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By Benjamin Crowell

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The scientific Mr. ” In reality, he could not have estimated the odds with six significant figures of accuracy, but nevertheless one of the hallmarks of a person with a good education in science is the ability to make estimates that are likely to be at least somewhere in the right ballpark. In many such situations, it is often only necessary to get an answer that is off by no more than a factor of ten in either direction. 2 Scaling and Order-of-Magnitude Estimates 43 an estimate is called an order-of-magnitude estimate.

But what is its population? The United Nations says 114 million; the State Department, 120 million. 9 million, while the Central Intelligence Agency puts it at 126,635,626. What should bother you about this? Answer, p. 849 Dealing correctly with significant figures can save you time! Often, students copy down numbers from their calculators with eight significant figures of precision, then type them back in for a later calculation. That’s a waste of time, unless your original data had that kind of incredible precision.

04 do not count as significant figures, because they are only placeholders. On the other hand, a number such as 50 cm is ambiguous — the zero could be intended as a significant figure, or it might just be there as a placeholder. 0 × 101 cm would imply two sig figs. self-check F The following quote is taken from an editorial by Norimitsu Onishi in the New York Times, August 18, 2002. Consider Nigeria. Everyone agrees it is Africa’s most populous nation. But what is its population? The United Nations says 114 million; the State Department, 120 million.

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7-Simple Nature by Benjamin Crowell


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