Science: you’re doing it wrong

We all love Derek Lowe’s Things I Won’t Work With series, because deep in our hearts we get a huge kick out of compounds that set sand on fire.  But did you know that TIWWW has a companion series, at present somewhat sparsely populated, titled How Not to Do It?  It began with a harrowing account of gratuitous destruction in a chemistry lab — not from a disconcertingly volatile reagent gone horribly awry, but with a diatomic substance you might be forgiven for thinking of as pleasantly… safe: simple nitrogen, N2.  Not even all that reactive, and certainly not something you’d expect to melt faces or destroy poured concrete foundations.

Of course, nitrogen is stored in tanks, and those tanks are welded up rather tightly except for things like pressure relief valves.

…and now slow realization begins to dawn, and the ohgodnotheydidn’tpleasetellmetheydidn’t facepalmings begin.

Yep.  They did.

These guys are usually equipped with pressure relief fittings, since nitrogen does tend to want to be a gas, and gases do tend to want to expand quite a bit. This tank, though, which seems to have been kicking around since 1980, had been retrofitted by a real buckaroo. Both the pressure relief and rupture disks had failed for some reason in the past, so they’d been removed and sealed off with metal plugs. You may commence shivering now.

Do follow that link and read the engineer’s report: it’s an excellent example of the state of the art in dry sarcastic technical writing.

Now, that’s what happens when a fairly benign element comes into contact with astounding levels of stupidity.  Rather than flesh out the whole story, I’ll just give you the title of (and link to) the most recent HNtDI, and let your imaginations do the rest as you wait for the page to load:

Repeat after me: ohgodnotheydidn’tpleasetellmetheydidn’t….

Update: As if that wasn’t bad enough:


From fluid dynamics we move to statistics, where the OMG ONOZ behind the recent Toyota recall is making numerate people cry:

Money shot:

So driving one of these suspect Toyotas raises your chances of dying in a car crash over the next two years from .01907 percent (that’s 19 one-thousandths of 1 percent, when rounded off) to .01935 percent (also 19 one-thousandths of one percent). I can live with those odds….

And while I’m at it, some more statistics:

Pretty much what it says on the tin:

Preliminary statistics from NHTSA show Americans drove an additional 6.6 billion miles in 2009 and yet only 33,963 died in accidents, down 8.9% from 2008 and 22% from 2005. Thanks nanny state!


And finally, on the subject of signage in federal washrooms:

Very nice rest rooms at New Job. They include warnings not to flush anything radioactive down the toilet.

If you’re flushing radioactive stuff down the toilet, either you’re doing it wrong or I want the name of your favourite Thai restaurant.


1 Response to “Science: you’re doing it wrong”

  1. March 12, 2010 at 09:10

    I deplore stupid.

    I didn’t hit any of your links. I’ve worked with gas cylinders. Bad things happen when stupid is afoot. BTW–it is my hypothesis that smart is additive; stupid is multiplicative.

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anarchocapitalist agitprop

Be advised

I say fuck a lot



Statistics FTW


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