Wednesday, July 30, 2008

What Not to Do in an Earthquake: Conclusions of a spontaneous scientific experiment

Experts have amassed a wealth of information on how to react in an earthquake. But, as is true in most fields of science, there remain hypotheses that cannot be verified due to the ethical problems of performing certain tests on human subjects.

For example, would a person react to temblors in a fundamentally different way if he were raised from infancy in an oversized maraca? Would it or would it not increase your chances of survival if, when the shaking started, you immediately took cover under the belly of Rush Limbaugh? Or would you be pummeled by a barrage of pills and/or curses against the liberals responsible for the quake?

The sad answer to these and many other questions is: We may never know.

But one such scenario -- previously thought untestable -- was indeed subjected to inadvertent empirical analysis during yesterday's 5.4 magnitude temblor. And I was the unwitting subject.

This fluke occurrence, which could never before be simulated for a human subject, answers at long last the age-old question: Should you or should you not attempt to eat a chicken wing during an earthquake?

The spontaneous experiment began at approximately 11:41:59 when, in a fifth-floor office in downtown Los Angeles, I lifted a cafeteria hot wing to my mouth. At approximately 11:42:00, a tremor rocked the building.

The following observations have been recorded for science.

* In a quake, chicken wings becoming highly elusive targets. A subject may try jerking her head back and forth in an attempt to capture her rapidly moving quarry. Yet these efforts will be for naught, as the hand holding the wing is likely moving at a speed unattainable by subject's open mouth.

* Interestingly, colleagues' yells of, "Earthquake! Earthquake!" do not immediately hinder the test subject's efforts. Attempting to eat the moving chicken wing proves sufficiently engrossing as to cause a delayed response, temporarily muting the noise associated with less-important matters such as building evacuation.

* Attempting to eat a chicken wing during a magnitude 5 or higher temblor can result in an effect similar to that seen in the 1980 documentary "Airplane" -- illustrating an experiment in which an airline passenger attempts to apply lipstick amid extreme turbulence -- except with blue cheese dressing instead of lipstick.

* Though a subject who maintains laser-like focus on a chicken wing during a life-threatening emergency may indeed possess certain academic skills, such as adeptness with language and grammar, such subjects are nonetheless not very smart.

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