My Erdös-Bacon number is 6. This is the sum of my Erdös number (4), which measures the number of degrees of separation I have, through authorship of academic papers, from prolific Hungarian mathematician Paul Erdös, and my Bacon number (2), which measures the number of degrees of separation I have, through movie roles, from American actor Kevin Bacon. My Bacon number is low courtesy of my role in the movie Deep Impact which features a large cast of many veteran actors. My connection to Bacon (or at least the first one I found) is via Maximilian Schell, who was in Telling Lies in America with Kevin Bacon. So Schell has a Bacon number of 1, and since I was in Deep Impact with Schell, I have a Bacon number of 2.

Figuring out my Erdös number required a bit more sleuthing, but was greatly aided by this website, provided by the American Mathematical Society, which will provide the Erdös number of any author in the database of math papers. The difficulty is that I am not in their database. So I made some guesses as to co-authors of mine who might be in their database. The first good hit was Frank Spahn, a dynamicist friend and colleague at the University of Potsdam who has an Erdös number of 5, giving me E=6 and and E-B number of 8. When I thought about other possible connections, though, I hit on Jeff Scargle, a mathematically inclined planetary scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center. While I have not authored a paper with Jeff Scargle, I have with his Ames colleague, Jeff Cuzzi. Scargle is in the database with an Erdös number of 2, giving Cuzzi an Erdös number of 3, and me E=4.

Why does anyone care about these numbers? Well, most don’t. The idea of degrees of separation has been around for some time, and a game was created around the idea of finding the number of acting degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon. These calculations of degrees of separation are a way to quantify the “small world phenomenon” that posits that the human population is a network of connections where the number of links between any two individuals is small. The world of mathematical journals is sufficiently different, that even having an Erdös number and a Bacon number is fairly unusual. And since the whole connection concept is essentially a mathematical model, it seems fitting to have a small world number based on a mathematician. Paul Erdös wrote well over 1000 scholarly articles, so mathematicians used him as a root for degrees of separation in that particular world. My E-B number of 6 puts me one behind Brian Greene (5) and one better than Stephen Hawking and tied with Richard Feynman.

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