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February 23, 2009
The Limits of Free Scientist Chow?
This piece over at Science magazine's "The Gonzo Scientist", brought back some memories. John Bohannon, in the midst of an investigation of truffles, tried an experiment on some party guests: rank a series of five patés according to taste. There were three authentic ones, two fake ones (liverwurst and whipped Spam), and. . .dog food.
He did tell people that dog food was one of the choices. Interestingly, although it ranked last in the taste test, people were no better than chance at identifying it as such. Perhaps they expected it to taste better than it did? But the reason this made me smile was thinking about the usual behavior of scientists and engineers down by the coffee machine. You know what I'm talking about - put anything down there, and people will eat it. It's a standard way of clearing out dessert-like things from home that you don't want around the place; take it to work and it'll disappear.
Well, I saw that put to the test once at a former company of mine. One of the freer spirits down the hall put out a bowl of chocolate-flavored hamster treats and sat back to watch the results. Unlike the dog-food experiment, he did not inform his subjects - but in his defense, he told me that he'd tried one himself, and that although they were somewhat gritty, he'd had worse.
Results? The hamster treats disappeared, of course. I'm just glad he didn't press on with this line of research - and as for me, I made sure never to eat anything left by the coffee machine at that end of the hallway. . .
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