Monday, 14 December 2015
Idiocy labelled science
They ran a story in which the only 'news' was that an astronaut's dad had said something stupid, and then had the nerve to label the story 'science'.
The entire basis for the story was a comment from the father of British astronaut-to-be, Tim Peake. His father, Nigel, is quoted as saying 'I'm more worried about him driving home on the M27. That's far more dangerous, believe me, than going up there.'
So, in what sense is this news or science? The only vaguely scientific thing in the story was the extreme misuse of statistics, which we'll examine in a moment, and though I'd rather we had astronauts in the news than X-Factor winners (I'm pleased to say that I neither know nor care who won), I really have very little interest in Nigel. I'm sorry Nigel, but I don't.
How about those stats, then? Is a trip on the M27 far more dangerous than riding a space rocket? You might not be shocked to discover that the answer is 'No, it isn't.' After a lot of fibbing over the years, NASA had to admit that the risk of dying on any particular space flight is about 1 in 100. How does this compare with the M27? I don't have specific stats, but lets look at the nationwide figures*. These put the chance of dying on any particular car journey as less likely than 1 in 23 million.
I know which is more dangerous, believe me, and it's not the M27.
* Statistical honesty: the figure I give for chance of dying on a road journey is wrong, but it is likely to be too high a risk, rather than too low. Two figures I used were dubious. I based my number on the UK road deaths figures, which includes pedestrians and cyclists, neither of whom are relevant here. Also, in the five minutes I was prepared to dedicate to researching the data, I could only find UK figures for vehicle miles, not vehicle journeys. I divided this by the average journey length (just 7 miles - get on your bikes!), but this would not produce an accurate figure for vehicle journeys. However, it's close enough for the purposes.