WA Skeptics Awards 2008
The original article, of which this is an abridged and updated version, appeared in the Skeptic 28(3), 44-45, 2008.
Dr Michael Shermer, founder of the US magazine Skeptic and author of the
This year there were seven entries from a total of ten students and two schools, which resulted in two Certificates of Merit and one Honourable Mention. The poor response was largely our fault. Although we made contact with each school's science teachers via a two-page article "Innovations in the Classroom: Critical Thinking in Years 8-12" in the 25 April 2008 issue of their quarterly journal SCIOS, which has a circulation of more than 700, it appeared too close to our 31 May deadline to be effective. Note that the deadline for 2009 onwards will be 30 June.
Topics widen horizons
Year 8 (2 entries from 3 students)
Year 9 (2 entries from 3 students)
Year 10 (3 entries from 4 students)
Certificates of Merit
Investigating Myths about Pyramids by a student in year 10. Is it true that pyramids create dry air so that water evaporates faster and organic matter is preserved? A literature survey found dubious evidence for and more convincing evidence against. So a test was made using a small pyramid 10 cm high made of hardboard. Its effect was observed first on a small container of water vs a duplicate kept outside the pyramid as a control, and then on half a cherry tomato vs the other half outside the pyramid (the pyramid was too small to accommodate anything larger). Each was observed for a week. If anything there was less evaporation inside the pyramid, probably because it provided shelter from drafts, and the half-tomato inside went rotten faster than the control. Conclusion: pyramid effects are a myth. The entry was very readable and was a good example of initiative in the midst of indifference, being the only entry from one of the larger senior high schools in WA with 1300 secondary students. 10 pages with 6 references.
Is the Bloody Mary myth true? by two students in year 10. As the legend goes, a young woman called Mary was executed because she practised the Black Arts. If, in a darkened room with a candle on either side of a mirror, you spin round chanting "Bloody Mary" she will appear in the reflection on the 13th chant and then scratch your face, or pull you into the mirror to live with her forever. It doesn't work for Catholics. The myth has been tested since the 1970s but with no record of it having been confirmed.
The authors put their knowledge of the Bloody Mary myth on to paper.
A survey of 62 students in year 10 showed that 35 had tried the myth and had lived, which is inconclusive. So we decided to make a proper test. The myth was tested with a mirror and two candles in a bathroom with 8 non-Catholic classmates (not us since we were Catholic). As each one started chanting we all pretty much stopped breathing, with shivers down our spines. When the 13th chant was reached we opened the door, and each time we saw with our own eyes that nothing had happened. We then tried variations like using only one candle, having the subjects try different chants like "Hell Mary", having them start by shouting "Bloody Mary come out", and having them start with a whisper and end up yelling. But still nothing happened. Finally we filled our bedroom with mirrors and reflective objects (it took a few days to set up without our parents knowing), and all eight subjects chanted together (it was a windy night and all of us were shaking in fright). But again nothing happened other than the wind howling. Conclusion: this hundred-year-old legend is just a scary myth. 5 pages with no references.