Stand-up comedy routine about bad science

Stand-up comedy routine about bad science

I make comedy shows about science with Helen Arney and Matt Parker, as Festival of the Spoken Nerd. Our most recent show is out now on DVD. The others like to do their music and maths things but I like to stick to actual science. To celebrate the release of the DVD, I’m sharing a section of the show here on YouTube where I help win an argument using temperature outside an aeroplane. [intro music and applause] So, we’ve obviously got quite a nerdy audience, so you might be able to sympathise with this I often get emails from friends and family, asking me to fix something that isn’t working — Do you get that? Honestly, I’m just like “No, I don’t know why you can’t print”, you know, “And more importantly I don’t care!”, you know but sometimes I get emails that I quite like maybe it’s a science question instead of a question about a bloody printer I got a question recently, someone saying “Can you help me to win an argument?” Yeah, this is amazing! This is the question I’ve been waiting for! He was reading a book with his daughter it was a kid’s book that he got as a gift from his in-laws, it was a science book full of facts and one of the facts was that: The temperature outside an aeroplane is six times colder than the temperature inside a freezer. And — OK, [mind blown noises] Wow! Er, and the way you’re supposed to read this book, I think, is you’re supposed to go [muttering] “Huh!” [mimes turning page] What my friend did was get into an argument with his in-laws! ‘Cause he thought that this statement was, like, ambiguous; or hard to interpret; or meaningless; or something like that. There was a problem with it. And, er, but he couldn’t articulate it ’cause his- the in-laws we’re like “Look:” “Inside a freezer is cold,” “outside an aeroplane is six times colder than that.” “Alright? Can we just have dinner.” And- But the thing is, I agree with my friend! I think he’s right, I think there’s a problem with this statement so I said “I’ll help you out” and ’cause we said “Look,” “I can’t articulate, I’ve just got this sense that there’s a problem with it,” “and I can’t articulate it, so can you help me to explain it to these people?” So, I spoke to him on the phone, I was trying to explain what was going on with this statement. It wasn’t really getting across so I said “Look, I tell you what, I’ll come round” “In fact, actually,” “Let me know when your in-laws are next coming round” “and I’ll come round then!” And so they invite me round for dinner Which you might think is awkward given that my main purpose for being there was to prove some people wrong, but it’s alright because, I put a PowerPoint presentation together and I can show it to you now, this is it! So I said “Look, well first of all,” “the big problem with this statement, let’s get that out of the way, is that:” “We’re all outside an aeroplane now and it’s not that cold.” [applause] In fact, my freezer is outside an aeroplane, so that’s [Helen:] Also, some aeroplanes have freezers on them! [Steve:] Oh my god, I didn’t think of that! I said “OK, but let’s be generous, and assume” “that the statement means that the temperature” “immediately outside an aeroplane,” “at cruising altitude, in the middle of the day,” “in temperate climates, is six times colder” “than the temperature inside a freezer.” So let’s write that down formally: The temperature [laughs] outside an aeroplane is six times colder than the temperature inside a freezer. It’s a very simple statement, it’s similar to a statement like ‘Alice is six times taller than Bob’, or ‘Callum is six times shorter than Debbie’. Really simple statements, that are easy to interpret. OR ARE THEY? Well let’s have a look at it, let’s have a look at the Alice and Bob statement, suppose Bob is half a metre tall, how tall is Alice? Three metres, yeah? Everyone knows, because, right, ‘six times’ means ‘multiply by six’, so if Bob is half a metre tall, Alice is three metres tall. That’s how tall Alice is, right? What about, er, Callum and Debbie? Suppose Debbie is a metre tall, how tall is Callum? Well, we already know this, ‘six times’ means ‘multiply by six’, so, er… a metre multiplied by six is six metres, so Callum is six metres shorter than Debbie. Alright? That’s how tall Callum is… You see, just because a statement is simple doesn’t mean it has a simple interpretation it’s a non-sense statement, right? So the question is: is the statement about the temperature outside an aeroplane An ‘Alice and Bob’-type statement, or a ‘Callum and Debbie’-type statement? Well let’s look at it on the Kelvin scale so, on the Kelvin scale you have zero, it’s similar to height you have zero but you can’t go below that, for height and Kelvin. So let’s put that on that line there: If the temperature inside a freezer is like the height of Debbie, then the temperature outside an aeroplane is six times colder than that, and it’s down there. So, that can’t happen! Right? That’s non-sensical, you can’t do that, you can’t have a