Assume Your Way To All Sorts Of Answers

How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood? How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop? How many roads must a man walk down before you call him a man?

The answer doesn't have to blow in the wind – you can estimate your way to fairly solid answers, according to Adam Kucharski, who is studying for a PhD in maths at Cambridge. Adam won this year's Wellcome Trust Science Writing prize with a compelling study of the importance of estimates. The Wellcome Trust is a London-based foundation dedicated to achieving extraordinary improvements in human and animal health via public engagement, education and the application of research.

The spark that started it all for Adam was a job interview question regarding how many piano tuners there were in London. Aside from the fact that those "tricky" interview questions are starting to become cliché, it is an interesting way to find out if a candidate has a critical mind and a firm grasp of the Fermi paradox – solving a problem by combining a series of assumptions.

The London-based publication, The Guardian, has a great interview with Adam. You can read his entire essay here.

BTW: Woodchucks would chuck wood until their little bodies gave up the ghost. It's hard to tell about the Tootsie Pop question, but the Wise Owl says three. And depending on the road traveled, you can call someone a man at many different points.

Traci Purdum
Senior Digital Editor

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