Greetings from the Central Pacific Ocean. We’re out here studying the influence of low oxygen on key microbial biogeochemistry processes adapting new biomedical methods (proteomics) to diagnose long-term changes in the ocean’s core metabolisms. We have a professional journalist aboard doing an outreach blog, check it out if you’re interested.
But, given that its the one year anniversary of deflategate, I thought I’d spend just a moment of downtime (a welcome bit of science frivolity after a long couple days of sampling). Readers might recall this post last summer that presented actual empirical data on the influence of low temperatures on football pressure. The take-home conclusions were were: 1) in 5 out of 5 time course experiments, when a football was moved to near freezing conditions its internal pressure dropped by more than 2 PSI. This is double the allowed range of football pressure, hence all footballs would be in violation in cold games, if measured as they were a year ago (indoors before the game and at halftime). And 2): the larger variability in pressures in Patriots footballs versus Colts footballs can be entirely explained and reproduced by the timing of the warming up of the footballs (see data plots!).
This BMG post received a bit of notority, I sent the data and post to Judge Berman prior to the appeal hearing. It was one of a dozen or so of the letters released as part of the public record for the trial, and an AP story was widely distributed with a funny unintentional quote from me.
So here’s another data point for you to show the influence of environmental effects on balls (another BMG scientific release). This styrofoam ball was sent 4.4 kilometers down into the oceans yesterday. The intense pressure decreased the diameter from 12cm to 9cm. That is equal to a 58% reduction in ball volume. I suspect that would affect its game performance. Sending anything into the deep ocean is extremely challenging to say the least. (We’re going to raffle away some of these decorated items soon apparently on the blog).
I’ve reflected on this experience since last summer’s post, considering how the public engages with science. There’s a nice summary in the NYT this week describing how the NFL is ignoring science at its own peril. What surprises me is the challenge in getting the public to engage in the science, whether it is something that is relatively trivial like a sports issue, or something of considerable societal significance. I’m surprised, perhaps naively, how non-scientists form opinions regardless of the data presented, whereas for scientists its all about the data. For example one colleague, a diehard Buffalo Bills fan looked at these data plots and said to me something like “I hate the patriots, but this data is convincing.” This case is a satisfying one because the data figure immediately shows the NFL rules are nonsense. As scientists we strive for our studies to have enough preparation in the experimental design and measurement precision so their conclusions can be so straightforward based on logic. Yet one of our great challenges, as a members of a global community making decisions about environmental changes based on scientific data, is convincing and educating the voting public of the integrity of scientific analysis and interpretation. This ball inflation issue is a great simple example of the challenges we face.