temperature below Absolute Zero, there’s nothing colder than that. So my friend is right! ‘Cause then, the in-laws said “No, no, no. That’s not what the statement means.” “The statement means that the temperature outside an aeroplane” “is a sixth” “of the temperature inside a freezer.” And I said “Well! I mean, if that’s not ambiguous, I don’t know what is!” “But, let’s just assume that, so what you’re saying is:” “the temperature outside an aeroplane is a sixth of the” “temperature inside a freezer.” Does that work in practice? Well, the temperature inside a freezer is minus eighteen degrees Celsius. That’s the recommended temperature inside a freezer. So! That’s 255 Kelvin, meaning that the temperature outside an aeroplane must be a sixth of that. 255 divided by six: 42 Kelvin. [low laughter] The temperature at which oxygen solidifies. [laughter] Maybe that’s how planes fly! [laughter] Notice my clever use of humour there. It’s a rhetorical device. And they said “No, no, no, it’s not the Kelvin scale,” “it’s the Celsius scale.” Shit! Yeah, Steve’s in trouble now, isn’t he? No! I’ve thought about that. And I had some slides! Let’s have a look at the Celsius scale! Yeah, the Celsius scale is interesting, because on the Celsius scale the temperature inside a freezer is below zero and the temperature outside an aeroplane is even more below zero. Maybe it’s six times more below zero! Maybe it is an ‘Alice and Bob’-type statement, so long as ‘colder’ means ‘further below zero’. So let’s find out if it works. The temperature inside a freezer is minus eighteen degrees Celsius. The temperature outside an aeroplane (I looked this up: cruising altitude; temperate climate; middle of the day) minus fifty-five degrees Celsius. So! Is minus fifty-five six times minus eighteen? No, fuck no, no it’s not. [laughter] Three point zero six, which actually is a pretty decent approximation to half Tau, if you wanted to use it for that. [laughter] In fact, scientists believe that that was the original definition [laughter] Anyway, they said “No, no, no, no, no.” “It’s not the Celsius scale, it’s the Fahrenheit scale!” God, they’re clutching at straws now. So on the Fahrenheit scale the temperature outside an aeroplane is minus sixty-seven degrees Fahrenheit. The temperature inside a freezer — the recommended temperature — is zero. [prolonged laughter] So the temperature outside an aeroplane is INFINITELY COLDER — like, that’s a better fact, isn’t it! They should have put that in the book, that’s amazing! Because, I mean, all of this is nonsense, none of this m- ’cause this is all assuming that coldness starts at zero, on whichever scale you’re using. Coldness doesn’t start at zero degrees Fahrenheit, it doesn’t start at zero degrees Celsius, it’s already cold by then, isn’t it. But- I- then it got me thinking. Maybe, the authors of the book have been really clever, and what they’ve done is, they’ve chosen the temperature at which they feel that coldness starts. [laughter] Right, and they they’ve noticed that the temperature inside a freezer is below there, and that the temperature outside an aeroplane is more below it than that, and that it’s SIX times more below it. Well here’s the great thing: ’cause we’ve got all the numbers, we can work out the temperature at which the authors of the book believe that coldness starts! Here’s the equations, right, look: If you take the temperature at which coldness starts, according to the authors of the book, and subtract the temperature inside a freezer, and then do the same with the temperature outside an aeroplane, these two numbers are related, in this simple way: one is six times the other, according to the authors. So let’s substitute in the values we have, minus fifty-five and minus eighteen become plus fifty-five and plus eighteen, we can simplify the equation, five multiplied by the temperature at which coldness starts is minus fifty-three degrees Celsius, divide both sides by five: the temperature at which coldness starts, according to the authors of the book… is minus ten point six degrees Celsius. [laughter] Finally! Right? My friend is right. And then, this is the point, where the non-nerds out-nerded the nerds, right. Because the in-laws said to me: “No.” “Look up the authors of the book.” So I did. And they’re Canadian! [laughter] Thanks very much! [applause and outro music] To watch the rest of this show, grab a copy of the DVD or you can download it from all the usual places, link in the description. Oh, and you can also get the show on floppy disk… because… Helen thinks she’s hilarious. To watch some more of the show for free, head over to Matt’s channel, where he’s also put a section online. [Matt:] To celebrate the release of the DVD, I’m sharing a section of the show here on YouTube, where I help edit live footage, using projections outside of a sphere. [Both:] So do watch [Matt’s/Steve’s] video, and if you can afford it we’d love it if you could buy the show, the download costs just [half Tau/Pi] pounds, or, even less if you’re a Patreon supporter. [outro music]

