We’ve been advertiser supported since I joined up with SB. I’ve never minded that before. Providing a platform and bandwidth takes money, which has to come from somewhere. The way that ads have been handled before has been no problem: the ads are clearly distinguished from the content. There’s no way that you’re going to mix up one of my posts with a paid advertisement.

Until now.

Seed has, in its corporate wisdom, decided to let Pepsico buy its way into a blog on ScienceBlogs. Pepsi writes SMG a nice check, and suddenly their content gets mixed in to the ScienceBlog RSS feeds, the ScienceBlog feed to Google News, etc., *exactly* the way that my blog posts do.

This is *not* acceptable.

For now, I’m suspending my blog for a few days. If Seed decides to back out of this spectacular stupidity, then I’ll start posting here again. If not, then I’ll go looking for a new home for GM/BM. The money that I’ve made from the ads that Seed has sold has been nice – but it’s not worth my integrity.

If Blogs here are for sale, then I’m gone.

]]>has been slow lately. I’ve been trying to come back up to speed, but so

far, that’s been mainly in the form of bad math posts. I’d like to get

back to the good stuff. Unfortunately, the chaos theory stuff that I was

posting just isn’t good for my schedule right now. Once you get past

the definitions of chaos, and understanding what it means, actually

analyzing chaotic systems is something that doesn’t come easily to me – which

means that it takes a

my work schedule right now means that I just don’t have that amount of

time.

So, dear readers, what mathematical topics would you be particularly

interested in reading about? Since I’m a computer scientist, my background

obviously runs towards the discrete math side of the world – so, for the

most part, the easiest topics for me to write about are from that side. But

don’t let that limit you: tell me what you want to know about, and I’ll take

the suggestions into consideration, and figure out which one(s) I have the time

to study and write about.

I don’t want to limit you by making suggestions. I’ve tried that in the past, and

the requests inevitably end up circling around the things I suggested. But I really want to

know just what you want to know more about. So – fire away!

it was like a revelation. It’s simple to make, it’s got an absolutely

spectacularly wonderful flavor – light and fresh – and it’s incredibly

versatile. It’s damned near perfect. It’s scallion ginger sauce, and once you

try it, it

I learned this from: if you’ve got ginger scallion sauce in the fridge, you’ll

never be hungry.

There are two main variations of this: there’s a cooked version, and a raw version. Mine is the raw version. I love the freshness of flavor, and while cooking it will intensify some of the flavors, it will also detract from that delightful freshness.

**Ingredients**

- Fresh ginger – roughly one inch, peeled.
- A bunch of fresh scallions.
- A teaspoon, give or take, of coarse salt.
- 1 tablespoon of soy sauce.
- 1 tablespoon rice vinegar.
- 1/4 cup oil – peanut oil, canola oil, or something

other neutral oil. - A dash of sesame oil.

**Instructions**

- Mince the ginger. Toss the minced ginger into a food

processor. - Cut the roots off of the scallions, cut them coarsely, and

add them to the food processor. - Add the rest of the ingredients to the food processor.
- Run the food processor until everything is finely ground into a

smooth sauce.

That’s it. Ginger scallion sauce. Taste it – make sure it’s

got enough salt. Don’t add any soy sauce – just use plain salt if it

needs any.

So what can you do with it? Just about anything. A few

great ideas:

- Ramen noodles. Just cook up a batch of ramen, and toss it

with a tablespoon of the sauce. You can also add some stir

fried meat and veggies to make it a bit more filling. - Grilled meats. Use a bit of the sauce as a marinade,

then grill it, and dress it with a bit of the sauce

when it’s done. - Use it instead of mayo on a sandwich.
- Add a bit more vinegar, and use it as a vinaigrette

over a salad. - Sautee some shrimp, and toss some ginger-scallion

sauce in just before they’re done. - Get a nice whole fish, steam it cantonese style

with just a bit of salt, soy, and sake. Spoon

a bit of the sauce over it when it’s done.

