Peculiar Science

There was a time when the articles in Popular Science succinctly explained new technical advances and inventions to the general public. Quite a few readers of the March/April 2016 issue are apt to be more bewildered than enlightened by some of the subjects covered.

The head scratching might begin on page 14 with the Hit List, “10 Great Ideas in Gear.” Apparently, “there’s nothing more to say” about the hydro boosters for the feet except to wonder who would pay $6,000 for objects that work only on water except maybe a desperate bathtub surfer. Then the author does some improbable wondering by asking “Why doesn’t someone make a vertical turntable?” before providing a $400 answer, claiming “It’s the coolest vinyl player around.” Just try selling that idea to a generation thriving on smartphones and smartwatches whose only experience with vinyl is grabbing that raincoat in the back of a closet.

An interview with the CEO of a $1 billion video game company carries the headline “Everyone Will Be a Gamer in the Future.” Not now, not ever. The only proof for this fantastic assertion is the executive’s unsubstantiated claim that there are “anywhere from 2 billion to 3 billion gamers out there.” They must be way, way out there in a galaxy far away from a planet with over 7 billion people.

A simple answer can be provided for the banner question to a piece on editing genomes of human embryos: “Are We Ready for Designer Babies?” No. Not now, not ever.

A full ten pages are devoted to the topic of longevity with the provocative general teaser of “Live Forever.” Nowhere among the topics of slowing aging by staving off diseases is there a mention of what the quality of life will be like for all the centenarians who will likely spend decades nodding mindlessly in wheelchairs.

Unlike the other portions of the magazine that look forward, the Manual section seems decidedly retro or, at the very least, quirky. Those who wish to emulate Colin Clive’s wild-eyed mad scientist pyrotechnics in Frankenstein can follow the step-by-step instructions for constructing a tabletop Jacob’s ladder. (Sorry–No tips for building your own monster.) For those who prefer the offbeat outdoors, readers are introduced to a weather maestro who has constructed a synthesizer controlled by the weather. “You need an applause machine” we are told so our hands do not get tired at a concert, and the woman who built such a ridiculous contraption can stop right after inventing a device that records the sound of no hands clapping. But the topper is the page devoted to listening to records with our teeth which involves everyday objects like a pencil, cardboard, shish-kebab stick, and a needle. The ideal record for this project is Gordon Lightfoot’s “Wherefore and Why.” The editors also provide tips on growing a bacterial zoo and making a mask that allows a person to smell the rainbow. And people thought Colin Clive’s Dr. Frankenstein was mad!

And that’s not all, folks. The “Ask Us Anything” department provides answers to such burning questions as “Why do shower curtains billow inward?” and “Do beards keep men warm?” The question this reader asks is “If this type of science really popular or just the latest version of Weird Tales?”







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