The rules of science taught in school can be subject to interpretation. (Pixabay photo)

Mitchell’s Musings: Putting the facts, figures and folly in context

I’m by no means a scientist. I did take Biology 11 and even Chemistry 12 in high school, for some reason, but I always preferred the arts like History and English where there were no right and wrong answers necessarily and you could BS your way to an A by writing an essay slanted to how your teacher viewed the world.

I guess that’s why I went on to get a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and Political Science, subjects that were more about how the human race thought, perceived and governed the world rather than how it actually worked in reality through nature, physics, chemistry and the like.

But I do remember a couple stories from Bi 11 that our teacher, the late, great Lunky Fulton, told us in the ’70s at VSSS.

One was how his buddy and him, armed with a case of beer, disproved the scientific hypothesis that bathtubs drain one way in the southern hemisphere and the opposite way in the northern hemisphere one afternoon while on a trip to Australia. Apparently it’s more random than that, and that’s my kind of science – you get to drink beer and you get to go to Australia to do it.

The other story is more relevant to today’s topic, the previous one I just like for its own sake, about when it was discovered by scientists that plants actually take in oxygen at night and release carbon dioxide.

He told us how nurses were suddenly instructed by hospital staff to go in and remove plants from patients’ rooms, because patients need all the oxygen they can get to get better.

Except in reality, the nurses were using up more oxygen by briefly entering the room and ditching the plants, than the trivial amount the poor plants would use up during the entire night. Plus, during the day the plants would give off oxygen, thanks to photosynthesis, not to mention brighten up the place and represent much-needed goodwill from their family and friends.

So yeah, a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing, and newly learned things have to be put into a larger context.

And speaking of the ’70s and science, I remember our minor football team used to do wind sprints (running at high speeds for 40 yards or so, over and over again) at the end of practice and we were told, over and over again, not to drink any water afterwards to avoid getting “waterlogged.”

It seemed reasonable, and one of our coaches was a doctor, but try that today and someone’s mom would put it on Facebook and the coach would soon be fired for not knowing basic hydration rules and for endangering the health of young, innocent lives.

Even though apparently hyponatremia, a fancy new word for waterlogging that sounds way more scientific, is still a thing and can even be fatal – it’s just dehydration is more common and thus guarded against much more stringently. Maybe too much so, but then again maybe time and context will once again rule the day.

In the ’70s we also worried about running out of gasoline, acid rain, a recession, the ozone, a possible ice age and hippies proclaiming the end of the world.

In 2020, we worry about getting off of gasoline, climate change, a recession, the Great Pacific garbage patch, melting ice caps and conspiracy theorists proclaiming the end of the world.

Pluto is no longer a planet, but still a Disney character, and although we’ve exponentially increased knowledge at our fingertips thanks to the internet, somehow we seem more divided, more confused, more susceptible and further from the truth than ever.

The problem is that technology has increased the BS factor, alive and well in the arts and sciences all along apparently, exponentially too as a beleaguered human race tries to sift through the onslaught of facts, figures and folly coming at it at a seemingly faster pace each and every day.

Meanwhile, our attention span goes in the opposite direction.

So maybe life is a little bit arts, a little bit science, and a lot of just trying to figure it out as we go.

Something I have a feeling Lunky knew all those years ago.

Glenn Mitchell is a columnist and former editor of the Morning Star.

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