Author’s Note: As a marginal Sociologist I will support Mathematician Matt Parker from the perspective of my own discipline. In the spirit of C. Wright Mills, it is a Sociologist’s job to point out the difference between “personal troubles” and wider “public/social issues”: One person’s unemployment is a personal trouble; but if that person can transcend their individuality and see that others are unemployed as well the personal trouble becomes a wider social issue, like an economic recession. In this case, what may at first seem like a small personal “trouble” (people upset at a minor detail on highway signage) could actually be part of a wider public/social issue (the inflexibility of the modern bureaucratic state or the dumbing down of modern society in the context of one-dimensional thought). This is why it is important to move away from our own individualism and start thinking outside of ourselves.

Yesterday, on 31 October 2017, the BBC ran a piece focused on the incorrect depiction of footballs on British roadways. The piece notes that “Currently, the image on the sign is made entirely of hexagons but a ball like that would be geometrically impossible to make. Instead, a real football has a mixture of hexagons and pentagons . . .”. Mathematician Matt Parker has started a petition—and gathered 20,000 signatures from football fans supporting him—to get the signs changed. Even though UK law stipulates that the hexagon pattern is the only one that can depict stadiums, Mr. Parker rightly points out that this incorrect depiction of footballs is “embarrassing” due to the UK’s national tradition in sport and “very proud” tradition in math and science.



Does This Really Look Like a Football Without the Iconic Pentagon? Image Courtesy Of:


Of course, the bureaucrats in the British government are not amused, and their argument is that traffic signs are merely a “general representation” of the activity they are supposed to depict. A spokesman for the Department of Transportation (DfT) claimed that since these signs have been in use since 1994, “drivers have become ‘accustomed’” to the design. The spokesman goes onto explain that any new details would not be visible from the distance drivers typically see them from while on the roadway, while adding that “the higher level of attention needed to understand the geometry could distract a driver’s view away from the road for longer than necessary which could therefore increase the risk of an incident.”

Mr. Parker’s response points out the odd contradictions in the DfT’s response:

I’m not sure what the DfT thinks a football looks like but they say both: the change would be too small to be noticed and that the correct geometry would be so distracting to drivers it would increase the risk of accidents. I’m not asking for angles and measurements on the sign, just for it to look more like a football.”

Mr. Parker does well to point out the contradictions inherent in the response, and while the signs should certainly be made to look more like a football there is also a worrying condescension that comes out of the DfT’s response: the bureaucratic state seems to be assuming that its citizens are morons. To say that a new design will not work since drivers have become “accustomed” to the current one suggests that British drivers suffer from a sort of mental atrophy. Has the modern world become so one-dimensional in its thought that the modern mind is no longer flexible enough to comprehend any changes to what it is accustomed to?

It is certainly ironic, since—in other areas of the modern world—it seems that the bureaucratic state is all too willing to force change on its citizens in the name of “progressive” politics: In the United States the name of the first President, George Washington, can be removed from the church he worshiped at while statues of prominent figures from American history can be removed to white-wash the history of slavery in the United States, yet British drivers cannot deal with a “change” to their highway signs? It would seem—to me at least—that this is an insult to the intelligence of British drivers.

Similarly, the argument that “the higher level of attention needed to understand the geometry could distract a driver’s view away from the road for longer than necessary” and thus increase the risk of an “incident” seems to ignore the fact that—in the modern world—we are already distracted by much more than the correct depiction of footballs on a highway sign. I—like anyone who has ever driven on a highway—am quite certain that the millions of people taking selfies in their cars, texting in their cars, stuffing their faces with fast food burgers in their cars, or even doing make up in their cars are much more likely to cause an “incident” on a roadway than someone “distracted” by a geometrically correct depiction of a football on a highway sign. To argue otherwise—as the DfT did—is merely to insult the intelligence of British citizens.

In fact, if modern society were not as dumbed down as it has become, it is likely that this incorrect depiction of a football would be more likely to cause an incident than a correct depiction would be! (Of course, that would hinge on people actually knowing what a football should actually look like…or knowing that “Bluetiful” is not a word, as I have argued before). The football sign row shows that the bureaucratic state in Britain is more willing to insult its national traditions and history—as well as the intelligence of its citizenry—than attempt to rectify an oversight in graphic design. We all make mistakes, and that’s ok—we are human after all (for now at least). But it is pretty embarrassing for the government to give excuses that are—for lack of a better word—just lame.



In Italy, Signs That Actually Look Like Footballs Are Not Causing Massive Pile-Ups On The Autostrada (At Least, Not As Far As I Know). So If They Can Do It In Italy, Why Not In Britain? Image Courtesy Of: