They Call This Progress?


March 24, 1991|By Dave Barry

Several alert readers have sent me an alarming report fro the Associated Press wire service. Normally I disregard reports from the Associated Press, because I used to work there, which is a sure sign of an incompetent organization. Oh, it sounds impressive. You hear "Associated Press," and you think of a vast news-gathering organization, with thousands of observant reporters out gathering news; whereas when I was there, all I did was sit in a small windowless office and rewrite stories out of the Philadelphia Bulletin.

I'd send these stories out on the wire to various newspapers, including the Philadelphia Bulletin, which would sometimes reprint them. I almost never went outside the actual building except to put money in the parking meter. If I had seen a nuclear mushroom cloud rising over downtown Philadelphia, my reaction, a newsman, would have been: "Huh! I hope the Bulletin comes out soon, so I can report this!"

Nevertheless this alarming AP story I received recently has the ring of truth. It states that a team of Japanese scientists has, quote, "successfully revived small insects after deep-freezing them for nearly two weeks." The specific type of insect they revived was: the flea. I am not making this up. They took some fleas, got them down to minus 321 degrees, then revived them, and they (the scientists) are proud of this.

When this kind of news item appears, we are forced to ask ourselves whether the scientific community has been drinking from the test tubes again. I bet you have never, in your entire life, heard a normal human say: "Boy! I sure am losing a lot of sleep over the fact that fleas could be freezing to death and we wouldn't know how to revive them!" In fact, normal humans are constantly looking for new ways to kill fleas, especially if they (the humans) own dogs, because the only natural defense that dogs have against fleas is scratching, which is almost useless. Because of poor design, a dog's leg can only scratch about two square inches of its body. The fleas are well aware of this fact. The first thing they do when they occupy a dog is put up tiny signs that say: "Scratch Zone! Keep Out!"

Nevertheless dogs keep scratching there, because what else can they do? Form support groups? Most dogs like to do their serious scratching at 2:45 a.m. while standing next to a wall that resonates loudly when the dog's leg hits it. The household will be sound asleep, and suddenly Whompa Whompa Whompa Whompa, a terrifying noise shocks you violently awake, causing you to break the Olympic indoor record for Vertical Leap Out of Bed. Meanwhile the fleas, safe in the Demilitarized Zone, are drinking blood and laughing until all 17,000 of their eyes water. And scientists are reviving these little dirtbags.

And this is not an isolated instance of deranged behavior on the part of the scientific community. You may recall that a couple of years ago, some genetic researchers proudly announced that, after expending a tremendous amount of time and money, they had managed to produce a new type of mouse. Great! Just what we need, during the current worldwide mouse shortage! What's next on the agenda, science community? Smarter leeches?

I'll tell you what really has me nervous: the Galileo Space Probe. This is the Science Project From Hell. What they did is, they made this space probe, and they put 47 pounds of deadly radioactive plutonium in it, and they sent it off into space. So far, so good, right? But they sent it off in such a way that, last December, it came whizzing back and just barely missed the Earth. And what is worse, in less than two years, it's going to

come whizzing past the Earth again, like one of those evil horror-movie characters who are always returning from apparent death and using machetes to disassemble teen-agers.

The science community claims that Galileo has to come back twice because in order to go fast enough to escape the solar system, it has to zoom by the Earth so that it can -- forgive me for getting technical here -- pick up a load of gravity. But what I want to know is:

1. Why can't Galileo obtain gravity from a planet with a lower population density?

2. If they had to put 47 pounds of something into the space probe, why didn't they pick a substance that would cause less damage if it splatted into the Earth, such as mayonnaise, or a small member of Congress?

Until we get some answers, I say we pass a law requiring scientists to stop conducting these insane experiments and return to traditional and beneficial scientific activities, such as wearing white laboratory coats on TV commercials and demonstrating how Rolaids consumes 47 times its weight in excess stomach acid. Or, if they want to take on a challenge that would really benefit the human race, they could hold my dogs while I apply their flea dip. *

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