Thursday 17 July 2014


Pinch of salt time.  The math-pop writer John Allen Paulos has a great book called "A Mathematician reads the Newspapers" in which he cites examples of headlines that have brought him up all standing: "Duh, that's can't be true".  It is the sequel to Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and its Consequences which is, IMO, fresher and better but both books are informative and readable.  They help tune into nonsense.

I have two loyal readers in Russia (and two in Ukraine, so you might think that people at the further edge of Europe might stop squabbling about Lenin, Oil and The West and see how much common ground they have in reading The Blob). My interest in events in Russia is accordingly higher than my interest in events in, say, Venezuela where lots of oil is produced by nobody reads El Blob - so forget them.  If you hunt hard you will have heard about a recent derailment in the Moscow Metro which killed a couple of dozen people and is currently under investigation. One tragedy stands on the shoulders of another and many reports refer to the Aviamotornaya (Авиамото́рная) escalator disaster in 1982. In that case, new operating machinery for all escalators was being installed across the metro system including at that station.  You really need something to help mass transport in such places because the platform in 150m below ground and that's a long way to walk. There was sufficient redundancy designed into the system, but the engineer who installed the back-up emergency brake hadn't read the instruction booklet, so it was wired incorrectly. Everything was fine until one of the steps derailed and stripped off the gears of the drive mechanism putting the loop into neutral (= freefall).  The brake didn't kick in automatically and the the hand-brake was also disabled, so 100 passengers were whooshed to the bottom and dumped in a heap.  Eight people near the bottom were killed.  As it was in Soviet times, when everything mechanical must work fine because all the engineers have a red star on their lapels, the event never made the newspapers so the rumor mill clicked into action instead. Dead people on escalators must mean that they were sucked into the mechanism and turned into hamburger - and it was so . . . not!

Not believing Wikipedia, I thought to check other sites for better details and assumed English Pravda would be authoritative but this headline Moscow Metro Kills Over 1,500 Every Year is where my Paulos-trained crap-detector kicked in.  Can't be true, and it's not.  It should read Moscow Metro Injures Over 1,500 Every Year which is less exciting but less fatal. Lost in translation?

1 comment:

  1. Whats the old adage? Never let the facts get in the way of a good story...