I love science.
If I hadn’t become an artist I would have become a scientist. I’m serious. I love experiments designed to come to conclusions or at least to help us to better understand the way things work.
A few years ago someone (I don’t remember who) told me that the reason I don’t like Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts Coffee is because they put the cream in AFTER they’ve poured the coffee. I thought that sounded pretty silly (some Dunkins no longer do this but the coffee is still bad) but I did notice a difference when I started making my own coffee. It WAS better when the cream was poured in first. Allegedly, this person told me, the cream doesn’t scorch this way.
A similar experiment some time ago created what is known as the Null Hypothesis.
Sometime in the 1920s three scientists took a break for tea. Ron Fisher poured a cup and offered it to his colleague Muriel Bristol. Bristol declined it, saying she preferred the taste of a cup in which the milk had been poured first.
Fisher thought this was nonsense and surely there could be no difference.
The third scientist, William Roach, suggested they try an experiment to test Bristol’s claim. But how to do that? Simply pouring two cups of tea made each way out of her sight would seem to be the easiest method but the flaw there is that simply guessing she had a 50% chance of being right.
Hardly enough to determine her claim.
The Null Hypothesis in this case doesn’t attempt to prove that Bristol can tell the difference between differently prepared cups of tea, instead it attempts to reject the hypothesis that her selection is random.
So they prepared EIGHT cups of tea, four done with the milk first and four done the other way. The cups were marked and recorded and then mixed up and given to Bristol to try.
After sampling ALL eight cups she correctly identified every single one. This still didn’t mean that it was proven that she could tell the difference but it certainly eliminated most of the possibility that random chance was playing a part in the experiment.
Because that’s what science tries to do. Answer questions to the best of our abilities.
And it proves my friend was right.