15 December 2010

Wednesday funny, a sad commentary

This story, worded as a newspaper article, may have made its rounds more than once, but it's been a long time since I last saw it. Do you remember usenet newsgroups like rec.humor.funny? Were you even on the internets when newsgroups, a kind of text-based on-line sharing forum that is actually still popular, came into widespread use? Are you too young to have any idea what, if anything, came before Facebook? I don't want to scare anyone out there, but did you know that the web did not appear spontaneously, a ubiquitous eye on the activities and concerns of billions of people around the globe, a benevolent Big Brother that was placed on the Earth to receive and distribute to the masses a minute-by-minute account of your daily life? 
A student at Eagle Rock Junior High won first prize at the Greater Idaho Falls Science Fair, April 26. He was attempting to show how conditioned we have become to alarmists practicing junk science and spreading fear of everything in our environment. In his project he urged people to sign a petition demanding strict control or total elimination of the chemical "dihydrogen monoxide."

And for plenty of good reasons, since:
  1. it can cause excessive sweating and vomiting;
  2. it is a major component in acid rain;
  3. it can cause severe burns in its gaseous state;
  4. accidental inhalation can kill you;
  5. it contributes to erosion;
  6. it decreases effectiveness of automobile brakes;
  7. it has been found in tumors of terminal cancer patients.
He asked 50 people if they supported a ban of the chemical. Forty-three (43) said yes, six (6) were undecided, and only one (1) knew that the chemical was water.

The title of his prize-winning project was, "How Gullible Are We?"

He feels the conclusion is obvious.
By my calculation, we are about 92% gullible, generously counting "undecided" as half of a "yes."  Recast into the more contemporary campaign for scientific literacy, the measure is probably even more chilling...

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