If you wanted to try to cooked version, you take the ginger, scallions, and salt, and puree them in the food processor. Then put them into a large pot. In a *different* pot, heat the oil up until it just starts to smoke, and then pour it over the ginger/scallion/salt mixture. When it cools, whisk in the rest of the ingredients.

But like I said – I think it’s best to just stick with it raw.

]]>science is the way that, no matter how much we know, we’re constantly

discovering more things that we

areas, there’s always a surprise waiting just around the corner.

A great example of this is something called the *Ulam spiral*,

named after Stanislaw Ulam, who first noticed it. Take a sheet of graph paper.

Put “1″ in some square. Then, spiral out from there, putting one number in

each square. Then circle each of the prime numbers. Like the following:

If you do that for a while – and zoom out, so that you can’t see the numbers,

but just dots for each circled number, what you’ll get will look something like

this:

That’s the Ulam spiral filling a 200×200 grid. Look at how many diagonal

line segments you get! And look how many diagonal line segments occur along

the same lines! Why do the prime numbers tend to occur in clusters

along the diagonals of this spiral? I don’t have a clue. Nor, to my knowledge,

does anyone else!

And it gets even a bit more surprising: you don’t need to start

the spiral with one. You can start it with one hundred, or seventeen thousand. If

you draw the spiral, you’ll find primes along diagonals.

Intuitions about it are almost certainly wrong. For example, when I first

thought about it, I tried to find a numerical pattern around the diagonals.

There are lots of patterns. For example, one of the simplest ones is

that an awful lot of primes occur along the set of lines

f(n) = 4n^{2}+n+c, for a variety of values of b and c. But what does

that tell you? Alas, not much. *Why* do so many primes occur along

those families of lines?

You can make the effect even more prominent by making the spiral

a bit more regular. Instead of graph paper, draw an archimedean spiral – that

is, the classic circular spiral path. Each revolution around the circle, evenly

distribute the numbers up to the next perfect square. So the first spiral will have 2, 3, 4;

the next will have 5, 6, 7, 8, 9. And so on. What you’ll wind up with is

called the *Sack’s spiral*, which looks like this:

This has been cited by some religious folks as being a proof of the

existence of God. Personally, I think that that’s silly; my personal

belief is that even a deity can’t change the way the numbers work: the

nature of the numbers and how they behave in inescapable. Even a deity who

could create the universe couldn’t make 4 a prime number.

Even just working with simple integers, and as simple a concept of

the prime numbers, there are still surprises waiting for us.

crankery, so much as it is just Cantor muddling. The href="http://rjlipton.wordpress.com/2010/06/11/does-cantors-diagonalization-proof-cheat/">post

that provoked this is not, I think, crankery of any kind – but it

demonstrates a common problem that drives me crazy; to steal a nifty phrase

from youaredumb.net, people who can’t count to meta-three really shouldn’t try

to use metaphors.

The problem is: You use a metaphor to describe some concept. The metaphor

*isn’t* the thing you describe – it’s just a tool that you use. But

someone takes the metaphor, and runs with it, making arguments that are built

entirely on metaphor, but which bear no relation to the real underlying

concept. And they believe that whatever conclusions they draw from the

metaphor must, therefore, apply to the original concept.

In the context of Cantor, I’ve seen this a lot of times. The post that

inspired me to write this isn’t, I think, really making this mistake. I think

that the author is actually trying to argue that this is a lousy metaphor to

use for Cantor, and proposing an alternative. But I’ve seen exactly this

reasoning used, many times, by Cantor cranks as a purported disproof. The

cranky claim is: Cantor’s proof is wrong, because *it cheats*.

Of course, if you look at Cantor’s proof as a mathematical construct, it’s

a perfectly valid, logical, and even beautiful proof by contradiction. There’s

no cheating. So where do the “cheat” claims come from?

Muddled metaphors.

A common way of describing Cantor’s proof is in terms of games. Suppose

I’ve got two players: Alice and Bob. Alice thinks of a number, and

Bob guesses. Bob wins if he guesses Alice’s number.