100 Replies to “Stand-up comedy routine about bad science”

  1. I initially read it to mean "the temperature outside an aeroplane is 6 times colder than the temperature inside a freezer as compared to room temperature", which would still be wrong :/

  2. Thank you!! Finally someone addresses my pet peeve. I had to correct NASA once for saying their probe got x times closer to a planet than before. I think they meant 1/x times the distance as closeness isn't a thing you can measure.

  3. I always get upset when I read about astronomy and someone writes a star is several times larger than the sun.
    How do you measure large? Diameter? Surface? Volume? Mass?

  4. Coldness could be on a logarithmic scale relative to existing temperature scales. You'll need another point of reference to determine the curvature. But you could do another two minutes on the class of all curves that intersect those two points and the interesting relations that could be extrapolated from there.

  5. Lmao, Matt's face when you talk about "a pretty good approximation for pi." Also, shouldn't you be talking in tau…

  6. Here I am in Toronto, sweating like a pig. (Do pigs actually sweat?) For me, coldness starts when I have to wear my winter coat, which is around 0C. Or maybe when I have to put on a sweater, which is around 14C.

  7. I have discovered critical error!
    You are treating "6 times colder" as if it said: "6 times as cold".
    Surely you know 6 times colder means 7 times as cold.
    If John is 5 and Marc is 15, Marc is 3 times as old, or 2 times older. 3 x 5 = 15 & 5 + (2×5) = 15
    So the correct start of the coldness is actually about -12.7 C

  8. The problem was the statement is wrong. No matter how you look at it. Your friend could've just said it doesn't seem right and then prove it. As a statement it's perfectly understandable. The meaning is that it feels 6 times colder outside a flying airplane in average climate. Cold being a very relative thing I'd say the statement is perfectly sound… just incorrect, relative to normal people.

  9. All my dinner parties start and end with slideshows about various topics of which my guests are wrong about. I throw awesome dinner parties.

  10. To be precise, "taller than" is different to "as tall as". Something 6ft is 3ft taller than something 3ft, so actually is one times "taller than" although it is two times "as tall as". All depends on where you start measuring from, and language can be tricky at times.

  11. You can calculate the amount of thermic energy per unit of volume of air and then divide it by 6

  12. Cold doesn't actually exist as a thing, it is a feeling that one would experience that is just a lower temperature or energy in the form of heat relative to what one would consider to be warm or hot.

    Also we have yet to actually be able to achieve creating true absolute zero. We have what is mostly likely to be created the lowest temperature space in the universe however that is the closest to being absolute zero that exists or ever has existed possibly unless prior to the big bang singularity absolute zero conditions existed … if space time existed.. or anything..

    I'm starting to think now that maybe this might be the eventual joke in the video maybe? I should watch the last 4 minutes now.

  13. 10:02 a floppy disk huh? I was going to call this total bullshit because you cant fit even a 240p 1 min video on 1.3mb of storage (as I remembered the standard stiffy disks used to have), but then I checked the floppy disk spec and they can actually store up to 240mb of data on the later models! Ok you win.

