1242: Scary Names
Title text: Far off to the right of the chart is the Helvetica Scenario.
This chart humorously explores how things are often named colloquially and without regard to accuracy in correlating actual scariness with apparent scariness. It is interesting to note how people react to the items near the bottom right of the chart "scary things with not-very-scary names" when compared to how they may react to items in the upper left "not-very-scary things with scary names". Some of the entries on the chart are especially interesting examples considering that portions of the names that are associated with significant historical or cultural events and themes. i.e. Chernobyl Packet, Demon Core. All items are described in the table below including the title text on Helvetica Scenario.
On the chart, things toward the right are scary/dangerous/very bad, while things toward the top sound scary without necessarily being scary.
Note that Randall uses similar diagrams in both 388: Fuck Grapefruit and 1501: Mysteries which also contain different items. Both of these also have an extra point mentioned in the title text, but only the first is also off the chart, whereas for the second the description of the point is too long to fit on the chart. Extra info outside the chart is also used in the title text of 1785: Wifi, but with a line graph.
- This table list the entries from least to most scary, including the entry mentioned in the title text.
- To begin with it is sorted from most scary name to least scary name.
- The assigned percentage values assumes a linear scale and assigns flesh eating bacteria with the point (100%, 100%).
- This is simply the easiest way to list the entries as there is no mention of the scale.
- As is clear from the title text, "flesh eating bacteria" is not an absolute, simply the highest in this particular sample; there are things more scary than 100%!
|Name||Approximate Apparent Scariness||Approximate True Scariness||Description|
|Flesh-eating bacteria||100%||100%||As the name suggests, bacteria that eat (or more accurately, releases toxins that destroy) your skin and muscle.|
|Chernobyl Packet||95%||4%||A network packet that induces a broadcast storm or network meltdown. Despite the name, it does not necessarily refer to the Chernobyl disaster.|
|Kessler Syndrome||90%||53%||A hypothetical scenario where low Earth orbit objects collide, creating debris which increases the risk of more collisions, leading to a cascade effect which could severely hinder exploration and satellite technologies for many decades. It has been mentioned in Gravity (2013 film).|
|Demon Core||87%||73%||A subcritical mass of plutonium that was involved in two separate fatal incidents at Los Alamos laboratory in 1945 and 1946. In both cases, the core was accidentally placed into a configuration where it went supercritical and exposed an experimenter to fatal doses of radiation. The second is more notable, where Louis Slotin held two halves of a beryllium neutron reflector apart with a flat head screwdriver which slipped, suddenly causing the contained plutonium core to become supercritical and delivering a fatal dose of radiation.|
|Bomb Calorimeters||67%||28%||A device for measuring heat of combustion of a reaction in a pressure vessel. It does not interact with explosive devices directly, though the chemicals a bomb calorimeter would be called upon to measure are occasionally explosive or dangerous, and a carelessly operated calorimeter could start a fire.|
|Bird Flu||57%||72%||An illness caused by strains of influenza adapted for birds, which is generally very deadly in humans. Should the virus adapt for human to human transmission, a pandemic can quickly result. Since birds can travel great distances quickly, it is generally already widespread and difficult to contain.|
|Nuclear Football||52%||94%||An aluminum Zero Halliburton briefcase which is used by the President of the United States to authorize nuclear attack. A military aide carrying the football is always near the president.|
|Mustard Gas||47%||50%||A chemical warfare agent which causes blisters and severe irritation on skin and lung tissue.|
|Superbug||39%||83%||Antibiotic resistant bacteria. The growing use of antibiotics has caused some bacteria to evolve to become resistant to the antibiotics. A "superbug" refers to a scenario where a bacteria evolves to become resistant to all antibiotics, for example, MRSA. Thanks to popular culture, however, the term "superbug" usually makes the audience think "a bug with superpowers", such as Atom Ant.|
|Criticality Incident||22%||74%||An unexpected and uncontrolled nuclear reaction. This occurs when a system that should be sub-critical becomes critical by accident (a term devised by Louis Slotin, as seen above).|
|Soil Liquefaction||16%||54%||A phenomenon where wet soil loses its strength and becomes temporarily liquid, capable of swallowing people and buildings, especially after earthquakes or torrential rains. Liquefaction can cause landslides; landslides can cause more liquefaction. Once the earthquake stops, the ground becomes solid again, trapping whatever was submerged.|
|Grey Goo||5%||69%||A hypothetical end-of-world scenario where self-replicating nanobots consume all matter. It is (partially) illustrated in 865: Nanobots.|
(from the title text)
|N/A||Literally Off-The-Chart||This scenario is also in the title text of 683: Science Montage: "...We have a Helvetica scenario!". The scenario is a fictional experiment, presented in Switzerland (Helvetica), which assumes that removing only the nucleus (the center of an atom) of a calcium atom in one's skin, but still leaving the electron shell at its position, would cause a massive reaction ending up in heavy mutations. The Helvetica scenario was made up by the BBC comedy show Look Around You in the pilot episode, which can be seen here (at 5:53). The fact that the term Helvetica is more commonly known as referring to a very-commonly-used modern typeface makes the name sound like it should refer to a much less serious situation.|
- In the What If? No More DNA (exclusive to the physical book), this graph is shown redrawn with "Destroying Angel" added to it. Destroying Angel is a poisonous mushroom.
- [A scatter-plot, with 12 labeled dots. Both axis are labeled but neither has an arrow at its end. The dots are scattered from left to right and top to bottom. Below all labels are given, first for the axis, and then for each dot in approximately normal reading order, left to right top to bottom, but in the order it would make sense to read them:]
- Y-axis: Scariness of name
- X-axis: Scariness of thing name refers to
- [Top left]: Chernobyl packet
- [Top halfway right]: Kessler syndrome
- [Top three quarters towards right]: Demon core
- [Top right]: Flesh-eating bacteria
- [A third down left]: Bomb calorimeter
- [Halfway down three quarters towards right]: Bird flu
- [Halfway down right]: Nuclear football
- [Dead center]: Mustard gas
- [Just below and right of center]: Superbug
- [Bottom halfway right]: Soil liquefaction
- [A third up three quarters towards right ]: Criticality incident
- [Very bottom two-thirds to the right]: Grey goo
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