Friday, October 1, 2010

It's More of a Science UNfair, if You Ask Me

Dear Friends,

Last weekend, I was driving around Boca Raton in a rental car, flipping through the Miami radio stations. Normally, I would be the last person to belittle the artistic value of pop music, but I was feeling inexplicably cantankerous. The ubiquitous octogenarians must excrete some kind of pheromone that makes passersby disparaging and close-minded. Every time a new song came on that I didn’t recognize, I said to myself, “Pffff. This could have been written by a 5 year-old.” By time we reached our destination, my eyes were sore from rolling so much.

On the plane ride home I took a few deep breaths and began to think clearly again. (Thanks, Delta Airlines geriatric miasma-removing air filters!) The reason great songs sound like they were written by 5-year-olds is that 5-year olds write great songs. With that premise, I immediately set Scarlett to work.

The result is “I’m on a Plane,” the first Hard Taco song in over a decade with co-authored lyrics. I think you will agree that it contains intangibles.

The Making of an Evil Scientist

I was one of a few students in my 9th grade class chosen to represent our school at the regional science fair. My project, entitled “Up and Add ‘Em,” offered groundbreaking evidence that subjects could complete more math problems in 60 seconds if they were standing up rather than sitting down. Upon closer inspection, I actually proved that standing subjects could do more math problems in 70 seconds than sitting subjects could do in 60 seconds. Also, the smarter kids were placed in the standing group. These were just details, though, and there wasn’t enough room on the poster for details.

To this day, I believe I could have beaten Katrina Sopkovich in the Behavioral Science category if I hadn’t muddled the oral presentation. After I elegantly expounded on the mind-blowing significance of my fraudulent conclusions, a tiny white-haired judge asked me, “What are your dependent and independent variables?”

My what? Seconds ticked by. I heard myself mumbling something like, “Well, it depends. It varies, it’s all variable, actually.”

Ladies and gentlemen, the blue ribbon goes to Ms. Sopkovich for her study on smell memory!

I vowed that I would never make that mistake again. When the time came to devise a 10th grade biology project, I was an authority on scientific methodology, and I was ready to get back to what I did best… fudging data. Ms. Kolb surprised us by announcing that we would each have a $30 budget to cover supplies. (Yes, this was a public school, for those of you feeling nostalgic for the days of adequate educational funding.)

She passed around a 500 page catalog of biological supplies, and it was all in there. Petri dishes with blood agar, Petri dishes with chocolate agar, live fruit flies with different colored eyes, ether for sedating them and cover slips for squishing them. And what do you know? They sell dissection specimens. Fetal pig... $22. Sheep brain... $6. Monkey heart… $11.

Oh my God Monkey vagina… $4 for one or $20 for six.

There wasn’t a picture. Why wasn’t there a picture? They had a picture of the fetal pig. And did that say $20 for six? It was baffling beyond reason that this unusual commodity was in the catalog at all, let alone with an incentive discount. I imagined that somewhere in Germany, a bearded man in a lab coat was ripping the page out of the catalog and shouting to a roomful of collaborators, "True, we only need one to complete our study, but a deal like this can not… must not be ignored!"

I tried very hard to think of an experiment that would justify this purchase, but I just wasn’t that creative. More to the point, I wasn’t that brave. I couldn’t see myself standing by my poster, telling the judge, “Well, Ma’am, for starters I randomized the monkey vaginas into two groups of three.”

“And before I go further, let me just point out that the independent variable is which of these two groups a given monkey vagina is in.”
No, in the end I spent my $30 on milkweed bugs and sulfuric acid. The project is not worth explaining, but I will tell you this: many bugs died, and my improbable hypothesis was overwhelmingly supported by pages and pages of made up numbers. I’m sure Ms. Kolb was on to me, but she, like every other teacher, was a sucker for neat handwriting and a clear plastic binder.

With warmest regards,