Science, the noble pursuit of knowledge and truth. It was science that got us to the moon and developed worldwide communication technologies. There’s no wonder that we hold scientists in high regard. But perhaps we should remember that scientists are just people, smart people to be sure, but even smart people have a tendency towards silliness. Case in point: a team of scientists at Kent State University in Ohio recently tried, and failed, to make a hunting knife out of their own frozen poop.
Now you’re probably asking, why on Earth would anyone try to make a frozen poop knife? That’s a very logical question. If you’re not asking that question and instead nodding and saying “yes, that seems reasonable enough, why wouldn’t they?” I’m concerned for you. There is, believe it or not, a reason for the frozen poop knife, but whether you think it’s a good reason is on you.
Metin Eren, anthropologist at Kent State and lead researcher and poop-smith on the project, was inspired to study anthropology after reading a book called Shadows in the Sun by Canadian anthropologist Wade Davis. In an interview with the CBC, Eren describes a particular story from that book that stuck with him years later:
The story, basically, is that there was an Inuit man who is being forced to move off of his settlement, and his family took away his tools in order to convince him to come along with them.
He refused to move off of his homeland. So, in the midst of a winter gale, he defecated into his hands and he fashioned a knife from the frozen feces, using a spray of saliva.
Then, the story goes, that he killed a dog with that knife, used its rib cage as a sled, and used its hide to harness another dog, and he sped off into the night.
Metin Eren had no idea when he first heard that story that, 20 years later, he would be the head of an experimental archaeology lab that worked on replicating primitive technologies. Late last year, he says, he realized that the poop knife story from Shadows in the Sun had never been tested, despite the book’s popularity and impact. So he decided to try it. The results of his study were published in the Journal of Archaeological Science.
Eren says he went on a high protein and high fatty acid diet to replicate the diet in the Arctic circle and began “producing the necessary test samples.” He and his team stuck his poop into dry ice and then, once it was frozen completely solid, used a metal file to turn a poop block into a poop knife. Then Eren and his team attempted to use the knife on refrigerated meat. According to Metin Eren:
When we went to use these frozen knives — it was like a brown crayon, unfortunately. It just left very nasty streaks on our meat and they didn’t cut at all.
The problem, though, is that once you have stories that are unsupported, supporting narratives and stances of any kind, then it becomes a slippery slope. And other stories that are unsupported can also then be used to support stances and narratives.
And then, once you’re in that situation, you’re in real trouble. Because then you can start using unsupported, non-evidence based stories to support narratives and stances that are harmful to society — racist ones, prejudice ones, and the like.
And so I think, at the end of the day, what this study does is it reaffirms the importance of evidence-based science.
Fair enough, I guess.