Wow. Just wow.
I was just flicking through channels and caught a little of "Engineering an Empire" on the History Channel. The episode was on the Maya.
The narrator said something about the Maya knowing how to "compute the square root of a rectangle".
I was so boggled, I concluded I must have misheard - but no, it was repeated a minute or so later. It was emphasized; apparently we were expected to find this an impressive feat.
The Maya, apparently, knew how to compute the square root of a rectangle. That's pretty clever of them, because that, as far as I can see, is utter nonsense.
As Inigo Montoya might have put it: I do not think it means what you think it means.
I wondered if they meant "compute the hypotenuse of a right angled triangle" (which is equivalent to the diagonal of a rectangle). I also wondered if perhaps they meant "the geometric mean of two numbers" (since that would be the square root of the area of a rectangle). I also wondered if they possibly intended something else.
I concluded they probably meant the first thing (since that's a very valuable thing for a civilization to be able to do, crucial to surveying land - and then they had a shot of a Mayan guy squinting across the top of a stick as if he was indeed surveying). So that would kind of make sense.
But what the heck is someone who isn't comfortable with mathematics supposed to make of it?
The show was no cheap-and-nasty affair. They made some pretty fancy graphics. They had actors dress up in costumes, and they had some pretty fancy sets and location shots. This was a pretty involved documentary. Why the hell couldn't they have had the script looked over by anyone with even a modest bit of mathematics? Say, a mathematics undergrad? (Heck, I could have told them that was obvious nonsense before I was 16.)
That bit of (repeated, emphasized) mathematical nonsense is enough to make the entire program suspect - because if they were that lax with the mathematics, who knows what care was taken with the rest of it?