Sure, its traumatic, but some scientists/MDs could have used a lesson like this when they were younger.

I’ve never been very good at math or science. I enjoyed the stories embedded in history and literature but lost interest when it came to periodic functions and the table of elements. So in sixth grade, when each member of my class was responsible for creating an experiment to show at the school’s science fair in late April, I felt about as excited as I’d feel today if I were told I had to attend a live reenactment of the entire first season of Grey’s Anatomy. My dad, on the other hand, was thrilled. He had spent the past twenty-five years performing medical and scientific research.

“Now you can get a glimpse into what my life is like every god- damned day,” he told me the night I received my assignment. “I’m going to be on your ass every step of the way. You will have the greatest science experiment that school has ever seen, or you will fucking die trying.”

“Will you do it with me?” I pleaded.

“What? No, I already do it all the goddamned day on my own. That’s what I just told you.”

He took a seat on our living room couch and motioned for me to take a seat next to him.

“Now, experiments start with a question. What do you want to know?”

I thought about it for a few seconds. “I think the dog is cool,” I said, motioning toward Brownie, our five-year-old chocolate Lab mix.

“What? What the hell does that mean? That’s not a fucking question.”

Comments

  1. #1 Travis
    June 4, 2010

    I like this father. I hope he really said it like that, I love the harshness.

  2. #2 chris
    June 4, 2010

    As a father, this is sort of what I would do. Well, minus the swearing and the shaming. But I would probably make him present as his experiemnt the fact that he made stuff up, with an explanation, with examples, as to why that’s such a wrong thing to do.

  3. #3 Coriolis
    June 4, 2010

    Unbe-fucking-lievable. I don’t know if the dad should get a medal or be put in a mental institution. Probably both.

  4. #4 Optimus Primate
    June 4, 2010

    Love it!

  5. #5 bob
    June 4, 2010

    I do like how the father handled the dishonesty.

    The only thing that bothers me is the fact that most school science fairs seem to emphasis only one “scientific method”.

  6. #6 DRK
    June 4, 2010

    I notice that this kid did not become a scientist, but a writer. Not really surprised. Seems to me that if you really cared about teaching a kid the scientific method and the importance of intellectual honesty, instead of just gotcha stuff and how to be an asshole, you check in with your kid more than twice in two weeks. Just sayin’.

  7. #7 Sili
    June 5, 2010

    Ossum.

    I think we should use being sent to their room as a punishment for fraud and deceit. I’m inclined to say that Wakefield should get a slap on his bottom as well, but I disapprove of corporal punishment.

  8. #8 John Marley
    June 5, 2010

    @bob

    What?

    Observe,
    Hypothesize,
    Experiment /further observations,
    Revise and repeat

    What other scientific methods are there?

  9. #9 kevin R
    June 5, 2010

    it is obvious the kid wanted to do his experiment on Brownie in motion

  10. #10 Jesse
    June 5, 2010

    @8 I would argue that that is *the* scientific method, but that some of those steps can have some overlap. You can be observing and hypothesizing, for example. It doesn’t mean that you aren’t being a bit sloppy (or not) or that you will get the right answer. On the other hand, there are some problems with how it is applied in many science fairs. Kids aren’t looking at something and saying “wow, that’s interesting, I wonder…” A lot of times, projects seems canned and ridged.

    BTW, I did torpedo one poor kid’s project at the last state science fair. I typically judge as a special judge, so I pretty much look at all of the projects. One particular kid had a project that should not have made it up to state level. He did an experiment on “which welding rods are stronger” and compared 7018 to 6011. I can look at the numbers and tell you that the 70 means 70,000psi tensile strength, the 60 means 60,000 psi tensile strength and you have your answer. The 3rd digit means what positions the rod can be used in and the 4th digit has to do with coatings, hydrogen content, etc… I knew this, but the regular judges looking at his project did not. I made it known that all you need to do is to look at the numbers printed on the rod, explained how, and the kid did not win anything.

  11. #11 Dale Husband
    June 6, 2010

    With a father like that, no kid would want to do science as an adult. What a disgraceful story!

  12. #12 harold
    June 6, 2010

    Mixed message.

    Correct lessons – 1) Lying and cheating are despicable (and frequently self-defeating). 2) When you do screw up, come clean, learn a lesson, take some significant consequences that reinforce the lesson, and move on.

    Bad lessons – 1) Intense negative reinforcement is the way to maximize learning (how bitterly ironic that the experiment involved dog training). 2) Losing your cool and flipping out at a much smaller human being until someone else has to calm you down is a good way to demonstrate authority. 3) Unsupervised children should be held to the same standards as adults. And of course 4) Don’t study science because this is how it works – we just wait for you to screw up and then let you have it.

    Basically, I would say that, yes, overall, this is within the bounds of good parenting, broadly defined. The kid wasn’t traumatized beyond repair, and the most important lesson got through.

    On the other hand, the experimental idea was a rather cool one for that age level. Instead of encouragement, the kid got left on his own, and then got clobbered for being a kid.

    And he’s still mad at his father. If you don’t think so, imagine how the father would feel reading this story.

    A lot, lot, lot better than a father who teaches you to be full of bullshit, but room for improvement.

    And yes, it is much, much, much easier to say this after the fact than to deal with kids in real life.

  13. #13 embertine
    June 7, 2010

    kevin R: You, sir, are a scholar and a gentleman. Plus you made me LOL.

  14. #14 Mu
    June 7, 2010

    Don’t mention Brownian motion. I spent an afternoon in PChem lab demonstrating that Brownian motion is as random as Niagara falls (which happens when you squeeze the drop by contacting the glass slide with the objective).
    As for the story, if that dad really needed that many expletives to get the subject over to his son, he was the disgrace to science himself.

  15. #15 Jud
    June 8, 2010

    I may be missing something here, but are people really thinking “Will you do it with me?” is despicable lying/cheating? Passing over for the moment what proportion of 6th grade science fair participants do their projects entirely on their own with no parental help (rather small, I’d guess), and the implied very wrong “lesson” that scientific inquiry these days is a solitary pursuit, I’d characterize that question more as a plea for help than a request to cheat.

    Dad says “You make me proud or die!”, kid responds essentially “Please show me what you want me to do,” and folks think this is somehow disgraceful behavior on the kid’s part?

  16. #16 stogoe
    June 8, 2010

    I think it’s hilarious that people are appalled.

    It’s a narrative, guys. The story itself is bullshit, or at least as bullshit as the faked dog-shape data. The author has vague emotional memories of his father being upset that he faked his way through a science fair, but the real facts of the matter are boring. So he gins it up to be more compelling, and in doing so, it becomes a better story but with less of the “actually happened in the way it’s described”. This is what happens with memoirs all the fucking time.