If Alice is restricted to a finite set of integers, then Bob will

win in a bounded set of guesses. For example, if Alice is only allowed

to pick numbers between 1 and 20, then Bob is going to win within 20 guesses.

If Alice is restricted to natural numbers, then Bob will win – but it

could take an arbitrarily long time. The number of steps until he wins is

finite, but unbounded. His strategy is simple: guess 0. If that’s not it, guess 1. If

that’s not it, guess 2. And so on. Eventually, he’ll win. And, in fact, after

each unsuccessful guess, Bob’s guess is *closer* to Alice’s number.

If Alice can use integers, then it gets harder for Bob – but it doesn’t

really change much. Still, in a finite but unbounded number of guesses, Bob

will get Alice’s number and win. Now, the “closer every guess” doesn’t really

apply any more – but something very close does: there are no steps where Bob

gets *further away* from the absolute value of Alice’s number; and

every two steps, he’s guaranteed to get closer to the absolute value of

Alice’s number.

We can make it harder for Bob – by saying that Alice can pick any

fraction. Now Bob’s strategy gets much harder. He needs to work out a system

to guess all the rationals. He can do that. But now the properties about

getting closer to Alice’s number no longer apply. He’s no longer doing things

in an order where his value is converging on Alice’s number. But still, after

a finite number of steps, he’ll get it.

Finally, we could let Alice pick any *real* number. And now,

the rules change: for any strategy that Bob picks for going through the

real numbers, Alice can find a number that Bob won’t even guess.

There’s a fundamental asymmetry there. In all of the other versions of the

game, Alice had to pick her number first, and then Bob would try to guess it. Now,

Alice doesn’t pick her number until *after* Bob starts guessing – and she

only picks her number after knowing Bob’s strategy. So Alice is cheating.

The game metaphor demonstrates the basic idea of Cantor’s theorem. The

naturals, integers, and rationals are all infinite sets, but they’re all

countable. In the game setting, *even if* Alice knows Bob’s strategy,

she *can’t* pick a number from any of those sets which Bob won’t guess

eventually. But with the real numbers, she can – because there’s something

fundamentally different about the real numbers.

Of course, if it’s a game, and the only way that Alice can win is

by knowing exactly what Bob is going to do – by knowing his complete

strategy from now to infinity – then the only way that Alice can win is

by cheating. In a game, if you get to know your opponent’s moves in advance,

and you get to plan your moves *in perfect anticipation* of every

move that they’re going to make — you get to *change* your move

*in reaction to* their move, but they don’t get to respond likewise

to your moves — that is, by definition, cheating. You’ve got an unfair

advantage. Bob has to pick his strategy in advance and tell it to Alice, and

then Alice can use that to pick her moves in a way that guarantees that

Bob will lose.

The problem with this metaphor is that *Cantor’s proof isn’t a
game*. There are no players. No one wins, and no one loses. The

whole concept of fairness

proof. It makes sense in

proof. But the metaphor isn’t the proof. A proof isn’t a competition.

It doesn’t have to be

The fact that what Cantor’s proof does would be cheating if it were a game

is completely irrelevant.

This kind of nonsense doesn’t just happen in Cantor crankery. You see the

same problem *constantly*, in almost any kind of discussion which uses

metaphors. There are chemistry cranks who take the metaphor of an electron

orbiting an atomic nucleus like a planet orbits a sun, and use it to create

some of the most insane arguments. (The most extreme example of this in my

experience was a guy back on usenet, who called himself Ludwig von Ludvig,

then Ludwig Plutonium, and then
href="http://www.iw.net/~a_plutonium/">Archimedes Plutonium. He went

beyond the simple orbit stuff, and looked at diagrams in physics books of

“electron clouds” around a nucleus. Since in the books, those clouds are made

of dots, he decided that the electrons were really made up of a cloud of dots

around the nucleus, and that our universe was actually a plutonium atom, where

the dots in the picture were actually galaxies.) There are physics bozos who

do things like worry about the semi-dead cats. There are politicians who worry

about new world orders, because of a stupid flowery metaphorical phrase that

someone used in a speech 20 years ago.

