Who else has an Erdos-Bacon-Sabbath number?

A little while ago, I did some sleuthing to find out the Erdős number of Brian May, astrophysicist and guitarist from Queen. My travels led me to Timeblimp, who threw together three measures of professional collaboration to make a rather fun parlour game. Assuming that the people in your parlour are three kinds of nerds and enjoy long and complicated internet scavenger hunts. Which I am and I do.

The game is to find a well-known person who has published academically, released a song, and been involved in a movie or TV show. Then, you play three versions of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon: find a series of movies to connect them to prolific actor Kevin Bacon, a series of coauthored papers to connect them to the eccentric mathematician Paul Erdős, and a series of musical collaborations to get to Black Sabbath. Add up all the links and you get the Erdős-Bacon-Sabbath number.

To even have an Erdős-Bacon-Sabbath number puts you in quite an exclusive club. Only four people — Richard Feynman, Natalie Portman, Stephen Hawking, and the aforementioned Brian May — are known to be on the list. Until now. In this post, I’m going to throw out a few more potential names and put in the legwork to add two of them to the list of People at the Center of the Universe.



Winston Churchill

The former British prime minister is a bit of a wild guess, but I thought he’d have a shot at an Erdős-Bacon-Sabbath number thanks to his historical research, the zillion documentaries he’s been in, and Supertramp. Sadly, it seems that all of Churchill’s historical research was written solo, so he doesn’t have an Erdős number.

Shaquille O’Neal

Another crazy idea from another field entirely, Shaq ought to have Bacon and Sabbath numbers thanks to his various off-court activities. He took the project option for his recent doctorate, so he doesn’t have a peer-reviewed academic paper to his name, but perhaps an argument could be made for an Erdős number through his senior supervisor.

Phil Plait, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and Carl Sagan

BadAstronomerPhil Plait and badass astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson both have spent a fair time on TV communicating science to the public and have the academic credentials to back it up. They ought to have finite Erdős-Bacon numbers, but I have no idea if either can sing. Carl Sagan is in the same boat as the above two guys, except he does have one credit as record producer under his belt.

Bill Nye

The Oracle of Bacon gives him a Bacon number of 2 through an EPCOT Center movie, and if that’s too flimsy for you he’s got plenty of mainstream TV show appearances. A better detective than I could certainly parlay the Soundtrack of Science into a Sabbath number for the Science Guy. But since Bill’s background is engineering and comedy rather than academia, any Erdős number will have to come through his patent portfolio.

Sir David Attenborough

The famous naturalist and BBC broadcaster should have a well-defined Erdős-Bacon number through his academic books and documentaries (although his Bacon number should be bigger than his brother’s 2). Apparently he’s also done narration for two musicals — Yanomamo and Ocean World — so perhaps he has a Sabbath number as well?

Thomas Edison

Clearly, you have to be some sort of wizard to have a finite Erdős-Bacon-Sabbath number — how about the one from Menlo Park? I am convinced that Thomas Edison has a finite Erdős-Bacon-Sabbath number, but the degree of difficulty for finding it is through the roof. Thanks to the Mathematics Genealogy Project, I have managed to assign Edison a tenuous Erdős number of six: he collaborated with Francis Upton, who studied under and was recommended to Edison by Hermann von Helmholtz, who taught Freidrich Schottky, who taught Konrad Knopp, who has an Erdős number of two via George Lorentz. It is unclear whether Edison ever directed or whether he had any collaborators on his spoken-word performance of “Mary Had a Little Lamb”, but his role in creating the entire recorded music and motion pictures industries should count for some sort of Bacon-Sabbath number.

New Member: Brian Cox, EBS #13

Sean from Timeblimp floated the possibility of rock star/particle physicist Brian Cox having a well-defined Erdős-Bacon-Sabbath number, but to my knowledge nobody has actually worked out what it is. So here goes.

It’s easy to find Brian Cox’s Bacon and Sabbath numbers (they’re both three) but his Erdős number is somewhat harder. I managed to find a path of length seven using only papers with three coauthors or fewer, but Cox has worked in gigantic collaborations like ATLAS. It may be possible to get a shorter path through one of the papers he shares with thousands of coauthors.

Erdős number 7

Brian Cox
Hard colour singlet exchange at the Tevatron
Leif Lönnblad
Small-x dipole evolution beyond the large-Nc limit
Gösta Gustafson
The action-angle variables for the massless relativistic string in 1+1 dimensions
Bo Söderberg
Scaling laws for mode lockings in circle maps
Boris Shraiman
Scaling theory for noisy period-doubling transitions to chaos
C. Eugene Wayne
The Euler-Bernoulli beam equation with boundary energy dissipation
Steven George Krantz
Intersection graphs for families of balls in Rn
Paul Erdős

Bacon number 3

Brian Cox
Stargazing Live
Jonathan Ross
John Hurt
Jayne Mansfield’s Car
Kevin Bacon

Sabbath number 3

Brian Cox
Darren Wharton
Thin Lizzy
Tomy Aldridge
Ozzy Osbourne
Ozzy Osbourne

Note: Jonathan Ross can be connected directly to Kevin Bacon if you allow for TV review shows. Thanks to Mike Whitaker for pointing this out in the comments.

New Member: Tom Lehrer, EBS #9

Tom Lehrer is a mathematician-turned-musical-satirist; you might have heard his song listing the chemical elements. Starfish13 on the QI forums suggested Lehrer as a candidate: he’s got an an Erdős number of four according to MathSciNet and a Bacon number of two according to the Oracle.

The only missing link is the connection to Black Sabbath. I managed to find quite a short path via the Muppets.

Erdős number 4

Tom Lehrer
The distribution of the number of locally maximal elements in a random sample
WF Penney
The number of components in random linear graphs
John Riordan
The solution of a certain recurrence
Ronald Graham
On sums of Fibonnaci numbers
Paul Erdős

Bacon number 7

Tom Lehrer
The Frost Report
John Cleese
The Big Picture
Kevin Bacon

Sabbath number 3

Tom Lehrer
“Silent E” from The Electric Company
Joe Raposo (producer/lyricist)
“The First Time it Happens” from The Great Muppet Caper
Frank Oz as Miss Piggy
“Born to be Wild” from Kermit Unpigged
Ozzy Osbourne

If you allow for Joe Raposo’s non-performing credits, this gives Tom Lehrer the lowest-known Erdős-Bacon-Sabbath number of 9 — making him tied with Stephen Hawking for Person Closest to the Center of the Universe!

Q: Does anyone else have an Erdős-Bacon-Sabbath number?

An extremely productive discussion in the now-archived comments led to many new conjectures and discoveries. So many new Erdős-Bacon-Sabbath numbers were found that I’ve started a whole website to keep track of them all!