Mathematicians at the University of Manchester have been looking into whether or not a problem shared is a problem halved as the old proverb goes.
"The question itself is a puzzle," said Noel Liphe. "So we decided to see whether or not sharing the problem about the proverb among several of the PhD students for their doctorates."
Initially, they attempted to share the problem about the problem between just two PhD students. This however, proved to be something of a problem, in that both were assuming that the other student was working on the problem, and thus neither did. Both, however, did get more drinking time, so it was not a complete waste of time.
"With just two people sharing a problem, the problem is actually doubled," said Liphe. "This is a small sample set."
The mathematicians attempted to share the problem among twenty people, who had to form a committee style approach to solving the problem. Once again, sharing the problem hindered the solution to the problem, as nobody could agree how to share the problem of sharing the problem.
"As we share the problem among people, it appears that the complexity increases with each additional person," said Liphe.
As this approach was going nowhere, Liphe attempted to apply the null hypothesis, which states that if you can negate a truism, it is not true. The example often given is the statement "All swans are white." Should one swan be found that is black (by visiting Kew Gardens, and looking at the Black Swan collection, for instance), then this would mean the statement is false.
"I looked at all the data I had collected on my own," said Liphe. "I decided that adding people only added to the problem, and thus, the problem is not halved by sharing, but is in fact solved by using just one person. This disproves the proverb, I feel. A problem kept to yourself is solved."
On reading the study, one English language student was heard to say: "And they wonder why nobody thinks maths has any use in the real world."