#188: Edumacation

Last Saturday I went to CSIRO (Canberra’s rather impressive science centre – they invented wireless technology, and a whole lot of other stuff) for Science Week. They have the world’s most awesomest foyer, with live plants and trees, a bridge to walk in on, and GIANT BUGS. Plus, if I’m not mistaken, that’s Joseph Banks walking down the stairs (appropriately, I didn’t notice him when I took the photo – since he is, after all, dead).

During Science Week, one of the many free things on offer was a day of science lectures designed specifically for writers – with ten actual scientists who then answered our specific questions (such as, “So it’s pretty easy for one identical twin to frame the other using DNA, right?”*)

I learnt quite a bit, including the rather disturbing info that indentikit methods of facial reconstruction are not only inaccurate, but they actually impair memory (because we remember faces holistically, so ANY method other than holding the whole image in our heads – including writing down a description – makes the memory disintegrate).

I also found out that DNA scientists bought whale meat in a Japanese market and tested the DNA. Unsurprisingly, they discovered that:

1) Some of the whale meat was from species that are not used for scientific testing.

2) Some of the whale meat was not from Japanese waters.

3) One of the whales was a specific whale that had died in Iceland. . . four years earlier.

So, whaleburgers, anyone?

Someone in Japan has one seriously large freezer. I wonder what’s at the VERY bottom of it. Personally, my freezer has a kind of brown goo. I bet theirs has a LOT of brown goo. And at least one work experience kid who took a wrong turn.**

One of the scientist types answering our macabre queries was actually a cop – the one Gabrielle Lord’s Jack McCann is based on (they’re now friends). He was quick to point out that Gabrielle had changed various details about him – including his physical prowess. He told this story:

After telling the suspect who I was and that he was arrested, I took him by the arm and led him outside, where my car was parked. When he saw my car, he pulled away and bolted. I ran after him.

After a hundred metres, I was slowing down – but so was he. Hoping to psychologically break him, I called out, “You’ll have to run faster than that!”

He turned back, looked at me and said, “No I won’t.”

In the end, the suspect was apprehended, but the poor cop was so puffed he was unable to call it in for half an hour.

Awesome.

We also discovered that CSI is unrealistic (WHAT?!?!?! My thesis is RUINED), and that Gulliver’s magnetic island technology doesn’t actually work (although for a decade or two it was increasingly plausible).

Oh, and I stopped to chat to Charles Darwin (which was weird, when one of our lecturers clearly had a giant crush on him. I felt like I should call her over and say, “The guy you like is here!”)

I liked the dinosaur, too.

And here’s your rainforest picture of today, from flickr.com:

*Well – yes.

**Or DID they???

7 thoughts on “#188: Edumacation

  1. …So… you were SURPRISED to learn that Flying Island technology is not practical…?

    Also: look at the way that dinosaur is looking at Darwin.
    I think it might be a Creationist.

    • Ben: I thought the dino looked like it wanted to jump on his shoulder like a Disney-style talking-animal BFF. Appropriate choice of species, I thought.

  2. indentikit methods of facial reconstruction are quite inaccurate, however, recalling the details of a face don’t destroy the ability to identify it later on completely. IIRC the phenomenon is called verbal overshadowing, and I’m not sure why they’d explain that detail writers, as it’s rather hotly debated in psychology ATM, and may be a number of things.

    How to do a proper lineup would be much more relevant.

    • The human ability to accurately recall ANYTHING about ANYONE after ANY amount of time is shockingly bad, and there is a large number of experiments that show that many, many things – including the whole ‘did his nose look like this?… how about this…?’ process of creating Identikit pictures introduces interference with original memories and degrades recall accuracy still further.

      The reason for this effect is (vaguely) controversial, but that the effect exists is not.

    • Hi NiroZ, thanks for that detail. It’s true she only mentioned one study (the crossword one). She did also talk about how it’s very important that witnesses are told, “The perpetrator may not be in this group” when looking at a line-up of suspects.

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