Because of his prolific output, friends created the Erdős number as a humorous tribute. An Erdős number describes a person’s degree of separation from Erdős himself, based on their collaboration with him, or with another who has their own Erdős number. Erdős alone was assigned the Erdős number of 0 (for being himself), while his immediate collaborators could claim an Erdős number of 1, their collaborators have Erdős number at most 2, and so on. Approximately 200,000 mathematicians have an assigned Erdős number, and some have estimated that 90 percent of the world’s active mathematicians have an Erdős number smaller than 8 (not surprising in light of the small world phenomenon). Due to collaborations with mathematicians, many scientists in fields such as physics, engineering, biology, and economics have Erdős numbers as well.
It is said that Baseball Hall of Famer Hank Aaron has an Erdős number of 1 because they both autographed the same baseball when Emory University awarded them honorary degrees on the same day. Erdős numbers have also been assigned to an infant, a horse, and several actors.
The Erdős number was most likely first defined by Casper Goffman, an analyst whose own Erdős number is 1. Goffman published his observations about Erdős’s prolific collaboration in a 1969 article titled “And what is your Erdős number?”[4