Appliance of science to stripy bow ties

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Ever since Melvyn Bragg started being interested in science and having lots of scientists on his Start the Week show, lots of ordinary people have started being interested in science and asking scientific questions that they have never asked before, such as, "Why are there so many scientists on Start the Week and, statistically speaking, is it against the odds to have so many, especially geneticists, on the programme?"

The trouble is that there is nowhere the ordinary person can turn to in order to get the answer to this sort of scientific question, as you will know if you have ever tried ringing up the Start the Week office, which is why I have today hired Dr Vernon Goldtooth, professor of science and media studies at Milton Keynes University, to answer all your science- oriented queries. Take it away, Vern!

Every spring the earth is laden with blossom from countless cherry trees, not to mention those strange sickly greeny-yellow flowers from the springtime sycamore tree. Every autumn the earth is laden with the falling leaves, whirling down dead and discarded by the first fierce winds of numb-fingered November. What I want to know is: Is the earth heavier in spring and autumn because of all this deposited stuff from trees?

Dr Vernon Goldtooth writes: What a ridiculous question, and may I also advise you to go easy on the assonance? The answer is no. The total weight never changes because a leaf weighs the same whether it is on the tree or on the ground. You might as well say that when people travel to the sun for their holidays, the transference of all these people changes the weight distribution of the planet and makes it heavier in certain places.

Well, does it?

Dr Vernon Goldtooth writes: No, of course it bloody doesn't. The weight of the planet never changes because matter can neither be created nor destroyed.

Who says so?

Dr Vernon Goldtooth writes: I say so. Every reputable scientist says so. Everyone says so.

Go on, then - prove it.

Dr Vernon Goldtooth writes: No, I won't! If a scientists had to prove basic principles every time he had a discussion, we would never get anywhere.

All right, then - if matter cannot be created or destroyed, can ideas be created and destroyed?

Dr Vernon Goldtooth writes: In what way?

Well, in the way that ideas become fashionable for a few years and are then exploded. Are they literally exploded? Are they destroyed? Fashion ideas, for example.

Dr Vernon Goldtooth writes: Ah, no - fashion ideas are never destroyed, they always come back again. However ridiculous they seem at the time, whether flared jeans, black berets, odd-coloured socks, stripy bow ties or T-shirts saying "Che Guevara". They always come round again.

What about ideas discussed on 'The Moral Maze' on Radio 4? Aren't they destroyed during the discussion? Or at least left very badly damaged?

Dr Vernon Goldtooth writes: Ah, but The Moral Maze is not a programme about ideas. It is a soap opera about four or five people who can't stand each other shut up in a room together. The interest lies in seeing who gets on whose nerves. The other day I came home and my wife said: "You should have heard The Moral Maze today - Martin Bell, who was one of the witnesses, rounded furiously on Dr David Starkey, and Starkey hardly spoke again in the rest of the programme!" I asked her what they were arguing about, but she could hardly remember the ideas involved - what had struck her was the personal relationship. You see? We only think it is a discussion programme because it has a name like The Moral Maze. Name-changing changes the nature of the object.

I don't think I quite understand.

Dr Vernon Goldtooth writes: Oh, it happens all the time. Sinn Fein, for example, have always denied any connection with the IRA, which rather strains credulity, so the Ulster Unionists rather wittily have recently taken to referring to Sinn Fein as "Sinn Fein/IRA" as if there were no difference. Similarly, John Prescott has recently started referring to Dr Brian Mawhinney as MISTER Mawhinney, as if Mawhinney were not a real doctor, which indeed he isn't, any more than Mr Ian Paisley is. It may be only a coincidence, but the fortunes of both Sinn Fein and Brian Mawhinney have gone down since then.

Got any questions you would like half-answered? Then send them in to Dr Vernon Goldtooth! And don't forget - Dr Vernon Goldtooth would VERY much like to be invited on to 'Start the Week'.

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