Mathematical Bamboozling

The back story on that fireball video I posted up last night is that it was seen over southern Russia (somewhere near Ufa) on the evening of 11 February 2013, four days before the big Chelyabinsk fireball. I’d seen the video years back but – like most of my readers – thought that the fireball was moving away from the dashcam, and therefore going south, with the sun setting in the east.

But a week or so back, a Russian correspondent suggested that a good candidate for a companion of asteroid 2012 DA14 was a fireball that had been seen in Bashkiria, going south to north like DA14.

So I fired up my orbital simulation model, created a cloud of rocks around DA14 moving in the same direction and at the same speed, and fairly quickly found one that arrived in roughly the right place at about the right time. The impact in southern Russia is shown below as a red-blue flèche, moving south to north, and slightly eastwards.


I then remembered the video I’d seen, and took another look at it, and once again thought the fireball was heading south, away from the dashcam, and so couldn’t be a DA14 companion. No, my Russian correspondent replied, it’s heading north and slightly east towards the dashcam.

And taking another look at the video I could finally – with a big effort – see what he meant: it could be seen as a fireball moving towards the viewer, experiencing several explosions Ambiguous(during which it would have lost a lot of its mass), before falling to earth. The video was ambiguous, a bit like the is-it-mother-or-daughter image at right (which I always first see as daughter, and only see as mother with some difficulty).

That’s when I thought I’d ask my readers, guessing that most of them would interpret the video the same way I had, and would see the fireball as moving away from the dashcam (about 90% of them did).

And what it all seems to mean is that when a bunch of people see a fireball in the sky, most likely most of them will see it going in one direction, but a small minority will see it going in the opposite direction. And that’s probably why many reports of fireballs are contradictory.

Anyway, I now think the Bashkir fireball could have been a companion of DA14. Except that NASA have told me personally that Asteroids Don’t Have Companions.

Which reminds me why I got into all this in the first place: I object to being told by self-appointed authorities that Smoking Causes Lung Cancer or Carbon Dioxide Causes Global Warming  or Asteroids Don’t Have Companions – particularly when there’s good reason to think that the ‘authorities’ don’t know what they’re talking about.

And in the case of NASA, what roused my suspicion that they didn’t know what they were talking about was when they started denying any association between the passage of asteroid 2012 DA14 and the Chelyabinsk event on the same day they both happened – 15 February 2013 -, and before any of the emerging videos had been studied.

The other thing that it reminded me about was that almost all these authoritative claims have a mathematical character. In the case of NASA it’s the well-established Newtonian laws of gravity and motion (which are built into my simulation model). And in the case of antismoking claims it’s statistics. And in the case of global warming it’s mathematical simulation models of highly complex, chaotic atmospheric processes. And since most people have limited mathematical skills, the easiest way to bamboozle them into believing something is to present their claims in mathematical terms of sufficient abstruseness – say, differential calculus with added bonus Bayesian probability  – that most people will be unable to argue. And those who can argue will be outnumbered 100 to 1.

In the case of NASA, they had no detailed information about the trajectory of the Chelyabinsk fireball when they started dogmatically (and authoritatively) asserting that the two events were completely unrelated to each other. If they’d waited a couple of weeks before.

In the case of the 20th century antismoking claims, it really ought to have been remembered that there were similar claims made in every preceding century, all the way back to King James I (if not earlier). Only this time the tired old claim arrived dressed in the latest fashionable mathematics, courtesy of two people – Bradford Hill and Richard Doll -, neither of whom were mathematicians. Their claims were contested by the foremost statistician of the day – Sir Ronald Fisher -, but he was shouted down. And indeed the veracity of their claims has really only been sustained by incessant authoritative repetition. The antismokers are really driven far more by puritanical moral imperatives rather than by any spirit of scientific inquiry, as can be clearly seen from the way they started out by pinning the blame for cancer solely on new-fangled cigarettes, but soon extended to all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes that don’t contain any tobacco, and now alcohol and meat, in an ever-widening circle of proscribed ‘risk factors’. Their driving moral imperatives can also be discerned clearly in their bullying and blackmailing approach to offenders (no medical treatment if you don’t slim and stop smoking).

In the case of 21st century climate alarmism, the mathematics is embedded in computer simulation models of such complexity that only accredited climate scientists – not mere mathematicians or physicists – are deemed fit to pontificate upon the subject. An entire branch of science has fallen into the hands of a priesthood.  There may have been little or no global warming for nearly since the late 20th century, but the temperature record is now being adjusted to conform with the alarmist models.





About Frank Davis

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10 Responses to Mathematical Bamboozling

  1. Some French bloke says:

    “with added bonus Bayesian probability”

    While following a completely different train of thought, I was thinking just yesterday that the past is full of discredited probabilities, the present is chiefly made of unsuspected probabilities, and the future will be replete with unsuspected improbabilities.

  2. Some French bloke says:

    Only slightly O/T. In the meanwhile, ‘Global Warming is Threatening Your Morning Coffee’

    “Your supply of coffee as you know it is definitely at risk,” said Bambi Sembroc, who deals primarily with coffee and climate change

    If the purported effects of ‘global warming’ had been found to affect tobacco rather than coffee (a beverage that we’re supposed to consider to be miraculously exempt from significant levels of the dreaded polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons – in spite of the roasting process), AGW, far from being ‘anthropogenic’ (IOW man-made), would have promptly been re-labelled a blessing from the gods!

  3. harleyrider1978 says:

    Meanwhile Gov Moonbeem of Californication signs a cow farting bill ……………..

  4. Zaphod says:

    Which way is the fireball moving?
    A related optical illusion, maybe –

    As a kid, the lighthouse behind my house would throw its rotating beam to the horizon.

    Above me, the beam was traveling across slowly, but was it near and so it crossed my view quickly.
    On the horizon, it was moving very fast, but at that distance its progress looked slow.
    It looked like the centre of rotation was over the horizon, not behind me.
    I knew where it really was, but the illusion was totally compelling.
    (The lighthouse is still there, but no longer used.)


  5. Rose says:


    EXCLUSIVE: MILE-LONG monster asteroid heads towards earth TODAY
    A MONSTER mile-long asteroid that could cause global devastation if it struck is set to pass the Earth within hours.
    Sep 7, 2016

    “The space rock, called 2004 BO41, is estimated at anywhere from 700 metres to a mile in length.

    The celestial body, which has been observed since its discovery in 2004, will pass at a relatively comfortable 7.3 million miles, which is still considered a “near Earth pass” by NASA due to the size of the cosmos.

    But, whereas, the US space agency is almost certain of the objects orbit, a much smaller asteroid, which is coming in much closer, and on an uncertain flight path, a few days later is being monitored much more closely.

    This large asteroid was discovered just a week ago and could devastate a city if it struck earth.

    NASA says it is heading towards Earth on “a highly uncertain orbit”.

  6. Roobeedoo2 says:

    I saw in the local free rag that there a consultation on here about plans to bar fat people and smokers from orthopaedic surgery:

    • Rose says:

      What they forget is that they are talking about other peoples friends and relatives.

      Perhaps they should ask more realistic questions to get a proper view of public opinion.
      For instance –

      Your Mum is looking rather fat, though she is in great pain shall we deny her the surgery she needs on her knee to get her up and about again?

      Your Grandfather smokes, though he is in agony from an old industrial injury, shall we make him wait a year until he sees the error of his ways and spend our taxpayers cash on someone more worthy?

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