Quotes and Facts from The Geek Manifesto
I’ve been reading a fascinating book on the importance of science and scientific thinking to society called The Geek Manifesto. Here are some excerpts for your entertainment.
BBC presenter and Professor Stephen Jones on the idea that the media should always provide a balance (or opposing viewpoint) when reporting science;
Mathematician discovers that 2+2=4. Spokesperson for the Duodecimal Liberation Front insists that 2+2=5; presenter sums up that 2+2 equals something like 4.5, but the debate goes on.
Martin Robbins on how newspapers often report science
After the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull in 2010 caused extensive disruption to air travel, governments were criticised for being cautious. Volcanologists and air traffic controllers had been urging governments and airlines for a number of years to work out safe thresholds for flying through volcanic ash, but their suggestions had been disregarded.
After the UK government downgraded cannabis from a Class B to Class C drug, the British Crime Survey showed no noticeable increase in its use, and Police estimated a saving of almost 200,000 hours in officer’s time.
John Strong of the National Addiction Centre, saying that is has proved impossible to prove the “gateway theory” (that smoking cannabis leads to heroin use): “Going to primary school is a gateway to being a heroin user, but you are not implying there is a causal link between one and the other.” And “Even if the gateway theory is correct, it cannot be a very wide gateway as the majority of cannabis users never move on to Class A drugs.”
Fukushima was the world’s worst nuclear disaster for a quarter of a century. Yet at the time of writing, six months afterwards, the death toll from radiation stands at nil. In the same month, a coal fire explosion in Pakistan killed 45 workers. Another 48 American coal miners died at work in 2010; its nuclear industry had no fatalities. China’s coal industry claimed 2,631 miners’ lives in 2009 – the year with the best safety record in the past decade. In September 2011, four miners died when a mine flooded in Wales.
Coal has been estimated to cause 161 deaths per terawatt hour of energy, compared to 0.04 deaths for nuclear (and 0.15 for wind power).
The accident at Chernobyl has caused about 60 deaths in 25 years.
Quotes and Facts from At Home by Bill Bryson
Lobsters were once so common in UK waters that they were fed to orphans and prisoners, and ground up and used as fertilizer. Servants sought written assurances from employers that they would not be fed lobster more than twice a week.
After the potato was introduced from the Americas, many people considered it unwholesome because the edible parts grew in the ground. Some clergymen preached against it on the grounds that it appeared nowhere in the Bible
In many noble’s houses, servants were expected not to be seen, and stood silently against a wall while nobles passed. When Queen Victoria went for her afternoon walks, no one of any level of society was allowed to encounter her. It was said you could fix her location by the sight of panicked people fleeing before her. On one occasion, the 6 foot 4 Chancellor of the Exchequer found himself on open ground with nothing to hide behind apart from a dwarf shrub. Her Majesty affected not to see him.
In the first four months of total blackout in the UK at the beginning of WWII, a total of 4,133 people died on British roads, a 100% increase on the previous year, and three-quarters of them pedestrians. The British Medical Journal noted that without dropping a single bomb, the Luftwaffe was already killing 600 people per month.
The third Earl of Burlington, owned 42,000 acres of estates in Ireland and never visited the country – even after being made Lord Treasurer of Ireland.
When the English had easy access to sugar, they began sprinkling it on everything from eggs, meat, potatoes, and green until their teeth turned black. Some even artificially coloured their teeth black to show how wealthy and self-indulgent they were. By 1770, per capita consumption was 20 pounds per year. These days, annual consumption is 80 pounds per head, compared to the American average of 126 pounds.
Following the death of JMW Turner, John Ruskin discovered several erotic watercolours, and destroyed almost all of them for the good of the nation (and the artist’s reputation), determining that they must have been drawn “under a certain condition of insanity.”