people.  If you make an argument based on data to that group, you better back it up with numbers, because they will absolutely crucify you.  I am trying to learn balance between too much data and glossing over stuff.  I haven’t found it yet.

However, there is this part of me that figures if I stay math heavy (for example) people will presume it’s true and give in, as was the case with Krioukov.  Regardless of whether Krioukov’s argument was solid, the magistrate and the state probably found it easier to dismiss the case than to admit they had no idea what the physicist was talking about.

Trust me, I’m in advertising.

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