Science in ACTION!

With any luck, I’ll be able to make a regular series out of this. If I am, it will be about applying the scientific method to real life situations.

Yesterday, I was searching for textbooks in my boxes, when I came upon two packets of Easy Mac. I knew right away that this was not the freshest stuff, since  it was given to me when my roommate’s girlfriend moved to Oregon, January of 2006. After a moment’s consideration, I hypothesized that “Easy Mac doesn’t go bad.”

If uncooked, pasta will last for ages. Most sources say one or two years is the expected shelf life of uncooked pasta, but this is Kraft we’re talking about here. Sealed in plastic bags on the factory floor, I imagine these noodles will last much longer than their less industrial brethren. Also, previous observation has shown that Kraft singles mostly just harden when left out, and don’t actually lose much in terms of flavor (I was a curious child with low hygenic standards). The cheese flavor is in powder form, and so has virtually no moisture to begin with, and is also well sealed. It’s entirely possible that virtually no “food content” is present in either of these elements. Thus we form the hypothesis.

The testing stage was next, so the Easy Mac was prepared according to the instructions on the packet, and eaten. At this stage, I was forced to revise the hypothesis to “Easy Mac does not go worse.” Still edible, though, and none of it vacated immediately from either end of the digestive tract, so I chalked it up as a success for culinary experimentation.

Today, while searching to see if I had anything else hiding about, I found five more bags! I could do more testing without having to buy more Easy Mac! This time, however, I deviated from the instructions a bit. I added half the cheese powder before the water, of which I used less, and the rest shortly before finishing. It tasted much better this time, meaning I’m going to have to test it again tomorrow, and the day after to see if it’s the individual batches, or if the preparation method has an influence.


1)This is decidedly unscientific.  I have no intention of going out and getting more Easy Mac, so we may never have “fresh” product to compare with. Also, three trials isn’t really much to work with. Finally, I didn’t even make an attempt at quantification of the “goodness” of the Easy Mac.

2) The only date I could find on the packages is “19 Feb 2006 XCN 14:01”. I thought this was a manufacture date (having a timestamp and all) but then I realized that this date was after my roommates girlfriend left Arizona. It must, therefore, be an expiration date, or something even more arcane. Sell by? Ship by? No clue. There appears to be a similar date on the cheese package, which reads “5167XCN 09:49” which is only interpretable (to me) as either May 16 ’07 or July 16 ’07. Not knowing what the XCN means, I’ve no clue which is more reasonable. The ’05 interpretation is certainly better for horror stories, though.

3) I never measure water when cooking this sort of thing.

4) Two packets were used for both tests, and will also be used for tomorrow’s test. Thursday’s test will be with one packet.


I am Skeptic

You’ve seen this post a billion times, by a billion authors. If you don’t want to read it again, don’t.

I define myself as a skeptic. This means, to me, that my default position on any question should be, “Prove it.” It doesn’t mean I automatically doubt everything, it means I don’t accept claims without evidence. I don’t accept incredible claims without incredible evidence. If you tell me that things fall, I’m likely to believe it. I’ve seen things fall, and have seen mounds of evidence in favor of the law of Gravity. When you tell me the Earth is spherical, despite appearances otherwise, I need a little more evidence, as it’s kind of an incredible claim. Fortunately, there is tons of evidence from multiple sources that show this, making it an accepted truth. The case is much the same for the claims about the structure of the Solar System. On the other hand, claims of psychic vision and the like do not have as much evidence, and the claims tend to falter under even casual observation, making them rejected under current evidence.

This is where the skeptic differentiates from the denialist and the doubter. When sufficient evidence comes to light in favor of a proposition, a skeptic will change his/her position. The denialist, on the other hand, refuses to change their opinion. For a good example of this, look at the evolution/creation ‘debates.’ The default position is that everything is as it has been since it started. This is the simplest position, and was the accepted position for some time. In the mid 1800’s, Charles Darwin proposed the idea of evolution, which is best paraphrased as “descent with modification.” When a thing propagates, it will make things like it, with some wiggle room for discrepancies. You are like your parents, but a little different. These discrepancies make the various descendants more or less likely to survive, and the ones more likely to survive pass their discrepancies on, and so forth. All these little differences add up over time, leading to speciation and other frabjous diversifications. This made all of the evidence make sense, and since then more and more evidence has come to light supporting the laws and theories of evolution, and, after a small scuffle at the outset, the scientific community accepted it as a factual representation of the natural world. I, and any sensible skeptic, find the evidence more than convincing, and accept evolution as the source of biological diversity. A denialist or doubter (as I’m using the terms) has decided that evolution must be false, for whatever reason, and either ignores the evidence, or attempts to explain it away. No evidence is good enough, and no amount of evidence will convince them otherwise.

This position cannot hold for all things, however. At some point, positions on issues become so simplified and basic, no proof can be constructed, or they are unprovable but necessary beliefs. Mine are that (1)what I experience is real, barring an outside influence (that is, I’m not hallucinating, at default state), and (2) empirical, inductive reasoning is valid. That is, if it’s held true in the past, it will continue to do so without outside influence. Sort of a Newton’s First Law of Reality. These can’t actually be proven, and are both necessary for anything else to be proven in any manner that is useful to my mind, and the mind of anyone I’ve ever met.

I can’t think of anything else to say at all. If I do, this entry’s getting edited, likely without warning or notice.