When Bill Belichick offered his explanation for deflate-gate, many scientists, including Neil deGrasse Tyson, stepped in to offer opinions about whether it was possible. They didn’t all agree, and Neil, among others, was flooded with dissenting opinions. Now the Cosmos star is speaking out, talking about the science, how much temperature change is required to deflate a football, and why he admits he was wrong.
A week after the game that inspired the deflate-gate controversy, in which the Patriots were accused of using under-inflated footballs, Neil deGrasse Tyson tweeted a response, invoking science.
For the Patriots to blame a change in temperature for 15% lower-pressures, requires balls to be inflated with 125-degree air.
— Neil deGrasse Tyson (@neiltyson) January 26, 2015
Though Tyson said that the balls involved in deflate-gate would have to have been inflated in a 125 degree room, followers disagreed, and flooded him with responses. Fortunately, one of the things that Neil likes to say about science is that it’s good at admitting when one is wrong — and he did just that.
“Shortly afterwards, many of my physics-fluent twitter followers, as well as others in the blogosphere, were quick to point out that in my calculation I neglected to account for the fact that the football pressures were “gauge” pressures (as would be the pressures measured in any ball on Earth) rather than “absolute” pressures. And the calculation that I performed applies only to absolute pressures — which reference the case where the football pressure is measured in the vacuum of space, without the effects of atmospheric pressure on the measurement. Using the (correct) gauge pressure in the calculation reduces the needed inflation temperature to about 90-degrees for that effect.”
Tyson went on to explain that the deflate-gate discrepancy meant the balls would have to have been inflated with 90 degree air, not 125 degree air, in order to deflate to the degree claimed. While Tyson admits 90 degrees is more likely, he clearly doesn’t think either is the fact.
Neil also goes on to say that he doesn’t think deflate-gate matters, due to the size of the Patriots’ win.
“A delightfully moot point since neither temperature absolves the NE Patriots even as we all know that the NE Patriots, in their 45 to 7 victory over the Colts, would have won the game no matter the ball pressure. And, as far as I am concerned, the Patriots would have won that game even in the vacuum of space.”
Bill Nye The Science Guy expressed a similar opinion on deflate-gate in a video for Funny or Die: carrying out an experiment in which he reduces footballs filled at 80 degrees to 50 degrees, and finds no noticeable difference, he announces that, even though he believes the Patriots ‘bent the rules,’ it’s probably insignificant. He suggests his reason for being unimpressed by deflate-gate is different from Tyson’s, though, spending the moments in the middle of his experiment talking about climate change — a much bigger issue.
Despite their different reasons, and different numbers, Bill Nye and Neil deGrasse Tyson come out on the same side in the deflate-gate debate: the balls were likely underinflated (neither expresses an opinion on whether this was deliberate) but the controversy has been overblown. What’s your stance on deflate-gate, and on Bill Nye and Neil deGrasse Tyson’s use of science to deny Bill Belichick’s claims?
[photo credit: NASA HQ PHOTO]