Thursday, March 23, 2006

Do you have dyscalculia?

Gezundheit, right? No, this a bona fide "psychological disorder that makes it nearly impossible to deal with numbers, not to mention complicated math." This story from Fox News just made me chuckle and thank my lucky stars. Yes, I know it's schadenfreude, but hey! My little sister loves math. I got my next oldest sister to overcome a distaste for it by patient tutoring some years ago. I tell my children that knowledge of and ability in math enables your mind to detect falsehood much more readily. Whenever you pick up the newspaper (if you even do that anymore) there's bound to be a story with bogus figures in it. Without a feel for numbers there's no way to tell if those figures are bogus or not.

I just saw an example today, though not from a newspaper. A friend sent a list of "true facts" that I hadn't seen before. They all looked pretty plausible. For example, "
butterflies taste with their feet". I knew that one. Another: "The human heart creates enough pressure when it pumps out to the body to squirt blood 30 feet." That sounds plausible, though I wonder if that's horizontally or vertically.

Anyway here was one that my, to coin a phrase, belcalculia rejected at once: "If you farted consistently for 6 years and 9 months, enough gas is produced to create the energy of an atomic bomb." This is what I wrote back to my friend:
Semi-amusing, though if these are all meant to be factual, then I have to take issue with the atomic bomb assertion. Complete and utter nonsense. Lets do the math:

Lets assume that during that period of 6 years and 9 months one were able to produce a steady quantity of methane equivalent to, say, a pound a day. That's being pretty generous, I'd say, since one's intestines would probably shred apart after the first week at that rate.

That quantity of methane, at standard temperature and pressure, is just under 23 cubic feet. All right, in 6 years and 9 months starting today, that would be Dec. 23, 2012...2467 days. Therefore 2467 lbs of methane...about a ton and a quarter of methane produced. Enough to completely fill a 6300 square foot mansion with 9-foot ceilings.

Now, even a very small atomic bomb is still measured in kilotons of TNT. Lets just assume that methane releases the same amount of energy as TNT (it certainly doesn't). Therefore 2467 lbs of methane is equivalent to a 0.0012335 kiloton atomic explosion. Certainly a large blast. But would you characterize it as in the same class as an atomic bomb? I didn't think so. Even if a person produced an order of magnitude more methane in that time frame, that's still only one-hundredth of a kiloton explosion.

Too anal-retentive you say? Maybe you should get checked for dyscalculia!

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