Cheating at science fairs; ‘Mad Science’ by Theodore Gray

May 16, 2011
Science fairs: Cheating may be rampant
Science, May 6 issue

School science fairs are not just opportunities to build volcanoes out of baking soda and papier-mache, they’re hotbeds of scientific misconduct, based on a survey at a Louisville high school. According to Science magazine, Michael Moorin and Tyler Smith, both 17, asked the participants in their school’s science fair to respond to an anonymous online questionnaire. Sixty percent of the 100 or so respondents (about a third of fair participants) admitted to scientific misconduct, almost all of these offenders saying they had falsified data. Others changed hypotheses to fit results or lied on fair entry forms. Fifteen percent said they had engaged in all three types of cheating. Moorin and Smith’s survey won the pair entry into the prestigious Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Los Angeles last week. (Seven students at duPont admitted cheating on Intel competition projects.)

Kitchen science: Keep a fire extinguisher handy
“Mad Science” (Black Dog & Leventhal, $19.95)

“Theo Gray’s Mad Science: Experiments You Can Do at Home — But Probably Shouldn’t” is, literally, a dangerous book: Trying to follow its instructions could easily send you to the hospital. It starts with three pages of safety warnings, including “nearly every experiment in this book has the potential to blind you” and “chlorine gas kills, and you hurt the whole time you’re dying.” The book is based on Gray’s “Gray Matter” column in Popular Science and includes 54 daredevil science experiments. The most dangerous one? “Making Salt the Hard Way,” which is mixing sodium and chlorine to create a smoke that will salt a huge bag of popcorn. Gray also explains how to launch a model rocket with the energy in a Snickers bar and how to turn beach sand into steel. Not only are some of the materials difficult to come by (magnesium ribbon; a bank of 12,000-volt capacitors), but Gray says right in the intro that “this book does not tell you enough to do all of the experiments safely,” so “Mad Science” is really for experienced chemists only.

Rachel Saslow

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