  14. having a powerpoint presentation, is this still "stand-up" comedy? I don't get it. He's funny, though.

  15. For me personally (USA) it starts getting cold (wanting a jacket or at least a long sleeve shirt) at +10C, but I certainly understand -10 being the temp for northern folks. I'm very likely to shed outerwear at the first sign of warm weather in the spring at a lower temperature than I started wearing it in the fall.

  16. In Romanian, when you translate "Callum is 6 times shorter than Debie" you get to the equation Callum's Height = Debie's Height divided by 6. I don't get if this is a translation issue or an algebra issue, but in my opinion the "Callum is -5 meters" solution doesn't sound right. But maybe this is yet another ambiguous formulation … =))))))

  17. existence of a freezer inside an airplane doesn't cause any problems for the statement pat brain back into place

  18. as a nativ-german tongue, i can go with a is 6 times taller than b, but 6 times shorter makes no sense. so a is 1/6 of b?

  19. But what about using the original Celsius scale where zero is the boiling point of water at one atmosphere and 100 is the freezing point?
    Freezer = 118 x 6 = 708
    Zero Kelvin = 373.15
    Airplane = 155

    Hmmm. Nope.

  20. Wait what, the show on floppy disk, I'm going to get my old Commodore down.. Wait wait wait how many disk does the show fill?? ???

  21. but it works in log… Temperature and chemical reaction speed agree here. 10K or °C hotter and the reaction speed doubles. That means you can solve this fairly easily.

  22. must be 6 times colder there because you are wearing 6 times the normal layers of clothes to make a video lol

  23. Canadian here… I'd like to confess i've gone out in jeans in -30°C more than just a few times when i was in grade 6.

  24. I love this video. This is how I think. How do you use a factor to express a less than relativity? 6x less… 6x smaller.. 6x dimmer.. 6x shorter? None of these make sense you can't take a dimness, a smallness or a shortness of anything and multiply it by any number. Yet all the most prominent scientists, who should be sticklers about precision, express things this way.

  25. Sal: I know what it's "understood" to mean, but a) the words don't make any sense when used that way, and because of this, b) it isn't consistently applied. Therefore it is never safe to use this kind of construction. Furthermore, "shorter" isn't the "negation" of "longer". If it were, then because three feet is half as LONG as six feet, then three feet would be half as SHORT as negative six feet. Which is ridiculous. But you may have meant the "inverse" rather than "negation". In that case, three feet would be half as short as 1/6 feet, I guess. Which is just as ridiculous. "Shorter" just means "of lesser length", and is used only comparatively. Nothing is "short" on its own, only as compared with something else. The word doesn't lend itself well to arithmetic manipulation. The whole point of the video is that there is NO WAY to make logical sense of constructions like this.

    Trying to apply the rules that convert English phrases into algebraic expressions with constructions like this just leads to ambiguities, which are a bad thing wherever numbers are involved. "Less than" always means subtraction, and "times" always means multiplication, so trying to stretch the meanings of these words, such that "times less than" means division, is just foolish.

    But what REALLY makes Ben's logic flawed (and I trust that Ben understands this perfectly), is that the Celsius and Fahrenheit scales are not zero-based, i.e., zero degrees Celsius does not mean having no heat. This is where using comparisons that are based on multiplication or division (such as "one sixth") break down. So even if one concedes that "six times colder" means "one sixth the heat", (and I do so only to make this point), it's not going to work on the Celsius scale because Celsius degrees are not a linear scale of heat; you first have to convert to a zero-based scale such as Kelvin.

