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The Perfect Storm

Posted by bob1, 23 September 2010 · 2,090 views

Having experienced a fairly protracted spring storm lately and hearing the reports on the news of how this is a "once in a generation" type storm got me thinking about reporting of storms and other similar periodic events and the use of terms to refer to them that appear, on the surface, to be unambiguous but in reality may not be.

It seems to be common to refer to these events as a "hundred year storm" or other number. It is pretty common to hear of people complaining about getting two 100 year storms in consecutive years, so I would like to point out here for all those who don't know ...The 100 years is a percentage i.e. there is a 1% (1/100) chance of having such an event every year.

However, "once in a generation" is more ambiguous, it could refer to an event of this magnitude every 30-40 years (time for a new generation to be born before the next event), or it could be that it refers to each generation seeing such a storm only once (about 1.3% chance each year).

In science we use terms that are standardised for the most part - units of measurement are pretty well established and universal, except for the odd use of Imperial measurements in the USA (way to go NASA, f/s vs m/s). However, we have problems when it comes to things like genes/proteins, where there is very little consistency in names, despite the best efforts of HUGO. I know of proteins that are known of by up to 20 different names, making the literature diverse to say the least. Chemical names are another, there is a standardised system (IUPAC names) but it is unwieldy, so for most large compounds, especially drugs, they are referred to by comercial names, which may not be in use world-wide.

Standardisation is a way or removing ambiguity, making our communications more precise. So I am imploring you in your research, maintain the use of SI units and standard names wherever possible, then maybe we will be able to communicate on the same page with our research.

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