Sunday, 22 December 2013

What is the sound of 74 quadrillion kittens sneezing?

Sometimes a writer will try to convey the enormity of a measurement by using comparisons to odd units, like the weight of elephants, the volume of an Olympic swimming pool, etc. These attempts to be helpful are not always successful as we don't really know what the comparison unit is like, and we often end up using numbers that are larger than we can really comprehend. For example, I have no real appreciation of the weight of an elephant, and 20,000 elephants is more elephants than my mind can deal with. As such these comparisons just give a ballpark idea of "a lot".

Here's a particularly cute example from Skeptical Science:

From Skeptical Science
Yes, our planet is warming by an amount of energy equivalent to 74 quadrillion kitten sneezes per second. That's 74 peta-kitten sneezes! This is, of course, an entirely unrealistic number of sneezes for a single kitten, so one assumes we are talking about a large number of kittens.

How much energy is in a kitten sneeze? I have no idea. By how much is my understanding of global warming increased by this factoid? Very little. The alternative measure of 4 Hiroshima bombs per second is similarly unhelpful, but is nowhere near a cute as the kittens, even if they are sneezing and possibly infectious.


  1. wow, some great work you are doing so far, fantastic work so far Lost and found

  2. 1 kitten sneeze is about 34 mJ (converted from the energy of Hiroshima bombs)