« Appearances of Impropriety | Main | Michigan Law Review (FI) Symposium on the Electoral College »

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Science Ruins Everything*

It's bad enough that they've given me reason to doubt Bishop Ussher, modern geocentrism, and the efficacy of my grandmother's mustard poultice.  Now those white-coated so-and-sos explode two more of my most fondly held beliefs.  From a story in today's NY Times reporting on studies performed by Prof. Paul Dawson, a food microbiologist at Clemson, with his students:

  • [A] scientific report has some new findings that may cause football fans to take a second look at that communal bowl of dip.  The study, to be published later this year in the Journal of Food Safety, is the only one I’ve ever seen to proclaim that it was inspired by an episode of “Seinfeld.” . . . [Prof. Dawson] proposed it after he saw a rerun of a 1993 “Seinfeld” show in which George Costanza is confronted at a funeral reception by Timmy, his girlfriend’s brother, after dipping the same chip twice. . . . Professor Dawson told me that he had expected to find little or no microbial transfer from mouth to chip to dip, which would support George’s nonchalance. The results surprised him. . . . On average, the students found that three to six double dips transferred about 10,000 bacteria from the eater’s mouth to the remaining dip.  Each cracker picked up between one and two grams of dip. That means that sporadic double dipping in a cup of dip would transfer at least 50 to 100 bacteria from one mouth to another with every bite. . . . Professor Dawson said that Timmy was essentially correct. “The way I would put it is, before you have some dip at a party, look around and ask yourself, would I be willing to kiss everyone here? Because you don’t know who might be double dipping, and those who do are sharing their saliva with you.”
  • Professor Dawson encourages his undergraduate teams to test popular conceptions about food safety in the laboratory. Last year he published a paper on the five-second rule, which states that food dropped on the floor can be safely eaten if you pick it up before you can count to five. The rule turned out to be false.

Well, I gave up on geocentrism -- grudgingly.  (Eppur si non muove!)  But there's not a chance in hell I'm giving up on double-dipping -- especially if, as I do, one takes pains to reverse the chip fragment before the second dip, thus dramatically decreasing the cootie-giving nature of the second dip.  As for the five second rule, no sensible parent or glutton, and I am both, would let some mere "food microbiologist" stand in his way.

* In deference to my surgeon, the title should read "(Almost) Everything," but it read better the other way.  No offense, Dr. Cordover!     

Posted by Paul Horwitz on January 30, 2008 at 11:38 AM | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Science Ruins Everything*:


To agree with Phelps, my mother, who is a hospital nurse, had also read the article and took it to mean that this was no problem at all because the amount of bacteria transfered was so tiny. That seems to me to be the right conclusion.

Posted by: Matt | Jan 30, 2008 9:11:26 PM

Am I the only one here who realizes that we consume millions of bacteria every day, and isn't getting worked up for an extra 50 to 100?

Posted by: Phelps | Jan 30, 2008 6:18:10 PM

You're quite right. I freely confess that I was guessing as to where to place the "non," although some Googling did lead me astray. Still, a thousand pardons.

Posted by: Paul Horwitz | Jan 30, 2008 6:09:02 PM

"Eppur non si muove" -- irrational anti-Galileanism need not mean improper grammar.

Posted by: md | Jan 30, 2008 5:38:15 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.