Weird Science


By Dave Barry, The Miami Herald, March 20, 1998
http://www.herald.com/archive/barry/archive/98mar22.htm


So your school is having a science fair!  Great!  The science fair has
long been a favorite educational tool in the American school system, and
for a good reason:  Your teachers hate you.

Ha ha!  No, seriously, although a science fair can seem like a big
"pain," it can help you understand important scientific principles, such
as Newton's First Law of Inertia, which states:  "A body at rest will
remain at rest until 8:45 p.m. the night before the science-fair project
is due, at which point the body will come rushing to the body's parents,
who are already in their pajamas, and shout, 'I JUST REMEMBERED THE
SCIENCE FAIR IS TOMORROW AND WE GOTTA GO TO THE STORE RIGHT NOW!'"

Being driven to the store by pajama-wearing parents at the last minute
is the most important part of any science-fair project, because your
project, to be legal, must have an Official Science Fair Display Board.
This is a big white board that you fold into three sections, thus giving
it the stability that it needs to collapse instantly when approached by
humans.  The international scientific community does not recognize any
scientific discovery that does not have an Official Science Fair Display
Board teetering behind it; many top scientists fail to win the Nobel
Prize for exactly this reason.

Once you have returned home and gotten your display board folded into
three sections (allow about six hours for this) it's time to start
thinking about what kind of project to do.  The prize-winning projects
are the ones that clearly yet imaginatively demonstrate an interesting
scientific principle.  So you can forget about winning a prize.  What
you need is a project that can be done at 1 a.m. using materials found
in your house.  Ideally, it should also involve a minimum of property
damage or death, which is why, on the advice of this newspaper's legal
counsel, we are not going to discuss some of our popular project topics
from previous years, such as "What Is Inside Plumbing?" and
"Flame-Proofing Your Cat."

Whatever topic you select, your project should be divided into three
parts:  (1) The Hypothesis; (2) The Part That Goes After The Hypothesis;
and (3) The Conclusion (this should always be the same as the
Hypothesis).

The hypothesis -- which comes from the Greek words "hypot," meaning
"word," and "hesis," meaning "that I am looking up in the dictionary
right now" -- is defined as "an unproved theory, proposition,
supposition, etc. tentatively accepted to explain certain facts."  For
example, a good hypothesis for your science-fair project might be:
"There is a lot of gravity around."  You could prove this via an
experiment in which you pick up various household items such as
underwear, small appliances, siblings, etc., and observe what happens
when you let go of them.  Your conclusion would of course be:  "There is
a lot of gravity around."  This would be dramatically illustrated, in
your science-fair exhibit, by the fact that your Official Science Fair
Display Board was lying face-down on the floor.

If that project sounds like too much effort, you might consider
duplicating the one that my wife swears she did in the seventh grade
late on the night before the science fair.  It was called "Waves," and
it consisted entirely of a baking pan filled with water, and a pencil.

"You swished the pencil around in the water, and it made waves," my wife
explained.

I asked her what scientific principle this project demonstrated, and,
after thinking about it for a moment, she answered:  "The movement of
the water."

Impossible though it may sound, I did a project in sixth grade that was
even lamer than that.  It was called "Phases of the Moon," and it
consisted of a small rubber ball that I had darkened half of by
scribbling on it with a pen.  You were supposed to rotate the ball, thus
demonstrating scientifically that the phases of the Moon were caused by,
I don't know, ink.

The total elapsed time involved in conceiving of and constructing this
project was maybe 10 minutes, of which at least nine were devoted to
scribbling.  But it still might have been a success had it not been for
the fact that some of my fellow students found it amusing to snatch up
the Moon and throw it, so that it became sort of a gypsy exhibit,
traveling around the Harold C. Crittenden Junior High School gymnasium,
landing in and becoming part of other projects, helping to demonstrate
magnetism, photosynthesis, etc.  So my project ended up being just a
sign saying "PHASES OF THE MOON" sitting on an otherwise bare naked
table, the scientific implication being that the Moon is a very moody
celestial body that sometimes gets in a phase where it just takes off
without telling anybody.

Of course if you want to get a good grade, you have to do a project that
will impress your teachers.  Here's a proven winner:

"HYPOTHESIS -- That (Name of Teacher) and (Name of Another Teacher)
would prefer that I not distribute the photo I took of them when they
were 'chaperoning' our class trip to Epcot Center and they ducked behind
the cottage-cheese exhibit in the Amazing World Of Curds."

Depending on the quality of your research, you might get more than a
good grade from your teachers:  You might get actual money!  Yes,
science truly can be rewarding.  So why wait until the last minute to
start your science-fair project?  Why not get started immediately on
exploring the amazing world of science, without which we would not have
modern technology.  Television, for example.  Let's turn it on right
now.










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