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Background: Given three signed permutations, an inversion median is a fourth permutation that minimizes the sum of the pairwise inversion distances between it and the three others. This problem is NP-hard as well as hard to approximate. Yet median-based approaches to phylogenetic reconstruction have been shown to be among the most accurate, especially in the presence of long branches. Most existing approaches have used heuristics that attempt to find a longest sequence of inversions from one of the three permutations that, at each step in the sequence, moves closer to the other two permutations; yet very little is known about the quality of solutions returned by such approaches.