It’s amazing. But there’s really no limit to how incredibly, astonishingly

stupid people can be. And the idea of an imperfect metaphor is, apparently,

much too complicated for an awful lot of people.

last post, someone (I presume the author of this paper) challenged me to

address this. And it’s such a perfect example of one of my mantras that I

can’t resist.

What’s the first rule of GM/BM? **The worst math is no math**.

And what a whopping example of that we have here. It’s titled “Spacetime

Deformation Theory”, by one Jacek Safuta. I’ll quote the abstract in its entirety, to

give you the flavor.

The spacetime deformations theory unifies general relativity with quantum

mechanics i.e. unifies all interactions, answers the questions: why particles

have mass and what they are, answers the question: what is energy, unifies

force fields and matter, implies new theories like spacetime deformations

evolution.This is a theory of principle (universal theory delivering description of

nature) and not constructive theory (describing particular phenomenon using

specific equations).The theory is falsifiable, background independent (space has no fixed

geometry), not generating singularities or boundaries.This is hard to believe but a belief has nothing to with it. The real

intellectual challenge is to falsify the theory.

So, we’ve got what the author claims is a grand unification theory – the

one thing that has evaded the best minds of the last hundred years! And it’s

falsifiable! Wow!

Unfortunately, as we’ll see, it’s *not* falsifiable in any

meaningful way, because *it doesn’t make any predictions*.

One of the important qualities of a genuine scientific theory is that

it makes predictions. That is, a theory isn’t a vague bundle of words; it’s

something precise, which describes some aspect of reality to a sufficient

degree of details that it allows a scientist to make predictions, and then

perform a test in reality that checks whether or not the prediction is

correct. The most important property of a prediction is its potential to

be *wrong*. A testable theory makes a prediction *which isn’t guaranteed
to be correct*.

As a quick aside, this is the difference between intelligent design and

evolution. ID can take *any* evidence, and say “That’s what the

designer wanted”. Mike Behe can predict that there are no “irreducibly

complex” systems. But when push comes to shove, he never defines irreducibly

complex in a testable way. He can conclude that some system is IC; but if

it’s proved that it’s not, that doesn’t invalidate ID. It just shows that that

one system isn’t IC – and he’ll just wave his hands and point at another

dozen that he claims are. Even if you could get him to accept the idea that IC isn’t

a proof of anything, ID remains perfectly fine: there’s *nothing* that

can invalidate it.

Evolution is thoroughly falsifiable. It predicts, for example, that all living

things have a common ancestor. And test after test has supported that. If you can

show a single species that *isn’t* derived from the common ancestor,

evolution goes down. If you can show a single feature of a single species that

really couldn’t have been the result of evolution, then evolution goes down.

In the case of our friend Jacek, he’s got a non-falsifiable “theory”. It’s

so woefully vague that there’s nothing in the world that could possibly

falsify it. It’s got plenty of problems, but due to its vagueness, any problem

that could potentially be used to falsify it can be handwaved away.

So what’s his theory? Basically that *everything* is a distortion

of spacetime. What appears to be a particle is really just a distortion of

spacetime – a sort of pinch in the fabric of space around the location of the

point. Forces are also distortions in spacetime – they’re just shaped

differently.

To quote him:

Any interaction between spacetime deformations we notice as a force: we

named them gravitational, strong and weak nuclear and electromagnetic. Any

spacetime deformation (a physical object) interacts (a force) with all other

objects (being the force itself!)A differentiation of forces depends only on gradient and size of the

deformation subject to our detection. (see exemplary Figure 1).Read:

all

interactions (forces) are only spacetime deformations with different geometry!

So – all forces are the *same* deformations of spacetime. The

*only* distinction between the forces comes from the gradient and

size of the spatio-temporal distortion.

OK, here’s one potential falsifier: he’s claiming that gravity and

electromagnetic forces are exactly the same thing. Why does a magnet only

attract *certain* things, instead of everything? It’s just a distortion

in spacetime, right? He specifically claims that the differentiation of forces

depends *only* on the gradient and size of the deformations. Gravity

attracts everything equally. Magnetism attracts some things, and repels

others. How can the same distortions behave so differently if they *only*

differ in gradient and size?

