The Painted Picture–UARS stats and the news around us.

What is in a statistic, or piece of information ? Truth? A hidden agenda? Facts? Deceit?  It could be one, several, or all the above.

Today or tomorrow, according to NASA, bits of a bus-sized object, UARS (Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite), will fall from the sky. Some have found comfort in believing that their odds of being hit by its pieces are 1 in 21 trillion. Others have heard their odds of getting hit by spacecraft parts are 1 in 3,200.  And, many have found comfort,or discomfort, in those numbers.

What  is the truth? Both, if you believe the following NASA official’s quote:

” … according to Nicholas Johnson, NASA’s chief orbital debris scientist, any one person’s chances of getting hit by debris are tiny — something like 1 in 21 trillion. The chances that of the 7 billion people on Earth, one of them, somewhere, could be hit are more like 1 in 3,200″. (

How could ‘… any one person’  be different from one ‘… of the 7 billion people on Earth’ , so much so that their odds are polar opposites?  There is obviously more to the story and different data and variables used to give those sets of odds; yet,  some people are only hearing one statistic over the other, instead of both.   Both sets of odds, when shared together, suggest a bigger story, wouldn’t you agree?  It also leads to more questions. Why are the odds drastically different? What are they based on? Etc, etc…
 But when NASA official, Nicholas Johnson,  released both pieces of information in his interview, it didn’t  guarantee that both sets of odds would be shared by every information source–print, online or spoken news, coffee pot conversations, family, or friends.
Therein lies the trickiness in using (and believing)  numbers and information–there is often  more than the painted picture, and more required for a full story. 
Asking more questions, especially before reacting emotionally, financially, or in other ways, may be in order.
Who is revealing the information/statistic? What are their sources? How do they know? Why do they believe that information? Is the statistic being used in isolation to prove a point, or, is it being used with comparable facts to show a historical trend? 
Questions that reach for more details help clarify statistics or lend credibility to information, and prove beneficial, especially now that there are fraudulent financiers, political tug-of-wars,  storytellers tossing myths and rumors in our midst, and people who paid for an opinion–fact or fiction based. 
NASA’s statistics suggest that there is a slim to none chance anyone will get hit by space junk, UNLESS the unusual happens–it breaks through orbit over land, at which point it will fall straight down to earth. (My guess is this is where the 1 in 3,200 odds ring true. But, what do I know?)

Something is falling from the sky...
 I’ll just keep my faith in the Creator of the statisticians, more than the statistics, and listen for sudden changes in the sounds of nature.  (It usually gives a fair warning to something happening in the atmosphere-storms, earthquakes,etc.) If the birds stop chirping and my dog looks up… get out of my way. I’m running for cover!


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