Mathematics at Newcastle University

George Orwell and 1984 In his book 1984, George Orwell makes great play of the concept of 2 and 2 equalling 5 in the totalitarian society of Airstrip One. The relevance of this is obviously due to the fact that Mathematics is the most scientific discipline in the sense of being built on solid foundations - nevertheless the said totalitarian society wants to go against this scientific evidence and then manages to get large numbers of people to see things their way.

A similar attitude is displayed by Thomas Hobbes in his work Leviathan :

"I doubt not but if it had been a thing contrary to the interest of men that have dominion that the three angles of a triangle should be equal to two angles of a square, that doctrine should been been, if not disputed, yet by the burning of all books of geometry, suppressed".

I attempt here to show a real-life scenario conforming to these rules, which in one sense is quite surreal with people who should know better being quite happy to state that black is white, but at the same time being more 'true to life' than Orwell's example.


In essence, I am complaining about Newcastle University inserting a couple of questions in a final year exam which were identical to questions set in the previous year's second year exam. ( identical in the sense that 2+2=? is identical to 3+3=?). Newcastle deny this similarity and attempts to gather opinions elsewhere have leads to most respondees agreeing with Newcastle. Nevertheless, the questions are identical, as you can find out for yourself if you are really so inclined, and I have at least one message of support from a Mathematics professor.

But the fact that most respondees agree with Newcastle University?  Well that is the whole reason for this web site

Other Analogies

Another relevant analogy is Hans Christian Anderson's Emperor's New Clothes which is obviously a satire on the way that people will believe in something if they are told beforehand what is the respectable way to 'think'.

Orwell himself formulated this slightly differently in 1984:

"The party instructs you to disregard the evidence of your eyes and ears"

In Britain in July 2005, we had a classic example of these attitudes. The police shot dead a man on an underground train at Stockwell station because 'they thought he was a potential bomber'. At the time, the police gave out these details

  • The man was of Pakistani or similar origin
  • He was wearing bulky clothes which were noticebly too excessive for what was a warm day
  • He jumped over the turnstiles when 'spotted'
  • He ran away from the police when they ordered him to stop

Next thing, we had eye-witness statements broadcast on the TV and radio, to the effect that

  • The man appeared to be of Asian appearance
  • He was wearing clothes too excessive for that time of year
  • He ran on to the train at great speed, almost stumbling as he entered the train

Eventually, the police released the information that the unfortunate person was

  • a Brazilian
  • not wearing anything unusual
  • not seen leaping over turnstiles
  • not ordered by the Police to stop, and he did not run away from them.
De Havilland Comet

Another example: sometimes when I hear bureaucrats etc. talk glowingly about the state of British Universities, I am reminded of the inglorious history of the De Havilland Comet jet airliner. This was an aircraft which was suspected by people-in-the-know of being a load of rubbish but nevertheless it was put in the air, and when it started crashing, it needed five crashes before the aircraft was finally grounded. After the fourth crash, Comet staff voted by a majority of one to return to work and even up to the fifth crash, it still seemed possible to find a BOAC pilot who would be prepared to fly in the face of all the evidence (no pun intended) and describe the aircraft as "absolutely splendid" - more details

Murphy' Law

If you think Murphy's Law has been repealed, then this page is probably of no interest to you.

Likewise - if you think that it is nonsense to suggest that small people just don't succeed against bureaucracies, even if they have a morally good case (i.e. if you deny the existence of status-determined justice).

I say this particularly because this state of affairs has occured because Universities in Britain have little accountability. They operate on byzantine attitudes (although someone has pointed out that they are not that modern). It is quite depressing to find University employees and people in general living with these attitudes while simultaneously professing a belief in the opposite modern values of democracy and natural justice. Back to George Orwell again and his description of Doublethink (on which 1984 is based):

The ability to have two contradictory viewpoints and agree with both of them simultaneously