718: The Flake Equation
|The Flake Equation|
Title text: Statistics suggest that there should be tons of alien encounter stories, and in practice there are tons of alien encounter stories. This is known as Fermi's Lack-of-a-Paradox.
The Flake equation is a parody of the Drake equation, which is an estimate of the number of detectable extraterrestrial civilizations in our galaxy. The Flake equation, however, provides an estimate about how many false or fake stories about aliens are likely to exist. It does so in similar manner as the Drake equation which estimates the number of detectable civilizations by multiplying the number of stars by consecutive probabilities of a star having certain characteristics making detectable life possible. Note that the Flake equation does not even attempt to include the number of accounts which are intentional lies.
The word "Flake" is informally used to describe a crazy person, such as someone who would imagine an alien encounter.
The Flake equation finds the number of fake stories by multiplying the number of people by consecutive probabilities of a person having certain tendencies to tell such stories and other people telling them on and spreading them on the internet. Just like in the Drake equation, exact numbers are unknown, but can be estimated, and the equation in the comic shows Randall's guesses about these values. See an explanations of values below.
The final results tells us that there should be about 100,000 stories about aliens that have reliable explanations. (The numbers given in the equation gives 126,000 stories). The data is obviously highly uncertain, and as with the Drake Equation, you can plug in your own numbers, but if you keep your guesses realistic, you will most likely get a very large number. This convinces the reader that the fact that there are many stories about aliens does not necessarily mean that many people actually met aliens.
The title text refers to Fermi's Lack-of-a-Paradox as a parody of the Fermi paradox: The contradiction between the high estimated probable existence of extraterrestrial civilizations and the lack of establishing contact to such civilizations by humans.
Another comic parodying this equation is 384: The Drake Equation. The credibility of paranormal reports in general is revisited in 1235: Settled, which posits that if such phenomena were real they should have been unambiguously captured on camera by now.
Explanations of values
|WP||7,000,000,000||World population at the time of the creation of the comic, taken as a starting value.|
|(CR + Mi)||1/10,000 + 1/10,000||Fraction of people who would falsely believe they had been visited by aliens. This is assumed to be people who are crazy, want to feel special, or misinterpret physical phenomena as alien sightings. It is assumed that a total of one in 10,000 people belong to at least one of the first two of these groups and another one in 10,000 belong to the final group, for a total of one in 5000 belonging to one of these three groups. Multiplied by the world population we get the number of people who falsely believe they have been visited by aliens|
|TK||1/10||The fraction of people who believe they have experienced an alien sighting that tell others about their experience. Multiplying with the previous values we get the number of people who falsely believe to have experienced an alien sighting, and tell others about it.|
|F0||10||Average number of people they tell about their "sightings". Multiplying with the previous values we get the amount of people who hear about a false alien sighting from the "primary source".|
|F1||10||Average number of people that they decide to tell about the "firsthand" account. Multiplying with the previous values we get the amount of people who hear a second-hand account of a false story.|
|DT||9/10||The probability that the details will be slightly adjusted during the retelling process, making the account believable. The total is now the amount of believable-yet-false alien sighting stories.|
|AU||1/100||The proportion of people who have the willingness and ability to share this story with a broad audience. The total is now the amount of believable-yet-false alien sightings that are published to a wider audience.|
- The Flake Equation:
- P = WP × (CR + MI) × TK × F0 × F1 × DT × AU ≈ 100,000
- WP = World Population (7,000,000,000)
- CR = Fraction of people who imagine an alien encounter because they're crazy or want to feel special (1/10,000)
- MI = Fraction of people who misinterpret a physical or physiological experience as an alien sighting (1/10,000)
- TK = Probability that they'll tell someone (1/10)
- F0 = Average number of people they tell (10)
- F1 = Average number of people each friend tells this "firsthand" account (10)
- DT = Probability that any details not fitting the narrative will be revised or forgotten in retelling (9/10)
- AU = Fraction of people with the means and motivation to share the story with a wider audience (blogs, forums, reporters) (1/100)
- Even with conservative guesses for the values of the variables, this suggests there must be a huge number of credible-sounding alien sightings out there, available to anyone who wants to believe!
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