Adventures in Ethics and Science

Elder offspring: Why do mice have long, naked tails?

Dr. Free-Ride: Why do the tails of rats look so much like earthworms?

Elder offspring: That doesn’t answer my question.

Dr. Free-Ride: Sorry, I thought we were just making a list of life’s mysteries.

* * * * *

Younger offspring: Why are there so many bugs outside when we eat dinner outside?

Dr. Free-Ride: What am I, an entomologist?

Elder offspring: Or an insectivore?

Dr. Free-Ride: Hmm, which knows more about insects, an entomologist or an insectivore?

Elder offspring: An entomologist studies bugs.

Younger offspring: An insectivore eats bugs.

Dr. Free-Ride: Would you consider looking at a bug before you eat it “studying” a bug?

Younger offspring: Yes!

Elder offspring: No! Studying means reading a lot, and doing experiments, and learning what other people know, too. That’s how entomologists learn.

Dr. Free-Ride: So, entomologists will know a whole lot of stuff about bugs that insectivores won’t.

Younger offspring: Insectivores know how bugs taste!

Elder offspring: Eww!

Dr. Free-Ride: Well, you can’t deny that how a bug tastes is knowledge … even if it’s not the kind of knowledge I’m in a hurry to get. I bet for insectivores it’s even useful knowledge.

Younger offspring: Yeah, you don’t want to eat a yucky bug.

Elder offspring: Or a poisonous bug.

Dr. Free-Ride: I wonder, though … do you suppose on average an individual insectivore has knowledge of more bugs than an average entomologist?

Younger offspring: How many different kinds of bugs do insectivores eat?

Elder offspring: How many different kinds of bugs do entomologists study?

Dr. Free-Ride: See, I’m sure some insectivores eat only one kind of bug and others eat lots of different kinds of bugs. And I bet some entomologists study a bunch of different types of bugs and some only study one kind.

Younger offspring: So, do insectivores know more about bugs or not?

Dr. Free-Ride: I don’t know!

Elder offspring: They must know enough about bugs. Otherwise they’d go extinct.

Younger offspring: Could entomologists go extinct?

Dr. Free-Ride: Maybe professionally. Otherwise, since entomologists are human, they’re in pretty much the same boat we are.

Younger offspring: If the bugs kept us from being able to eat our food out here, maybe we would go extinct!


  1. #1 yttrai
    June 27, 2008


    I never wanted kids, until i started reading Friday Sprog Blogging. Your clan is completely awesome.

  2. #2 themadlolscientist
    June 27, 2008

    Your sprog blogging always makes me LOL.

    Oh, and why do rats and mice have tails that lok like earthworms?

  3. #3 freelunch
    June 27, 2008

    Kids are a bit unpredictable, but parents, like the Free-Rides, definitely improve the odds.

    A few decades ago, luckily, before I became a parent, I realized that the difference between great parents and okay parents is that great ones engage the kid at the kid’s level, don’t mind silly conversation, don’t demand that their child be serious all the time, don’t worry about what others think when in a conversation with the kid and pay attention to them. All in all, they just enjoy being with the kid, no matter what. Not every great parent will have every kid turn out wonderfully, but it’s a good bet. Yeah, the Free-Rides have great kids, and they probably don’t give themselves much credit for it, but I will.

  4. #4 susanta
    June 27, 2008


  5. #5 Alan Kellogg
    June 28, 2008


    You can learn about stuff by watching it. If you have lots of time and patience you can learn how rock weathers. But that takes a whole lot of time and patience. Animals are more active, so it’s easier to learn by watching them. Even then it can take some time to learn by watching.

    Back years ago I read a book on ravens in New England. The author started by studying a raven couple that lived on his property for a year, and at the end of that year thought he had them figured out. But then he decided to study the pair for another year. He learned that he had gotten a few things wrong. By the time he wrote the book he was still studying ravens and still learning new things about them.

    You do have to pay attention to what the animals are doing. You also need to accept that what an animal is doing is what the animal is doing. In any disagreement between what an expert says an animal does, and what the animal is doing, the animal wins. So if you read an expert who says that gorillas can’t get fruit from the top of this tall, thin tree, and you see a gorilla on tv pulling down that tall, thin tree to get the fruit, believe the gorilla.

  6. #6 Stephen
    June 28, 2008

    So, why do mice have naked tails?

  7. #7 Alan Kellogg
    June 29, 2008


    Because the tail coats keep dragging in the dust and getting dirty.

  8. #8 trog69
    June 29, 2008

    So, why do mice have naked tails?

    One too many cocktails. :p

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