Skip to main content

Playing with headlines

One of the best bits in the Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy is the moment when then starship Heart of Gold, powered by the infinite improbability guide, arrives at a planet. Because of the residual improbability, a sperm whale and a bowl of petunias are created hanging in space to plummet to the surface below. The sperm whale excitedly and optimistically names the phenomena it is experiencing until it goes splat. But the bowl of petunias simply thinks 'Oh no, not again.'

That is sheer genius, and a comfort when I think 'Oh no, not again,' as I did when I saw a headline from the online BBC News that read Physics threat to religion. Here we go a Dawkins-ing, I thought. But what a strange headline. Physics threat to religion. Is a fundamental force going to break religion apart? Is the sheer existence of quantum theory too mind boggling for God, who has given up and gone home?

When I read the article I was more than a bit disappointed. I was hoping for a good Dawkins-style bust-up with physicists going head to head with theologists. But no. It's a simple (and frankly rather simplistic when you consider the complex nature of the groupings involved) analysis of census data that shows that religious affiliation is in decline in several countries and then makes the probably unjustified leap to suggest that this will eventually result in a fall to zero.

It seems I wasn't the only one who thought that the original headline was misleading. It has now transmogrified into 'Extinction threat' to religion, which makes more sense. But why that original headline? Could it be that Dawkins apart, most of the science vs religion animosity is generated by the media? It just goes to show the power of the headline.


Popular posts from this blog

Why I hate opera

If I'm honest, the title of this post is an exaggeration to make a point. I don't really hate opera. There are a couple of operas - notably Monteverdi's Incoranazione di Poppea and Purcell's Dido & Aeneas - that I quite like. But what I do find truly sickening is the reverence with which opera is treated, as if it were some particularly great art form. Nowhere was this more obvious than in ITV's recent gut-wrenchingly awful series Pop Star to Opera Star , where the likes of Alan Tichmarsh treated the real opera singers as if they were fragile pieces on Antiques Roadshow, and the music as if it were a gift of the gods. In my opinion - and I know not everyone agrees - opera is: Mediocre music Melodramatic plots Amateurishly hammy acting A forced and unpleasant singing style Ridiculously over-supported by public funds I won't even bother to go into any detail on the plots and the acting - this is just self-evident. But the other aspects need some ex

Is 5x3 the same as 3x5?

The Internet has gone mildly bonkers over a child in America who was marked down in a test because when asked to work out 5x3 by repeated addition he/she used 5+5+5 instead of 3+3+3+3+3. Those who support the teacher say that 5x3 means 'five lots of 3' where the complainants say that 'times' is commutative (reversible) so the distinction is meaningless as 5x3 and 3x5 are indistinguishable. It's certainly true that not all mathematical operations are commutative. I think we are all comfortable that 5-3 is not the same as 3-5.  However. This not true of multiplication (of numbers). And so if there is to be any distinction, it has to be in the use of English to interpret the 'x' sign. Unfortunately, even here there is no logical way of coming up with a definitive answer. I suspect most primary school teachers would expands 'times' as 'lots of' as mentioned above. So we get 5 x 3 as '5 lots of 3'. Unfortunately that only wor

Which idiot came up with percentage-based gradient signs

Rant warning: the contents of this post could sound like something produced by UKIP. I wish to make it clear that I do not in any way support or endorse that political party. In fact it gives me the creeps. Once upon a time, the signs for a steep hill on British roads displayed the gradient in a simple, easy-to-understand form. If the hill went up, say, one yard for every three yards forward it said '1 in 3'. Then some bureaucrat came along and decided that it would be a good idea to state the slope as a percentage. So now the sign for (say) a 1 in 10 slope says 10% (I think). That 'I think' is because the percentage-based slope is so unnatural. There are two ways we conventionally measure slopes. Either on X/Y coordiates (as in 1 in 4) or using degrees - say at a 15° angle. We don't measure them in percentages. It's easy to visualize a 1 in 3 slope, or a 30 degree angle. Much less obvious what a 33.333 recurring percent slope is. And what's a 100% slope