Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Welcome to "Mike Thinks" blog post!!!


Welcome to my blog site -- "Mike Thinks"!!  Right about now, you are probably wondering what this blog site is all about?  Well, I have been writing on another site -- www.voicesinecho.com -- for a couple of years.  The site is currently down at the moment.

Hopefully, within a short amount of time, the site should be restored and the content will be available to read.  If not, I will move the content over to another site (bear with me) and provide links to earlier posts (via a PDF) link.

Carrying on the tradition/style from that site, I will be writing about various articles that I find in the popular news.  Specifically, I find that there is a disparity between 'Facts & Figures' that are cited in news articles and an understanding of the true magnitude of their stated value.  People are typically unaware of the magnitude of a reported value in the news.

What do I mean by the 'magnitude of a stated value'?

For example, take the volume of oil reported during the accident of the Exxon Valdez oil tanker in 1989 -- when the ship struck a reef in Prince William Sound's Bligh Reef off the coast of Alaska.  If I were to look for that value on the site 'Wikipedia,' here is what I would find:

The Exxon Valdez oil spill occurred in Prince William SoundAlaska, on March 24, 1989, when Exxon Valdez, an oil tanker bound forLong Beach, California, struck Prince William Sound's Bligh Reef at 12:04 am[1][2] local time and spilled 11 to 38 million US gallons (260,000 to 900,000 bbl; 42,000 to 144,000 m3) of crude oil[3][4] over the next few days. It is considered to be one of the most devastating human-caused environmental disasters.[5]

The range is between 11 to 38 million gallons.  I wrote a blog post (which at the moment is inaccessible) about using 'dimensional analysis' to visualize the volume of the oil spill.  Reading the number does no justice to the actual magnitude of the volume.  Here is why.

If I were to use a number within the range (11-38 million) to visualize the volume, what volume could I use that would be accessible to a wide audience?  How about using a volume that most of us can visualize in our heads -- say -- an Olympic size pool?

Here is a picture of an Olympic size pool from the 'Wikipedia' page shown below:

Source: 'Wikipedia' -- Aquatic Palace, Baku

The volume listed on the 'Wikipedia' page for an Olympic size pool is approximately 660,000 gallons of water.  Wow.  Quite a bit -- right?

Next, I could calculate the number of Oympic size pools that could be filled with a value, say 20 million gallons of water, to compare to the volume of the oil spill on the Exxon Valdez oil tanker.  Shown below is the calculation of the number of Olympic size pools which could be filled using a volume of 20 million gallons.  The calculation is shown in the following manner using dimensional analysis:

The calculation is an image.  That is the reason for the different font.  The calculation above is a great example of using dimensional analysis to visualize the magnitude of a stated or reported value in the news or on a website.

After looking at the value a few times, one gets the idea (or at least I did) that the oil spill was a great disaster back in 1989.  The volume of 30 Olympic size pools is no trivial volume.  Further, grasping the damage to the environment would not be too far fetched since the volume is enormous. 

In the 'Wikipedia' excerpt above, the last sentence states that "... It is considered to be one of the most devastating human-caused environmental disasters."  That would be true if the recent (less than a decade old) "Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill" off of the gulf coast of Mexico had not occurred.  The estimated oil spilled in that disaster in 2010 was believed to be around 210 million gallons of oil. WOW.  Unbelievable.  

Without any further complicated calculations, the amount of Olympic size pools that would be filled with the volume of 210 million gallons could be determined quite easily.  I will post the original dimensional analysis of those calculations in the near future.

The point of all these calculations and blog posts are:

1) Demystify the magnitude of reported/stated values in the popular news.

2) Demystify the thought processes of a scientist (me).

3) Communicate science to a wide audience.

At first sight, these objectives might seem pompous.  Not the case.  I am trying to let the reader (you) into the thought process behind me (a chemist).  Whenever people hear that I have a degree in science, a common response is: "... I like chemistry, but I hate math, that is why I switched majors."

We are living in a time when an understanding of science is more critical than ever.

Why is understanding science critical?  

Without going into much detail, the technologies emerging today require a greater understanding of science.  Furthermore, the issues that our society (and world at large) require a basic understanding of science.  Science should not be feared.  That is not to say that there is no work required to understand science.  Any job or skill set requires a certain amount of labor (on each of our parts) to understand.  Science is not immune to this labor either.

How does a person start learning science?

A traditional method is through the University setting.  Or self-teaching is another route.  Learning science should be fun.  Regardless, of the methodology.  Even if a person does not plan to work in the field of science, each of us should have the basic knowledge of science to form opinions, influence policy decisions on various levels within our society (community, state, federal, world).

With a little bit of work (like the calculation above), we can all enjoy science.  Furthermore, our lives will be more enriched with a better grasp of how to handle or visualize the magnitudes of reported/stated values in the news/journals.

I look forward to learning about numbers and facts reported in the news with you in the future.  Stay tuned and have a wonderful day!


  1. Hi, Mike,
    I ran across your site via the comments section in Mary Jaksch's Write To Done article, What Are You Writing? I'm glad that I did. Science has always been of great interest to me, even though I am not educated in the field. As you say, "We are living in a time when an understanding of science is more critical than ever." How anyone could not be interested is questionable. I like the idea of your website and enjoy the informational direction your posts take. I'll visit often. Thank you, Ron

  2. Hello Ron,

    Thank you for the very nice comment. I am glad to hear that you found your way over from Mary Jaksch's 'Write To Done' blog -- which I thoroughly enjoy reading. Further, I am happy to see that you are enjoying the content on my blog. Science is truly amazing and should be enjoyed by everyone. I am grateful to have feedback like yours to help guide me into the future. Please feel free to comment and suggest new ideas for blogs that you would like to see in the future. Again, thank you for the comment.

    Have a great day.