As I suggested in the first blog, if it can’t be measured then energy does not exist (as far as science is concerned).  It’s important to distinguish the stuff that has been measured to some degree of accuracy, the stuff that is estimated ( guessed but with varying degrees of sophistication) and what is modelled rather than measured. When reading science articles I find these are often poorly distinguished or arbitrarily mixed.

Accurate measurement

Distance, time, speed, weight, volume can now be measured to amazing levels of accuracy.  GPS is a great tool for navigation but is also a method of measuring and synchronising time.  Satellites carry very precise atomic clocks and download these data to our modern communications systems including smartphones.  Banking relies on accurate timekeeping.  We now need to keep track of leap seconds, adding them in when necessary!

Estimations

Other measurements are, by necessity, estimates.  This makes them no less useful, but it is wise to know if something is an accurate measurement or an estimation, and how good the estimation might be.  If you asked me what the world population is, I am liable to say that it is about 7 and a half billion.  I could quote an internet source and say it is 7404976783, but that is just nonsense. There is no way to count everyone at the same time, we would need to have a precise definition of the moment of birth and the moment of death and what if someone is being resuscitated, or disappeared in the desert.  We can not know the number precisely so we estimate.

The simple science rule is to show the number of digits that reflect the accuracy. So 7 billion or 7.4 billion would be about as far as you would go.  It is something the media will often get wrong.  If someone earned about US\$1mm it is not sensible to call it A\$1428571. About A\$1.4mm would be a much better answer.

Models

Other times we really do not have a particular measurement but have modelled the data to estimate a result.  Weather is a good example with the temperature tomorrow estimated to be 36 degrees C.  No one has measured anything, but weather models show that we can get a reasonable level of accuracy about 4 days out in most places.  After that our models lack accuracy.

Media Reports / beatups!

OK, so why is this important?  For us to try to understand a complex world we need to have accurate information, which we get from accurate reporting.  When I read this week, in a science magazine, that Winston was the strongest storm ever recorded in the southern hemisphere, I was horrified.  At least the article did use the term in relation to wind speed and did say ever recorded.  In the popular press this would have read – strongest cyclone ever!

So what’s wrong with the statement? From my point of view it suggests that we have some level of knowledge about strongest cyclones throughout time, whereas it is really saying that we have just improved our measurement of cyclone wind strength in recent years.  Strength could also refer to highest wind speed, average wind speed, lowest pressure, most damage caused etc.

Winston was a very big and damaging cyclone, no denying that,but was it the biggest ever?  How  do we compare it to cyclones 50 years ago, 1000 years ago or 1 million years ago?  How did people record these previously?  Is there a geologic or biological record?

In the last few years we have flown planes into the eye of cyclones, hurricanes, typhoons, tornados to measure pressure and wind speed. So we now have a more sophisticated way to measure maximum wind speed.  To measure the highest wind speed you need an instrument on location to do the job.  As we generally don’t, models have been devised to estimate wind speeds and pressures from satellite data.  The Dvorak technique was developed during the seventies and eighties and is still under modification to allow for various conditions.

So at best we have only used current techniques for 20 years (or less).  Using damage as an indicator is also biased as we now have a lot more people and infrastructure to damage.  So in reality we should be saying it is the biggest using the modern measuring and modelling techniques of the satellite era.  The comments should be qualified by a statement outlining the instruments or models used to determine wind speed.

Pacific Typhoon Tip (1979) was the lowest pressure ever recorded in the eye of a cyclone (another good indicator of strength) at 870 hPa, followed by Nora (1973), June (1975 and Ida (1958).  So were cyclones stronger back then or now?  Back in the 1920s and 30s some very strong cyclones were also described around the SW Pacific.  These were recorded by word of mouth but have no way of comparison with modern cyclones.

We will probably never know which were the biggest. Climate change may be creating bigger cyclones now than in previous centuries, but it is not something for which we can currently compare measurements.

Cricket

Cricket has gone from umpires decisions to scientific measurement –  or so we are led to believe.  I for one prefer that we stuck with umpires decisions.  Modern science can enhance these with recorded vision and sound (snicko), and where these are used in conjunction with the original umpires decision, it is not a bad thing , but slows the game down.

When we start to define what a hit is or isn’t, it’s a different matter.  We could define a hit as something which creates a visible deflection or is an audible sound which can be recorded. If the sound was inaudible but created movement on snicko it should not be considered out ( as it could not have been an umpires decision).  Once hotspot is introduced we have even more problems with the definition of a hit.

If a speeding bullet passes close by your arm, I am told you can feel the heat.  Hotspot would show some heating but no hit!  As an umpire has no heat vision to go by it should be impossible to call it as a hit on hotspot evidence alone ( in the absence of vision or sound).  And yet the media was howling that it must be given out in a recent example of this!

Measurements and their precise definition are very important everywhere! If cricket wants to move on from umpires then things like the definition of a hit must be scientifically considered.  Once done, comparisons with old records will be pointless!

Fraccing

I have been asked to give an opinion on the technique of fraccing, but will leave that till we have gone through some basic geology and various extraction techniques. For now, I can say that in South Australia over 700 wells have been fracced over the last 40 years or so with no problems noted.  We have a very strong regulatory body here with good oversight.  That is not to say there are no problems with fraccing – but we will get to them, after we go through a bit of geology.

Frac is short for fracture and the term has been used for over fifty years in stimulating water wells and hydrocarbon wells.  For example we have frac tanks ( never frack tanks) -you can check it on google.  Frack was a sci fi term from Battle Star Gallactica, where it was used to denote swearing (BSG subsequently changed their term to frak). Frack is now used in that sense ( a swear word) by anti fraccers.  I might have to start calling my pet hate, Bitch (short for bitumen).