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First and Second Law - The Titfield Thunderbolt
Heisenberg might have stayed here
qatsi
qatsi
First and Second Law
I'd videoed Channel 4's The End of the World as We Know It last weekend and got round to watching it last night. It was pretty depressing - not only the subject matter, but also Marcel Theroux's complete lack of any scientific knowledge or understanding. "Cor, listen to that!" he said, waving the tube of his Geiger counter around. "Look! It was 180 when we started, and now its 211! It's gone up by 30!" he cried, pointing at his dosimeter as he wandered around Chernobyl. 30 what? Curies? Becquerels? Sieverts? Röntgens? Grays? There are so many different units in radioactivity, measuring subtly different things. And how high is 30 anyway? There's no way to know how good or bad that is without knowing what a normal background exposure is in the same interval. And another thing - most radioactive materials are pretty harmless in most conditions. Most radiation doesn't penetrate human skin. Of course it is very dangerous if it gets into the body - most likely through inhaling airborne material, or through consumption of food grown in highly radioactive soil.

Bits of the programme were interesting. For example, Sir Ron Oxburgh, chairman of Shell, talked about the need to find alternatives to fossil fuels, despite his own PR department trying to prevent him (<Cynic>Well, Shell need to find alternatives to fossil fuels given the extent to which they found they'd overstated their reserves</Cynic>), or the revealing footage of the aspirational middle class in Calcutta, with its conspicuous Western consumption, or James Lovelock's assertion of the necessity of nuclear power (in which nuclear accidents vs the runaway greenhouse effect were "like comparing a car accident to a war"). Some bits of the programme were amusing, such as King Canute of Arundel, determined that the waters could not possibly rise over the river bank to his house. But overall, I found it unhelpful. Theroux's wisest conclusion was that everyone cherry-picks the words of scientists that fit their own world-view and then redistributes them as fact.

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