Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Thursday 11 June 2009

Interplanetary Billiards

Wow! Look at the headline! Mars or Venus could collide with Earth! Total global annihilation!
Well, no, actually. Typical scientists – get your hopes up and then tell you it won’t happen for a billion years if at all.

Is ‘Tiny Chance of Planet Collision’ really front-page news? Or worthy of a spot on the Today programme? Or does the BBC’s science correspondent have a quota? – “Come on, Pallab; 500 words NOW or no pay-cheque this month!”

Maybe he just got bored, sitting alone in his little cubby-hole in Broadcasting House waiting for someone somewhere to announce a momentous scientific discovery.

It’s one of those questions of proportion; the chances of it happening are infinitesimally small, but should it ever actually happen, it would be the biggest news story ever. I suspect there is a formula the BBC applies in such circumstances.

The mathematics of this are beyond me (I could never get the hang of statistics) but assuming minute odds of occurrence multiplied by almost infinite newsworthiness, one presumably arrives at the conclusion that it is as significant a news event as, say, an MP putting a floating Duck house on expenses.

1 comment:

  1. Well, the world's getting colder so the Beeb's 'science' people have got to find some other way to blame capitalism for all the world's ills; real or imaginary.
    Global Collision might be the next Big Bad Thing.


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