  26. No thanks to the DVD; we don’t use gutter language in this household, and choose not to entertain ourselves with it, or to inflict it upon other people. Why do modern 'comedians' think that it is funny and amusing to speak like tramps and guttersnipes? Are they simply confused about the shock reaction expressed as laughter when an audience hears what it does not want to hear, mistaking it for an expression of pleasure? And is the audience so uneducated that they don't recognise their response for what it is; an instinctive and primitive reaction to contradiction against what should be acceptable and reputable behaviour? 
    Yes; I've studied the subject thoroughly, and performed successfully in public, both with speech without any bad language and in mime, but later chose different employment with a regular income, so do know what I am writing. 
    It's really sad, and demeaning for both the performer and the audience, when the lowest common denominator is sought, rather than seeking for a much better (and inherently much funnier) form of entertainment.
    If you produced a clean version of the DVD, suitable for any audience, then more people would buy a copy for themselves, and buy more copies for friends, often without hesitation. Think about it. You might even sell six times as many copies of the clean version!
    So, no 'like' or 'dislike' for this video. It's more effective than giving a dislike. And we can block your channel from YT suggested videos. No doubt many other potential viewers which you have lost have done the same thing. You really ought to label your videos as 'Explicit', even if one 'Anglo Saxon' word is used. That would help people immensely. Thanks.
    Meanwhile, thank-you for the advance warning about the 'comedy' show, which we can also avoid. Bye. ?

  27. As a Canadian when I was born out of the slightly thawed frozen lake birth place, I can say since we can start skating off the ice to land, we normally breathe our first breath in -1 to -10 , anything below that it only gets cold/dangerous for us Canadian newborns. Good thing the aggressive Canadian Geese migrate or we'd body check them into submission waiting for our parents to grab us fresh Tim Hortons.

  28. ser steve, here's some more BAD science, that Big science has been foisting on the public. (maybe it was on the dvd) cheers

  29. -10.45°C starts to feel cold to me… but I'm Canadian. It seems your data came from Canada! Most interesting!

  30. Kinda disingenuous considering this is not about bad science but rather the semantics of a children's book and being too literal. You have a platform, use it.

  31. its same bullshit like saying the peak emission of the Sun is at 555nm. If you put frequency or wavenumber or photon energy on the X axis, the peak will be for a different color than 555nm. But scientists actually make such statements. It shows they actually don’t understand the matter.

  32. He doesn't make much of a point honestly. The meaning of the sentence is quite clear: The sensation of cold is 6 times stronger at the height where the plane flies. It's really not that convoluted.

  33. My problem with the statement "One is six times taller than The Other" is that if The Other is one meter tall, One must be SEVEN meters tall. To be six meters tall, One would have to "six times AS TALL" as The Other. It pisses me off that everyone assumes "times taller" actually means "times as tall" when they flip this reasoning on its head for "One is six meters taller than The Other" (it wouldn't make sense any other way, which is why I hate "times taller"). To be twice as tall as The Other, One would have to be two times as tall, or if we must be awkward about it, "one times taller"… or "as tall again"… or "one hundred percent taller", if you like, which highlights the absurdity of it all. "Six times taller" is not the same as "600% taller" in this context, and tht's just f***ing broken.

    And it's six times as broken when that illogical convention is used in the context of science! Is this rock six times the mass of that rock, or six times MORE massive? WTF?!?

    When the interpretation of a broken statement has become a matter of linguistic convention such that its meaning can only be interpreted correctly with foreknowledge of said convention… I am reminded why I just shun humans in general, and avoid carrying anything that can be used as a weapon during conversation. I just don't get humans at all. Any of you. Ever. It's like a big wind-up, and everybody's in on it except me.

    The whole "times shorter" thing just makes me want to scream more than the phrase "I could care less" (which, paradoxically, doesn't mean they care more than they should), or all-too-common use of the word "irregardless" (seriously, my hands might be empty, but I can still bludgeon with them).

    I'm crawling back under my rock now.

  34. Can we please talk about the slide at 4:39? You put for "Callum is 6 time shorter than Debbie" the equation "1 – 6 = -5". That is not how you would interpreter that statement. It should have been "1 / 6 = 1.66…".

  35. The way that you figure that every 1,000 feet in altitude mean to drop in temperature of 3 degrees Fahrenheit this is what we learn in skydiving

  36. You and I have knowledge beyond. You get paid to persuade most likely. I just talk shit on board. My story in 4 years will be paid and benefited by the game then as well? Nope yall be

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