Friday, 5 May 2000
In this week's issue, we find that many public misconceptions
about science issues are related to difficulty in scaling.
1. DOOMSDAY? IT'S A SCARY UNIVERSE OUT THERE.
The world remained
remarkably calm when the dreaded conjunction of the five visible
planets occurred at 4:08 a.m. ET this morning. A book by Richard
Noone, "5/5/2000 Ice: The Ultimate Disaster," had predicted that
powerful tidal forces would bring an awful end to the world as we
know it. However, even as he sought to reassure people, David
Ropeik, Director of Risk Communication at the Harvard Center for
Risk Analysis may have been misleading about the physics: "The
moon exerts more gravitational effect on the earth than any other
body in the solar system"
The sun's pull is about 180 times stronger than that of the moon.
The tides, however, depend on the gradient, and thus vary as the
inverse cube of the distance. Because the moon is so close, its
effect on the tides are about twice as great as the sun's.
2. "VITAMIN O": COMPANY AGREES TO PAY $375,000 TO SETTLE.
will recall that WN first exposed the scam 18 months ago, after a
full page ad appeared in USA Today
(WN 27 Nov 98).
Health Products was marketing ordinary salt water as a dietary
supplement for $10 per ounce, with claims of significant health
benefits. If oxygen could be absorbed by the gastrointestinal
tract, which it can't, you would need to drink two liters each
second to supply your minimum daily requirement. That's usually
called drowning. In addition to consumer redress, the company is
barred from claiming that research has demonstrated health
benefits. Meanwhile, Beverly Sassoon & Co. picked up the scam,
selling salt water as BiOxygen at $17.50 per ounce (WN 7 Apr 00).
3. NUCLEAR PHOBIA: RISK AT LBL IS PUT INTO PERSPECTIVE.
increase in radiation exposure at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory
due to tritium led the Alameda County Board of Education to call
for a moratorium on field trips to the Lawrence Hall of Science
(WN 28 Apr 00).
The lab calculated the increase to be equivalent
to living at an altitude 30 feet higher. My guess, however, is
that many people near the lab, rather than being reassured by
this calculation, will instead begin sleeping in their basements.
4. THE LOVE BUG: NEW COMPUTER VIRUS IS SEXUALLY TRANSMITTED.
Computer intercourse is risky behavior. Just about everyone has
gotten the "I love you" e-mail at least once. Even without the
virus, the White House has managed to lose 240,000 e-mail
messages over the months, along with all memory that it happened.
Note: Next week's issue of WN will include the statement on
National Missile Defense passed overwhelmingly by the APS Council
at its meeting in Long Beach on Saturday.