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I Have No Control

Please Note: The following post was written on breaks at work and is now being typed into the computer by me. This is often the case with my posts, but I felt the need to specifically point it out because of my first sentence. Is that silly? Oh, hell, when am I not?

I am eating a few peanuts. Not too many, because I want to save most of them for my next break. But a few, because I am hungry. I make a note of this because it occurred to me that I could eat just one peanut and thus disprove the truism that nobody can eat just one peanut.

Then I thought, “Surely somebody has eaten just one peanut for precisely that reason.” There are many people who just have to be that way. For example, I know of at least two people who have purposefully sat and watched a pot boil. Come to think of it, I’ve watched a pot boil myself. Not to disprove the adage but because I did not have anything better to do while I waited for it to boil.

I wrote the preceding during my first break at work. I spent the next couple of hours trying to think of other cliches to disprove. Of course I have written about Cliches Revisited before; it is one of my favorite topics. I thought this time I could approach it from the angle of practical experiments to prove or disprove cliches.

I did not come up with any but in writing that paragraph I suddenly realized that the so-called experiments I mentioned before are not true scientific experiments. They lack a control.

I remember when I was in 8th grade (or was it 9th?), we learned about experiments. Our assignment was to pick a saying and devise an experiment to prove or disprove it. I picked, “If you kill a ladybug it will rain.” My experiment was to get seven ladybugs, kill one a day for a week and see if it rained. Kind of hard on the ladybugs, but I didn’t intend to actually carry out the experiment.

The teacher said my experiment lacked a control. At first I thought, “What for? The control is The rest of the time when I’m not doing the experiment.” Eventually the lesson sank in. You have to compare the ladybug-killing week to a specific non-ladybug-killing week. That is how you obtain scientific evidence.

So how do you do a control for the experiments I mentioned earlier? Would you eat a whole lot of peanuts or not eat any peanuts? Perhaps I need to consult an actual scientist about that one. The boiling water thing seems pretty straightforward. Just don’t watch a pot and see if it boils. I know: how can you see if it boils if you don’t watch it at least a little? Obviously this scientific stuff is not as easy as it may at first appear.

Full disclosure: I only started writing this because I had absolutely no idea of what to write about so just jotted down my immediate thoughts to get my pen moving. I kind of like what I ended up with. I am a little regretful that I only mentioned two cliches, though. After all, three’s the charm. Or is it?

3 responses »

  1. When I was working at the big daily, that whole hoo-hah about the 12-year-old Yankees fan who could have caused his team a homer by snagging a ball hit by Derek Jeter by reaching over the outfield fence had the ump ruled it fan interference was all anybody could talk about. Fans shouldn’t reach over into fair territory. How dare the kid? Blah blah blah. So I wadded up a piece of paper and walked around the newsroom and tossed it at 10 random journalists. All 10 of them reached up and caught it. I wrote a column about my “science experiment” that proved it was impossible for the kid to leave that ball alone. But now when I read about your ladybugs, MVG, I don’t think I had a control, so I’m glad no teacher wrote a letter-to-the-editor to bawl me out.

    • I seem to remember that brouhaha but never realized the kid was 12. I think we could cut a break to a 12-year-old. How would you do a control for your paper ball throwing experiment? You could hardly not throw the ball, because obviously nobody would catch a ball that wasn’t thrown. Perhaps there are experiments for which there are not reliable controls. That sounds like a topic worthy of some half-baked philosophy on one of my Lame Post Fridays.


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