Remember that old game you used to play with sticks, bridges and rivers? The media had a lot to say about it recently:
Poohsticks formula prompts list of best places to play
A top engineer has devised a formula to aid budding players of Poohsticks – the game first devised by Winnie the Pooh.
The formula uses area, density and a drag coefficient to help competitors find the perfect twig.
It was written by Dr Rhys Morgan, from the Royal Academy of Engineering, and is to accompany a new book called Poohstickopedia.
Perfect formula for Pooh sticks
A TOP engineer has finally solved the problem of the perfect wood to play Pooh sticks.
The classic game originates from AA Milne’s children’s stories about Winnie the Pooh.
Players drop sticks from the upstream side of a bridge into the river below and see which appears first on the downstream side.
Now Dr Rhys Morgan, of the Royal Academy of Engineering, has devised a formula for the ideal stick to make players more competitive.
The poohsticks formula that ensures you winnie! Engineer says the perfect stick for the game is thick, dense and as rough as possible
For a Bear of Very Little Brain it may be a little too complicated.
But if Winnie the Pooh were able to get his head round a leading engineer’s work he would find an apparently surefire way of winning at his beloved poohsticks.
Dr Rhys Morgan claims to have found the formula for a perfect stick – which he says should be as thick, dense and rough as possible.
A formula for the perfect game of Poohsticks, you say? Sounds legit, Precisely what is this formula?
So the perfect poohstick is one where the density (in an unspecified unit – kg/m3 perhaps?), multiplied by the cross-sectional area (in cm2 perhaps?), multiplied by the drag coefficient (in whatever unit that might be measured in).
Which seems odd, as one would have assumed that the lower the drag-coefficient, the faster it would travel in the water, and thus the sooner it would pass the bridge… but an optimally-lower drag coefficient would play havoc with the entire equation. Speaking of which, isn’t it unusual that these three supposedly-crucial parameters (given that no other parameter seems to matter) all have exactly equal importance, unless you get your units mixed up?
It’s as if this isn’t a real scientific formula at all, but something cooked up as a piece of meaningless PR simply to get the body behind it into the news:
Visit England then compiled a list of the top places around the country to play the classic pastime.
Rebecca Lowe, of VisitEngland, said: “It remains a great way for families to spend time together and enjoy England’s great outdoors – just like Pooh.”
In fact, it’s nothing more than a nostalgia-exploiting attempt by a tourist body to remind us all of the joys of the great British countryside and the rich literary heritage we all share, via the abuse of scientific legitimacy and the minor degradation of the public’s opinion of what it means to be a scientist for a living.
If that weren’t enough, this story took a new twist a few days later, when another body attempted to use the story to secure themselves some positive PR, in a move which backfired terribly:
Don’t lean over, and make sure the bridge is structurally sound: Nanny state spoilsports set out ‘rules’ for a safe game of Poohsticks
Government officials have been branded ‘nanny state spoilsports’ after tweeting out a set of rules for a safe game of Poohsticks – only to delete it minutes later.
The Department for Culture, Media and Sport posted the advice this afternoon but quickly removed it. A follow-up tweet claimed it had been posted in error.
It read: ‘When playing #Poohsticks check bridge sidebarriers are safe height with no large gaps and structurally sound bridges with slow-flowing water.’
The Department of Culture, Media and Sport really put their foot in it with their nanny-state interference, right?
Either that, or they lightheartedly decided to jump on the bandwagon of a national puff-piece story during silly-season, and were shamed into retracting things. No, it has to be the first of those, because the government is an interfering nanny-state, isn’t it? At least, that’s the angle of the Daily Mail piece, complete with outraged quote:
Jonathan Isaby, chief executive of the Taxpayers’ Alliance, said the tweets were evidence of the overbearing insistence on over-the-top health and safety measures by the government.
The Taxpayers’ Alliance – the reliable rent-a-gob for all of your small-state needs. On the plus side, at least VisitEngland’s story got twice as much coverage as they’d planned.
So, to recap: a tourism board hires a scientist to create a dodgy faux-formula to invoke some nostalia-bait headlines, the media run with it, a government body decides to bandwagon onto the fun and then an anti-government body decides to bandwagon onto the government’s bandwagoning.
And to think that people are nostalgic for when the media covered real news.