Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Sometimes it gets to me

[Original draft date: 2008.06.20, approximately]
Yes, long time no blog. Today I want to talk briefly about innumeracy and incompetence. Two examples follow.

1. Recently on Winds of Change a visitor reactivated an old thread to tell the readers it's implausible (/impossible) a plane with an over-100-foot wingspan could only make a roughly round hole less than 20 feet in diameter in the Pentagon. I'm afraid we following posters were not kind to that person.

2. Lately, someone I know who sells electronic parts and tools has been being deluged with customers who want to build "hydrogen generators" for their cars, to "double their gas mileage". These people are not, it appears, able to respond numerately to my exploration: if they could double their gas mileage, it would probably mean that they are (at present efficiency) blowing enough hydrocarbons out their tailpipe to blind the drivers behind them: assuming 20 mpg, taking 3800 cc/gal, that's a specific fuel consumption of 190 cc per mile. Half that is about three fluid ounces of unburned fuel out the tailpipe every mile. Hmm. I don't think that's anywhere near the numbers I get when they smog my car, either standing still or on the dyno. I wonder why?

Yes, I know there are probably all sorts of "analyses" available for why that approach is wrong-headed, some even involving *gasp* math stuff -- work diagrams and stuff about how vigorously steam expands. But my point is that these guys who come in to the store are just Pumpkin-Eaters, as far as he or I can tell. They Want To Believe.

Folks, I don't have the time to grab each one of you and tell you "No. No, that's not happening." And you don't even want to hear it. What you want is to build your hydrogen generator, or spout your conspiracy theory, because that way it feels like you're not just some sort of passive spectator.

I understand the urge. It is being misdirected.


Blogger LabRat said...

I've often wondered how much of America's educational deficit (leaving aside the broken institutional elements) could be corrected first by requiring syllogistic logic in freshman year before the science courses, and second by making math and reading the only two "central" elements up to about the seventh or eighth grade.

And this is coming from someone who HATES math.

03 September, 2008 16:17  

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