the Truth About Discoveries
by Mad Dog
The media tries to
make even the most mundane discovery appear to be life-altering. To them
every experimental drug is a miracle cure. Each archeological find
radically alters what we know about the history of mankind.
||Every day we learn about
new discoveries. If it’s not scientists spotting 11 new moons orbiting
Jupiter—bringing the total number of full moons Jovians have to deal
with to a scary 39, it’s that eating french fries, potato chips, and
breakfast cereal might cause cancer. While neither of these have reached
the same level of news noise as the discoveries that Enron overstated
its profits by $586 million, WorldCom boosted its by a paltry $3.8
billion, and K-Mart managed to lose $1 billion in April alone, they’re
still pretty interesting. Especially if you owned stock in any of these
companies because you might find yourself having to live on potatoes for
a while and it’s good to know they’re healthier boiled than fried.
We all enjoy discoveries. They’re fun, they’re
educational, and they let us sit back and say “Damn, just when I
thought I’d seen everything.” This in turn causes us to spend the
rest of the day wondering exactly when it was we passed the halfway mark
of turning into our parents. We like discoveries so much there’s even
a cable channel devoted to them, the aptly named Discovery Channel,
though these days most of their shows seem to involve analyzing evidence
found at crime scenes. If they continue this trend there will be a great
big discovery hole in the cable line-up because they’ll have to change
their name to the Crime Re-creation and Forensic Science Channel.
Hopefully the acronym CRFSC will start to feel familiar before they redo
the signs on their mall stores to go with it. Don’t be surprised if
this Christmas, instead of asking for a Croc Hunter remote control
truck, your kids have a very different wish list. “Mom, can I have
Lab-Rat Larry’s DNA Polymerase Chain Reactor Kit? Ple-e-e-ase? All the
other kids have one.”
question Scotchgard is a good thing. After all, without it we’d have
to leave the clear plastic on the new couch, couldn’t eat tacos while
driving, and would still have to lay newspapers on the bedspread each
time we rented a hotel room by the hour.
||The way the media covers
every little discovery, it can be difficult to tell a bona fide one from
a minor, moderately enlightening elucidation, especially since the media
tries to make even the most mundane discovery appear to be
life-altering. To them every experimental drug is a miracle cure. Each
archeological find radically alters what we know about the history of
mankind. And every cute teenage girl with a flat stomach, pierced belly
button, and the ability to lip synch who can take instructions from a
choreographer, voice teacher, and fashion advisor is a pop star.
The truth is, most discoveries are very run of the
mill. Every year since 1973 the National Inventors Hall of Fame (motto:
“We sure hope someone invents a more original name soon.”) has been
honoring people who made important discoveries. After running through
the biggies early on, including Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell,
and the Wright Brothers, they found themselves honoring inventors like
Henry Timken, who came up with the tapered roller bearing. This past
December they got so desperate they inducted Patty Sherman and Samuel
Smith for having invented Scotchgard.
There’s no question Scotchgard is a good thing.
After all, without it we’d have to leave the clear plastic on the new
couch, couldn’t eat tacos while driving, and would still have to lay
newspapers on the bedspread each time we rented a hotel room by the
hour. But it can hardly be called history-changing. Perhaps the Hall of
Fame will make up for it next year by inducting Bill Bissell, the band
director for the University of Washington who invented The Wave and,
unfortunately, died this past year without ever receiving the widespread
acclaim he deserved. It was a shame he couldn’t call his stadium
arm-raising movement The Bissell, but the carpet cleaning machine
manufacturer would have filed suit in a heartbeat.
Maybe someone else will discover why a Gallup poll found
that the average person on the West Coast has 0.8 fewer personal friends
than the national average. And how that eight-tenths of a friend manages
to stay alive.
||You’ve probably heard
the well-known quote attributed to Patent Office Commissioner Henry
Ellsworth, “Everything that can be invented has been invented."
Well, it’s wrong. It’s now been discovered that Ellsworth never said
it. Apparently someone completely made it up, which is a pretty good
invention in itself. Maybe not Hall of Fame caliber, but hey, we can’t
all come up with the car radio like William Lear.
It’s not as if there’s a shortage of new
discoveries. Recently, Dutch scientist Marc
Van Roosmalen discovered two new species of monkey. And David E.
Cummings of the University of Washington discovered that the hormone
ghrelin may be a major factor in obesity. But there are still many
things yet to be discovered. With luck, someone will discover how a
13-year-old boy in Ohio managed to spend $2 million buying a helicopter,
a jet, and other items using a computer at school and a friend’s
mother’s eBay account. Maybe someone else will discover why a Gallup
poll found that the average person on the West Coast has 0.8 fewer
personal friends than the national average. And how that eight-tenths of
a friend manages to stay alive. And who knows, maybe someone will
discover how to use an empty cigarette carton, worthless stock
certificates, and an orange jumpsuit to brighten up a dank and dreary
jail cell. Someone named Martha, for example. That would be certainly be
worth a nomination into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.
©2002 Mad Dog
Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
These columns appear in better newspapers across the country.
Read them while playing with a tapered rolling bearing.