“A Rock … — the More Mass, the Faster It Falls”

Professor Mark Liberman (Language Log), takes note of this Friday Washington Post article:

Chang-Yu Wu, an aerosol researcher and coauthor explained that temperature and local humidity play crucial roles in the particle size and can affect its lifespan in the atmosphere. The particles will float longer in air if they are exposed to water in cooler regions. In colder areas, people tend to take shelter in the interior and then expose themselves to any recirculated virus-laden air.

In humid and hotter areas, there is more water. The condensed water can make the virus particles larger, making them less likely to fall to the ground. Wu compares the particles to a rock in this case — the more mass, the faster it falls.

Liberman points out that Wu paper is not like WaPo’s “the more mass the faster it falls” explanation. (Officially, the characteristics of an object can impact the speed at which it falls, such as air resistance and aerosol behavior. But these effects are usually quite minor for “a stone,” as Pisa’s friend demonstrated. Liberman says:

As often in the interpretation of reported interviews in news articles, the WaPo article leaves us with a problem in abductive reasoning. Was the interviewee actually able to say this? Or did they misunderstand, forget, invent, or misremember it by the editor?