Of course, he can wiggle out of that. Throw in a couple of extra dimensions,

and claim that different dimensions distort differently. So the difference

between forces could be their size and gradients *in different dimensions*.

Presto! Easy.

After this, he gets to something that he seems to believe is

profound:

3.11. Finally, we can ask the question: what is pressure? And answer: it is a

spacetime deformation.

I’d love to know who asked that question? Or rather, who asked that

question without knowing the answer? Since when is the nature of

*pressure* a problem?

Now, we move on to the very best part. He’s got an entire section

that’s titled “Mathematics”. It starts off with the statement:

Hooke’s law in simple terms says that strain is directly proportional to stress.

Tensor expression of Hooke’s Law

(The incomplete second sentence is exactly as it appears in the

paper.)

What does Hooke’s law have to do with anything? He never says. The rest of

the “mathematics” section is essentially content free.

There’s one drawing that is supposedly

an example of a particle in spacetime. What kind of particle? Unspecified.

What are the axes? Unspecified. What’s the magnitude? Unspecified.

Then, there’s a couple of bell-curves, which supposedly illustrate the

“spacetime density of nuclear matter”. They’re just absolutely traditional

illustratory statistical bell-curves, with no unit on the Y-axis, and the

x-axis measured in standard deviations. Standard deviations from what? He doesn’t

bother to say. (In fact, in the bibliography, he credits the bell-curve

illustrations to wikipedia.)

And that’s the end of the paper. That’s it.

For a supposed GUT, it’s really missing a lot of things. For example,

it claims to explain the nature of particles – they’re distortions

in spacetime. But the problem for the theory is, particles only occur

in certain, very limited forms. There are only 12 kinds of particles. If it’s

all just continuous distortions in spacetime, then why aren’t there a

continuum of particle sizes? Why does charge come in discrete units? Why

do electrons only exist in discrete energy levels, instead of a continuum?

The theory doesn’t explain this. It *seems* like it predicts

a continuum of particle sizes/strengths. But we can’t falsify it that

way, because it’s too vague. He can wave his hands, and claim that there’s

some reason for it.

He clearly states that there’s no wave-particle duality: “The

wave-particle duality notion is not necessary any more as wave and particle

are the same thing. We can assume a particle to be a transverse or

longitudinal wave.” And yet, there are very concrete experiments – the dual

slit experiment – that can demonstrate both non-particle wave behavior, and

non-wave particle behavior. As described, his theory can’t explain that. But

we can’t say that it falsifies it either, because once again, there’s just not

enough precision here to say, definitively, what he means by “assume a

particle to be a transverse or longitudinal wave”.

It’s really quite an astonishingly bad pile of rubbish. And despite

the author protestations to the contrary, it’s a perfect example of a

non-falsifiable pile of rubbish, because it lacks anything approaching the

precision or completeness that would allow it to make a falsifiable

prediction.

ridiculously busy. I’m changing projects at work; it’s the end of the school

year for my kids; and I’m getting close to the end-game for my book. Between

all of those, I just haven’t had much time for blogging lately.

Anyway… I came across this lovely gem, and I couldn’t

resist commenting on it. (Before I get to it, I have to point out that it’s on

“viXra.org”. viXra is “ViXra.org is an e-print archive set up as an

alternative to the popular arXiv.org service owned by Cornell University. It

has been founded by scientists who find they are unable to submit their

articles to arXiv.org because of Cornell University’s policy of endorsements

and moderation designed to filter out e-prints that they consider

inappropriate.”. In other words, it’s a site for cranks who can’t even post

their stuff on arXiv. Considering some of the dreck that’s been posted an

arXiv, that’s pretty damned sad.)

