Archive of howlers offers a salutary lesson

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It is well known that "deceased people" should not be allowed to serve food in shops. But did you know that the best test for oxygen was to apply a "growling spinster"?

A new collection of exam gaffes, published by the Institute of Biology, shows how some students can occasionally falter, and how the institute hopes teachers will use its archive of howlers as a salutary lesson for pupils.

Straightforward mistakes - such as the substitution of the word deceased for diseased, or a growling spinster for a glowing splinter - are hard to anticipate in advance. But, the institute says, students can learn from the mistakes of others.

For example, few would want to take advice from the candidate whose instructions for an experiment read: "Put your finger into an agar plate, put it into an incubator and leave it there for a week." Nor would many want to repeat the mistakes of the student who said "a 60-foot tree can break wind for up to 200 yards"; or the one who wrote that "after sewage effluent has been treated, it is used to make toilet water". Another said that "a sexually transmitted disease is gonorrhoea, the penis b ecomes inflammable".

Sometimes the students' misapprehensions are easy to understand, but sometimes examiners must be left scratching their heads. "A drone bee comes from an unfertilised egg, therefore it has no father. It has to have a mother in order to be laid.". And there is no record of whether "alage range from single cells ... up to phalluses 300 feet long" was marked correct.

Correct or not, attempts at exploration of biological processes can lead to philosophical discoveries. One candidate had the revelation that "the cerebral hemispheres are where you would find your morals".