One of the more amusing habits of news media when trying to explain things is its curious use of comparable measurement. Size, it seems, is really difficult to describe and so tired journalists have invented a universal scale of contextualised bigness based on the London bus.
With the assumption that the audience has the attention span and the cognitive ability of a three month old chimp, very small things are smaller than a grain of sand and very big things are measured in multiples of the area of Wales or sometimes Belgium. In between these extremes are standard units for everything else ranging from a golf ball, a grapefruit, a football, a sofa, a family car (small, average or large), a London bus, a football pitch, an aircraft carrier and the equivalent of a city the size of Birmingham. These descriptors can be multiplied but are not so effective when divided so other arbitrary factors need to be applied.
Thus, with the impending perigee of asteroid 2012DA14, the news media went a little bit potty and refused to believe scientists who had the proof that impact would not occur. On the BBC, one slightly hysterical hack asked a scientist how big the thing was. The astrophysicist estimated that it was probably about 150 metres across. The hack had done some homework and suggested that it was the size of an Olympic swimming pool. The boffin looked confused and reiterated that it was estimated at being about 150 metres across. In the week that dear old Reg Turnill died, BBC science reporting hit rock bottom when footage of the Russian event horizon meteor exploded all over the internet. “The sonic boom sounded like an explosion” bellowed one excited non-scientist who did not actually witness the event. “It looked like something from a disaster movie.” Mercifully, he did not revert to default media nomenclature by describing the object, estimated to be about 15 metres across, as being the size of a London bus or that its passage through the upper atmosphere had reduced it to the size of Eric Pickles nor that by the time it had impacted on a frozen lake in the Urals it was the size and shape of a baked potato.
When the danger that was never really a danger from 2012DA14 had passed, news broadcasters seemed disappointed that it had not flattened a city the size of Birmingham and concentrated on the Russian event. One bright spark suggested that the object inbound for the Urals might have been of a dark colour and so difficult to detect against the darkness of space. There was endless speculation involving lumps of rock arriving from the outer void and landing on Nelson`s Column (equivalent to five London buses stacked end on end) or Birmingham`s BT Tower (equivalent to three Nelson`s Columns stacked end on end). There was very little mention of the trajectory perturbation that will see 2012DA14 return in 2046 or the one in 4,700,000 risk of an impact in 2080 and 2111. There is more chance of winning the lottery or finding a large horse in a small lasagne or seeing an alien space ship the size of the Albert Hall. If the news media`s obsession with dumbing down science is patronising, take a look, a listen and a read at how they handle economics and politics. At least now we know how many holes it takes to fill the Palace of Westminster.
In the alternative parallel universe of the media and socio-economic political elite, a £300billion increase in debt is a 25 per cent reduction in deficit. That is the equivalent of six, or possibly four, aircraft carriers following the prudent and wise removal of actual aircraft. Hospital waiting lists are down because hospitals wards have been closed down and nurses made redundant. That is a saving equivalent to a country the size of Wales. Examination results continue to improve even as the quality of teaching declines under the yoke of Trade Union dogmatic oppression equivalent to four sold off football pitches. Unemployment is down because people who are unemployed have had benefits removed and so can no longer be described as unemployed. The private sector has created millions of new jobs which technically speaking, in terms of a grain of sand; do not pay a living wage. That is the equivalent of a Wembley Stadium on every high street. People with disabilities do not exist because they are obviously just pretending. Look at the success of the Paralympics.
I already miss 2012DA14 and wish it well on its long journey out to perihelion and then back to us again. I only hope that one of its smaller cousins might visit us soon and blow the blue bloody blazes out of this corrupt, venal and useless coalition government.
Something about the size of a golf ball should do it. It might take an inbound grapefruit to do something about woeful reporting.