In my experience, when crackpots look at physics, they go after one of two

things. Either they pick some piece of modern physics that makes them

uncomfortable – like relativity or quantum mechanics – and they try to force *some*

argument that their discomfort with it must mean that it’s wrong. The other big one

is free energy – whether it’s perpetual motion, or vacuum energy, or browns gas – the

crackpots claim that they’ve found some wonderful magical process that defies the laws

of thermodynamics in order to make limitless free energy. The cranks rarely (not never,

but rarely) go after the kinds of physics that we experience every day.

Well, this is something different. This guy basically wants to claim that

*gravity* doesn’t really exist. And along the way, he claims to have solved

the problems of dark matter and dark energy. See, we’ve all got it totally wrong

about gravity! Gravity isn’t a force where matter attracts other matter. It’s

a force where *warm things* attract other warm things! Gravity is actually

a force created when things radiate heat.

As evidence of this, the author claims to show how heating a copper sphere

changes its apparent mass! The author claims that if you put a 1068 gram

copper sphere above a 1000 watt heat element for 400 seconds will

*increase* its mass by 20 grams – almost two percent! And *no
one* has ever noticed this before!

Even better – if you put a copper hemisphere placed concave side up, below

two spheres full of ice, and you turn on a 1000W heat element for 500 seconds,

the mass will change by nearly *10 percent*! And once again, *no
once noticed it* before our intrepid author!

Now, a sane person, looking at this, would immediately say that this

is almost certainly an error. I mean, think about what it means: you can,

using the burner on your stove, change the mass of an object by

nearly 10 percent in five minutes. Mass, which at non-relativistic

speeds is effectively constant – can be varied by a *huge*

amount just in your kitchen!

And yet… No one has ever noticed this before! Chemists, doing precise

measurements, have *never noticed* that the mass of their experimental apparatus

change when they heat them. Rockets, with precisely calculated thrusts to achieve particular

orbits, have actually changed their masses when they’re heated, and *no one noticed*.

The space shuttle gets dramatically heavier during re-entry – and *no one noticed!*.

These things are obvious. The magnitude of the changes that he claims to observe are

absolutely *staggering*. And yet, no one else has every observed them.

So, where’s the bad math? It’s an issue of magnitude and scale. On the one hand, he’s

producing absolutely *huge* numbers about how mass changes with moderate temperature

change – heating a piece of copper over your kitchen stove can produce a

*ten percent* change in mass! But he doesn’t consider the large-scale impacts

that this would have.

He works out, based on his observation of apparent mass changes in

his copper spheres, how much heat you need to radiate to create a particular

“gravitational” force. And he then uses that to work out how much difference you

would need in the amount of heat radiated by the daylight side of the earth

versus the night side of the earth to produce the earths orbit – according

to him, it works out to about 0.08% difference. According to his computations,

8 ten-thousandths difference in the amount of heat being radiated is enough

to produce the earths orbit.

And yet – differences of similar or greater magnitude *don’t make a difference*. He

treats the entire daylight side of the earth as being completely uniform in heat

radiation – when, in fact, it’s not. The parts of the earth close to the day-night

terminator actually radiate more heat that the parts of the earth close to the night-day line.

So shouldn’t the earths direction of acceleration be *different* because of that?

Why does the moon orbit the earth? Why doesn’t it show less attraction to

the earth when it’s on the dark side of the earth? Why doesn’t a new moon

(where the side radiating significant amounts of heat is faced away from the

earth) have less gravitational attraction than a full moon (where the radiating face

is full towards us)?

He simply doesn’t have a clue of what the numbers he’s (mis-)measuring *mean*. So

he’s drawing nonsense conclusions that make absolutely no sense. Any attempt to actually

understand the meaning of the mathematical results that he’s computing would show

that they can’t possibly be right. But he never does that.

Pathetic.

]]>another one, which I can’t resist mocking.

As I’ve written about quite often, we humans *really* stink at

understanding big numbers, and how things scale.
href="http://thebeachnotes.blogspot.com/2010/05/tragedy-on-college-campuses.html">This

is an example of that. We’ve got a jerk who’s about to graduate from a dinky

christian college, who believes that there *must* be something special

about the moral atmosphere at his college, because in his four years at the

school, there hasn’t been a *single* murder.

