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The uncertainty of science: Researchers have released more films taken during numerous 1950s and 1960s atmospheric nuclear bomb tests to the public, while noting that modern computer simulations of nuclear explosions, based on the data taken from these early tests, could be as much as 30 percent in error.
Ten years ago, Spriggs was asked to write a computer code related to nuclear weapons effects, but his calculations didn’t agree with what was published in the 1950s and ’60s. When he dug in to find out why there was a discrepancy, he discovered that the manual measurements made in the ’50s and ’60s were off, in some cases by 20 percent to 30 percent. His new mission had become clear: reanalyze all the nuclear test films to ensure future computer simulations would be validated.
“It was driving me nuts,” Spriggs said. “No matter what I did, I couldn’t get my calculations to agree. Eventually, I came to the conclusion that the data must be off. To prove our simulations are correct, we rely on quality benchmark data. That’s why this project is so important. It is providing the data our physicists need to ensure our deterrent remains viable into the future.”
They are scanning and reanalyzing all the footage so that they can refine their models. They also note that the analysis done in the 50s and 60s was actually quite good, but today’s computer technology allows for greater accuracy and objectivity.
Hat tip Wayne DeVette.