Science Lies!

SCIENCE

At the annual Festival of Bad Ad-Hoc Hypotheses, researchers offer fake theories about bugs, yawns, and belly fat—all supported by real scientific evidence. (Wall Street Journal)

Use this graphic organizer to put the scientific method in perspective.

Teachers, scroll down for a short list of key resources in our Teachers’ Toolkit.

Here is the BAHFestival hypothesis that started it all: Adaptive Infant Aerodynamics.

Discussion Ideas

  • The Festival of Bad Ad-Hoc Hypotheses is a satirical conference on evolutionary biology. What is evolutionary biology?
    • Evolutionary biology is the study of the origin, adaptations, and descent of species. Evolutionary biology may focus on biodiversity and interactions, population patterns, genetics, ecology, behavior, morphology (the form and structure of organisms), and speciation.
    • Take a look at real-world evolutionary biology in this terrific lesson from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. “Science in Paradise” is about how one evolutionary biologist, Ed Scholes, uses the scientific method to generate and answer questions about New Guinea’s beautiful birds-of-paradise. Why are these birds so unique? Why do males and females behave so differently? (Unlike the BAHFest entries, this is a real study!)
  • Real scientists at the BAH conference use the real scientific method to document their bogus theories. What is the scientific method?

 

 

These wasp larvae are slowly consuming a caterpillar from the inside out. Disgusting enough for you? Photograph by Darlyne A. Murawski, National Geographic

These wasp larvae are slowly consuming a caterpillar from the inside out. Disgusting enough for you?
Photograph by Darlyne A. Murawski, National Geographic

 

This parasitic fungus gradually takes over an ant's brain and directs it to a cool, moist location. The fungus then kills the ant, and fruiting bodies erupt from the ant's head and spread more fungal spores. Photograph courtesy David Hughes, Penn State University

This parasitic fungus gradually takes over an ant’s brain and directs it to a cool, moist location. The fungus then kills the ant, and fruiting bodies erupt from the ant’s head and spread more fungal spores.
Photograph courtesy David Hughes, Penn State University

  • Another BAHFest speaker alleged that “Influenza Knows When You’re Doing Yoga.” What real evidence did the scientist use for her bogus theory?
    • Dr. Barbara Vreede “cited real evidence of microbes manipulating a host, such as a particular fungus that causes ants to move to an environment the invader prefers.” She then posed a bogus hypotheses to say that certain human diseases only play dead to get you where they want you, like the fungus on the ant above.
    • Listen to this podcast to learn more about these real-life zombie-making fungi!

 

Do these guys just need to yawn in order to get a nutritious meal? Photograph by Peter Essick, National Geographic

Do these guys just need to yawn in order to get a nutritious meal?
Photograph by Peter Essick, National Geographic

  • Another BAHFestival speaker proposed an answer to why we yawn, “one of the enduring mysteries of human physiology.” The theory proposed that yawns allowed our ancient ancestors to better catch flying insects to eat. What real evidence did the scientist use for her bogus theory?
    • Dr. Emma Kowal cited molecular evidence that flying insects are high in nutritious protein, and biological evidence that these animals “gather in dense swarms most frequently at dawn and dusk”—when people are most likely to yawn. She also cited the way a human face distorts and analyzed the chemicals present during yawning episodes.
    • Watch this video to get a better idea about swarming insects!

 

  • What is the educational value of the Festival of Bad Ad-Hoc Hypotheses?
    • The fun festival allows scientists to share stories and evidence in a fresh, unfamiliar way. (Sure.)
  • The winner of this year’s BAHFest wasn’t a scientist at all! “In the era of Google Images and Wikipedia, all things are possible,” he said. What was his award-winning hypothesis?
    • Michael Anderson, a lawyer, hypothesized that “in ancient times, men’s belly fat served as a flotation device for them to rescue their families in times of flooding.”
  • Can you think of an everyday issue to examine from an evolutionary biology perspective? Sketch it out using our basic scientific method chart.
    • This New Jersey high school senior presented a BAH-worthy hypothesis about how facial hair is a “mobile cache to store and transport food.”
    • Keep in mind the top criteria from the BAH judges:
      • Force of Science. How much “scientific” information is brought to bear (graphs, real citations, “research” etc.)?
      • Artistry. How unexpected and clever is the idea and presentation? How well is the presentation is delivered?
      • Parsimony. The simplest theory that explains the most data is best.
      • Strength of Defense. How well did you defend your views to the judges? Please note: Being funny is not a good defense. We want to see you actually defend your terrible terrible theory!

 

TEACHERS’ TOOLKIT

Wall Street Journal: At This Conference, Scientists Spout Bogus Theories on Bugs, Yawns and Belly Fat

BAH: Festival of Bad Ad Hoc Hypotheses

Nat Geo: Scientific Method Chart

Understanding Science: The real process of science

One response to “Science Lies!

  1. Pingback: Liquid Cats and Crocodile Gambling | Nat Geo Education Blog·

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