Yeah, seriously. He really believes that his school is special, because it’s gone four whole

years without a murder:

Considering that the USA Today calculated 857 college student deaths from 2000

to 2005, how does one school manage to escape unscathed? It’s certainly not

chance or luck. For Patrick Henry College, it’s in our Christian culture.Critics mock us for our strict rules – like no dancing or drinking on campus,

no members of the opposite sex permitted in your dorm room, nightly curfew

hours – and the lack of a social atmosphere it creates. We have been the

subject of books (God’s Harvard), television shows, op-eds, and countless

blogs who rant against our brand of overbearing right-wing Christianity that

poisons society’s freedom.Yet, what is the cost of students being able to “express” themselves? Is that

freedom worth the cost of drunk driving deaths, drug related violence, and

love affairs turned fatal?

There were *857* college student deaths in the five-year period from 2000 to 2005! Therefore,

*any* college where there weren’t any murders in that period must be something really

special. That christian culture must be making a really big difference, right?

Well, no.

According

to Google Answers, the US Census Department reports that there are 2363

four year colleges in the US. So, assuming the widest possible distribution of

student deaths, there were 1506 colleges with no student deaths in a five-year

period. Or, put another way, more than 60% of colleges in the US went that five-year period

without any violent student deaths.

Or, let’s try looking at it another way. According to the census, there are 15.9 *million*

people currently enrolled in college. The school that, according to the author, is *so*

remarkable for going without any murders in the last four years? It has *325 students*. Not

325 per class – 325 *total*.

In other words, among a group making up less than 2/1000ths of one percent of the college

population, there were no murders. Assuming that the distribution of violent deaths is perfectly

uniform (which it obviously isn’t; but let’s just keep things simple), given that there were

857 violent deaths in the student population as a whole, how many violent deaths

would you *expect* among the student body at his dinky christian college?

That would be a big, fat zero.

The fact that there were no violent deaths at his school isn’t remarkable,

not at all. But to a twit who’s incapable of actually understanding what

numbers mean, that’s not the conclusion to be drawn. It’s also not that the

violent death among college students is actually remarkably rare. Nor is it

that *most* college students will go through college without any

violent deaths on campus. No – according to a twit, with *857* violent

campus deaths over five years, the *only* reasonable conclusion is that

there must be something special about the ridiculous religious rules at his college

that prevented the great rampaging plague of violence from touching the students

at his school.

I actually spent five years as an undergraduate at Rutgers University in NJ. During that

time, there were no violent student deaths. (There was one death by alchohol poisoning; and there

was one drunk driving accident that killed four students.) But *zero* violent deaths.

Gosh, Rutgers must have been an absolutely amazingly moral university! And gosh, we had

all of those horrible sinful things, like *dancing*, and *co-ed dorms*!

How did we manage to go all that time with no violence?

It must have been the prayers of the very nice Rabbi at the Chabad house

on campus. Yeah, that must be it! Couldn’t just be random chance, right?

Ok, now let me stop being quite so pettily snide for a moment.

What’s going on here is really simple. We *hear* a whole lot about violence

on campus. And when you hear about eight-hundred and some-odd violent deaths on campus,

it *sounds* like a lot. So, intuitively, it sure seems like there must be a whole

lot of violence on campus, and it must be really common. So if you can go through your

whole time in college without having any violence occur on campus, it *seems*

like it must be unusual.

That’s because, as usual, we really suck at understanding big numbers and scale. 800 sounds

like a lot. The idea that there are nearly *sixteen million* college students is just

*not* something that we understand on an intuitive level. The idea that nearly a thousand

deaths could be a tiny drop in the bucket – that it really amounts to just one death

per 100,000 students per year – it just doesn’t make *sense* to us. A number like 800 is,

just barely, intuitively meaningful to us. One million isn’t. Fifteen million isn’t. And a ratio with a

number that we can’t really grasp intuitively on the bottom? That’s not going to be meaningful

either.

Bozo-boy is making an extremely common mistake. He’s just simply failing

to comprehend how numbers scale; he’s not understanding what big numbers really mean.