Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Curiosity Deficit

I'm caught up in yet another pop science book, this one by the astronomer who "killed" Pluto, i.e., discovered the large objects beyond Pluto that led to its demotion as a planet.  The story itself is fascinating and fun, and I'll blog about that another day, like maybe when I'm actually done with the book.  The book is How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming by Mike Brown.

While he was discovering all these large objects beyond Pluto, Mike Brown was also having a baby.  Or rather, his wife was.  In one passage in the book he writes about his frustration with determining the due date for his baby.

Take this exchange with the teacher of his child-birthing class (p. 127):
Teacher: "Oh, only five percent of babies are actually born on their due dates."
MB: "So are half born before, half after?"
T: "Oh, you can't know when the baby is going to come."
MB: "I get it. I just want to know the statistics."
T: "The baby will come when it is ready."
Amazingly, Brown has a similar discussion with his obstetrician:
Dr: "The due date is just an estimate. There is no way of knowing when the baby will come."
MB: "But of your patients, what fraction delivers before, and what fraction delivers after the due date?"
Dr: "I try not to think of it that way."

I understand his frustration.  I've had very similar conversations with people in my life.

Brown goes on to write:
I propose a simple experiment for anyone who works in the field of childbirth.  Here's all you have to do.  Spend a month in a hospital.  Every time a child is born, ask the mother what the original due date was.  Determine how many days early or late each child is.  Plot these dates on a piece of graph paper...When you have finished plotting all of the due dates... Make a copy. Send it to me in the mail.    

It is baffling to me that Brown encountered this problem, but I'm sure someone somewhere has done this, even if it's not common knowledge to people who work in the field of childbirth. Brown then talks about going to parties where he mingles with other Caltech scientists who had kids.
As soon as I started my rant, the fathers would all join in: "Yeah!  I could never get that question answered, either..."
I'm not a scientist, but I often go on similar rants.  I'm curious and like to know stuff.  It often exasperates me when someone can't answer, or doesn't care about, my questions. (It often exasperates the other person as well.)  So although I'm no rocket scientist, I could definitely identify with Mike Brown and his Caltech buddies when it came to simple curiosity about everyday things. 

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