Because I went to art school, I understand how science works. When I’m zipping around Brooklyn trying to find a communal apartment so I can regress to my twenties and I walk into a duplex where a potential roommate is cooking up some body wax on the stove top because he’s about to strip off all his chest hair in order to make more money go-go dancing, I immediately recognize the chemical processes involved. And I make hypotheses.
But also there are real scientists out there doing awesome experiments like “What Would Happen if We Created a Mouse Utopia?” and “Maybe Lead Poisoning Is Responsible for Juvenile Delinquency Let’s Check That Out,” so I discard all my own research (“Do I Have Heartburn? Is This What Heartburn Feels Like?”) and just concentrate on supplementing their findings.
1) The mouse utopia/dystopia. Move a colony of mice into a “heaven” of your own manufacture and watch them breed until they refuse to breed further because they’re so depressed by overpopulation. Watch them have total meltdowns because they can’t find meaningful social roles. Watch them join OkCupid. Watch them fill scores of composition books with their jaded musings. Watch them wither and die. Watch me preside over their ornate burial services because mice are so funny and cute.
2) The lead poisoning hypothesis. Take inner-city living conditions that are already miserable and unforgiving and add neurological toxins. Watch how your children turn out. Watch how they’re hobbled by poverty, prejudice, and coordinates before they even have a chance to sample Earth’s full range of venom. Watch how they turn to a life of crime because the lead has deteriorated the myelin in their brains. Watch me chug this Big Gulp full of vintage gasoline because both of these theories are so discouraging.
On the surface the two studies have little in common–one is about mice and one is about crime–but popular science drives readers to make grandiose conclusions about the demise of humanity so we can feel smarter when we’re mingling by the cheese table at parties. Both studies want to prove (confirmation bias) that there are good reasons we’re falling apart. There are too many mice in the cage! There are too many toxic fumes in the baby’s crib! I am secretly a dolphin! Root vegetables cause blindness! Hirsute go-go dancers make twice as many tips! [It is frustrating when I can’t be serious for five goddamn minutes. My fellow scientists are trying to get me moved to another laboratory.]
And the lead poisoning article is somewhat problematic, as you might imagine. It’s just too elegant and its conclusions too costly to taxpayers. But who would dare question the study on rodent/human malaise, wherein:
Lone females retreated to isolated nesting boxes on penthouse levels. Other males, a group Calhoun termed “the beautiful ones,” never sought sex and never fought—they just ate, slept, and groomed, wrapped in narcissistic introspection.
And who, for that matter, would dare stop me from building my own rat castle, where the walls are painted in Pb(CH2CH3)4 compounds and I’ve isolated for variables such as some rats having a bigger “babe quotient” than other rats? And what about if I put a pea under every rat mattress and then the experiment was also a fairy tale? And what if we are all going to die alone and dystopic anyway so ultimately this study proves nothing? And what about that time I got kind of drunk and tried to do science? What about that? I can’t wait to replicate these results tomorrow night and the next. Sleep well, rat kingdom. Don’t eat my face.