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11: Simple Graphs

  • Page ID
    • Eric Lehman, F. Thomson Leighton, & Alberty R. Meyer
    • Google and Massachusetts Institute of Technology via MIT OpenCourseWare
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    Simple graphs model relationships that are symmetric, meaning that the relationship is mutual. Examples of such mutual relationships are being married, speaking the same language, not speaking the same language, occurring during overlapping time intervals, or being connected by a conducting wire. They come up in all sorts of applications, including scheduling, constraint satisfaction, computer graphics, and communications, but we’ll start with an application designed to get your attention: we are going to make a professional inquiry into sexual behavior. Specifically, we’ll look at some data about who, on average, has more opposite-gender partners: men or women.

    Sexual demographics have been the subject of many studies. In one of the largest, researchers from the University of Chicago interviewed a random sample of 2500 people over several years to try to get an answer to this question. Their study, published in 1994 and entitled The Social Organization of Sexuality, found that men have on average 74% more opposite-gender partners than women.

    Other studies have found that the disparity is even larger. In particular, ABC News claimed that the average man has 20 partners over his lifetime, and the average woman has 6, for a percentage disparity of 233%. The ABC News study, aired on Primetime Live in 2004, purported to be one of the most scientific ever done, with only a 2.5% margin of error. It was called “American Sex Survey: A peek between the sheets”—raising some questions about the seriousness of their reporting.

    Yet again in August, 2007, the New York Times reported on a study by the National Center for Health Statistics of the U.S. government showing that men had seven partners while women had four. So, whose numbers do you think are more accurate: the University of Chicago, ABC News, or the National Center?

    Don’t answer—this is a trick question designed to trip you up. Using a little graph theory, we’ll explain why none of these findings can be anywhere near the truth.

    This page titled 11: Simple Graphs is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Eric Lehman, F. Thomson Leighton, & Alberty R. Meyer (MIT OpenCourseWare) .

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