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Warren Harding

Some surprisingly useful useless information

At the coffee shop today I was discussing with my friend Brian the uses and limitations of mathematics. I certainly believe that mathematics is useful in the sciences, but it runs into limitations when the important information is difficult to quantify. And that while mathematical assertions are very reliably true (or at least easily falsifiable ), not all of them are useful. 

As an example, I pointed out that, starting with Rutherford B. Hayes, every prime-numbered president has been a Republican. Brian agreed with me that this statement, if true (and it is, I've checked it thoroughly) is not very meaningful.

That little factoid is probably one of the most useless pieces of information ever. But as can be seen from the conversation described here, it is not completely useless. It is perfect for illustrating the difference between "mathematically true" and "meaningful".

It's useful in another area as well. I often have trouble focusing, and am sure that if there is such a thing as ADD, then I have it. Yet I have never sought diagnosis or treatment. Of course part of the reason is inertia, but I worry that medication would change not only my difficulty in focusing, but things about myself that I like. Such as knowing the above useless factoid.

If someone were to ask me why I don't take ritalin or adderol or whatever the hell the latest drug for ADD is, I would point out that starting with Rutherford B. Hayes every prime numbered  president has been a Republican. If they were courteous enough to ask me what that had to do with the question, rather than using my answer as evidence for their point, I would tell them I enjoy being the kind of person who knows things like that.

For the skeptical, here is a list of the prime numbered presidents (starting with Rutherford B. Hayes). You can check out there number and party affiliation for yourself.
Also note that I did not say that all Republican presidents were prime numbered. So, for instance, Ronald Reagan, who was 40th, is not an exception. (I'll admit this makes my observation a little less interesting than it initially appears).