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Scientists, Engineers & Numbers....

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Scientists & Statistics/ Engineers & Results

Here’s the thing-whatever science you did at GSCE, A level & to a certain extent 1st year Uni is something of a series of reducing simplifications, which at GSCE is pretty much ‘lies to children.’ It is something of a shock in your 2nd year to see a textbook on the reading list described as ‘An Elementary Primer to xyz’, when your last book had ‘Advanced’ as the 1st word in its title….**

The maths OTOH doesn’t lie-which is why scientists like it so much a& are very good at it. It’s the tool of choice. Electronics I might add is pretty much all about maths. Statistical analysis can get very rapidly complex & clever-somewhat beyond that which most other ‘disciplines’ are taught it. It’s also rather important. Fortunately it’s something that computers are ideally suited to conduct SO LONG AS YOU RUN THE APPROPRIATE PACKAGE & FULLY GRASP THE INHERENT LIMITATIONS TO ALL OF THEM. Of course, you can turn that on its head, veer off closer to statistical synthesis & run the package best ‘suited’. Financial Services, Banks some Pharmas come to mind here. It’s not lies, fake news or even a mild distortion. It’s called ‘optimising the results’ & students whose lab session has gone terribly wrong (all at some point) know all about writing up what they’re about to be assessed on. This is a very good thing because they then discover that it takes 20 times as long & 20 times as much effort to convincingly ‘re-create’ the missing session than it would have done had they done it properly this 1st time around. This lands home hard, because that is time you could have been spending in the pub etc. Basically nobody makes the same mistake twice-it’s an excellent career & life lesson. Cf short-cuts, which are usually the longest route possible.

Let’s look at some other groups in the business of statistics:

It weighs 99g. Ah, so somewhere in-between 98.9999 etc & 99.99999 then? Erm-nope.

Adman what’s been caught out about those 9 out of 10 cats bit:
It weighs 99.0g. Ah- so that’s correct to the 1st digit after the decimal point? Erm-nope

Scientists & Engineers:
It weighs 99g, +/- 10%, at sea level, on the equatorial parallel, on 10th June 2017, uncompensated for lunar effects, as measured by XYZ model number, calibrated at 9am by the manufacturer on site. Whether it will do what you really had in mind for it, because we’re scientists & know certain government contracts are always incomplete in the truth of it all, is down to you & your own conscience.

Heard of the terms of Military Precision & its twin brother, Military Intelligence?
“Did we hit the enemy Capn Artillery?” “Not exactly Sir, but on this occasion that might have been for the best?” “How so, soldier?” “The ‘enemy’, Sir, seems to have been a group of nuns in a chartered coach from Eddie Stobart, on a pilgrimage to Lourdes.”

Sociologists, Media Studies & other varieties of soft fruits:
“Looks like ½ pound centurion, give or take a foot, if you know what I mean squire. Beautiful plumage though.”

Political Advisors, Machiavellian Managers & dare one suggest defence barristers?
“What do you need it to look like, Sir?”

** Atomic Physics is a good one. E=MC squared looks easy doesn’t it? You follow the maths about how Albert arrived at that-& the fuller implications. Another is perhaps how cells & nerves work. Now to be fair here you are supposed to be educated in a fuller sense, so the historical elements are worthy of inclusion. You get to walk in the shoes of Newton say. Another thing is it’s all about modelling: i.e. something that explains the observed facts & predicts future results. This doesn’t mean that it is the correct explanation-see the late Terry Pratchett’s deliberately provocative idea of ‘Tabernae Vaganates’, or Wandering Shops:

However, a lot of models enjoy a set of ‘Special Cases’. Dual nature of light being prob the most well known. Now how can the model be correctly comprehensive when it has a get-out clause built into it?? Well obviously it’s a partial truth & work in progress, plus also providing a sure fire way of ensuring a ‘full & frank’ discussion at academic symposiums. I was once of the fringe of a commercial R&D team, who had a member down as he’d had a crisis of confidence about a piece of maths which under-pinned all of their work on this project to date, & had gone home to work it all out from 1st principles. He was their team leader!

Last word re IRL scientists etc: .El Tel is highly familiar with them, pirates, engineers, fluorine labs (aka the Alchemists Guild...), academics & librarian primates. It’s not far off.

However, engineers have to endure a lot of compromise & often work with approximations & tolerances. Their job is after all to get things done, usually for sixpences. You just need to know if you need to err on the + side, or the –side in every situation. “If it works for us young padawan, it’s the best tool we got on that day.” Which is about the best any of us can hope for in our lives.

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  1. Yambo's Avatar
    Actually, its mass is 99 grams. Weight is a concept related to position. Whatever it is will weigh 1/6 of it's earth weight if it is on the moon but its mass will always be 99 grams.

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