Is Our Panelists Learning?

Nov 20, 2012
Originally published on November 24, 2012 11:37 am
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Now, we've heard from a bunch of smart people today, but sometimes even our panelists display an astonishing grasp of the scientific method.

CARL KASELL: Here's P.J. and Paula, talking about a problem plaguing our hot dogs and French fries.


SAGAL: P.J., thanks to a scientist at MIT, one of life's great struggles has finally been solved. This scientist has figured out how to increase the speed of what?

P.J. O'ROURKE: Hmm. I need a little hint there.

SAGAL: The study was done in conjunction with the Heinz 57 Institute.

O'ROURKE: Speed of ketchup.

SAGAL: Yes, the speed of ketchup.



SAGAL: Getting ketchup out of the bottle.


SAGAL: He has managed to solve that problem.

O'ROURKE: You got to go to MIT to figure out...

SAGAL: Well, no, listen...

O'ROURKE: You know what you do, you take the ketchup, you put it in one of those little plastic squeeze bottles. You can get ketchup that goes 70 miles an hour.


O'ROURKE: Just lay it on the table and go wham.

POUNDSTONE: But it's still stuck inside the - I think this is really a contribution.


SAGAL: Well, let me explain. So MIT researcher, and let's be honest, America's greatest hero, Dave Smith has invented a substance that makes the inside of a ketchup bottle almost frictionless, so the ketchup speeds right out of there. It is called LiquiGlide. Dr. Smith is not the slightest bit embarrassed that.

LUKE BURBANK: Nothing gross here.

SAGAL: Nothing gross here.


O'ROURKE: The guy's at MIT and he never saw a squirt bottle of ketchup, you know. I mean these people...

POUNDSTONE: But the squirt bottle...

O'ROURKE: ...don't get out enough.

POUNDSTONE: The squirt bottle does not solve the problem of what we call the "shy" ketchup.



SAGAL: Explain, Paula.

POUNDSTONE: The way the ketchup bottle is currently shaped, you can't get a knife all the way - because you can't get up under the eaves.

O'ROURKE: I see.


POUNDSTONE: The shoulders of the bottle.

O'ROURKE: It's important. It is important, yeah.

POUNDSTONE: To get the shy ketchup.

O'ROURKE: The shy ketchup.

SAGAL: So you think the ketchup just doesn't have a lot of confidence?

POUNDSTONE: Yeah, we always call it that. When something won't come out in our house, it's shy.

O'ROURKE: It's shy.


O'ROURKE: Never mind.


SAGAL: Finally, nerds get a lot of grief for being smarter than the rest of us, but earlier this year we were forced to contemplate what would happen in a world without nerds.

Kyrie, Regina Dugan is the head of DARPA. That's the Pentagon's research arm. And she testified last week before the House Armed Services Committee about a troubling shortage being faced by the United States military. A shortage of what?

KYRIE O'CONNOR: A shortage of - it's got to be something fancy.

SAGAL: No, nothing fancy. It's like so many pocket protectors but so few pockets.

O'CONNOR: Geeks.

SAGAL: They need geeks, you're exactly right.


BURBANK: Technically nerds.

SAGAL: Nerds, geeks, well, here's the thing, the decline in science education in this country means fewer nerds are being produced, a fact which has serious national security implications. Nerds...

ADAM FELBER: Not to mention what it does to the wedgie industry.

SAGAL: Exactly.


SAGAL: Nerds molt into tech geeks. Tech geeks grow into scientists and scientists maintain the United States technical superiority. The DARPA chief suggests correcting the problem by trying to bribe would-be scientists with scholarships and iPods, but no, she doesn't have to worry. The current nerd shortage is self-correcting.

High school is just like any other complex ecosystem, it balances out. Without nerds to stuff into lockers, jocks will have to feed on the burnouts, allowing the marijuana crops to flourish and multiply, which in turn leads to stoned cheerleaders. Then, the jocks, with no one to cheer for them, begin to die out, freeing nerds to rise again.



SAGAL: Thanks to Carl Kasell. Thanks to all the panelists and guests we heard this week. Thanks to all of you for listening. I'm Peter Sagal, and we will see you next week.


SAGAL: This is NPR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.