Science Talk

The Science Talk Quiz: "Totally Bogus"

Here are four science stories, but only three are true. See if you know which story is TOTALLY BOGUS.

Hi, Steve Mirsky here, with the Scientific American Science Talk podcast. I owe you a TOTALLY BOGUS. So here are four science stories, but only three are true. See if you know which story is TOTALLY BOGUS.

Story 1, a middle school in San Diego was evacuated when an assistant principal saw an 11-year-old kid’s science project and thought it might be a threat.

Story 2, some blood pressure drugs seem to offer protection against Alzheimer’s.

Story 3, droplets of water on a plant can focus sunlight to the point where the plant gets burned.

And story 4, an interesting data analysis study, if you watch a full three-plus-hour NFL telecast you will actually see only about 24 minutes of football action.

Time’s up.

Story 1 is true, of course, the kid was making what he hoped would be a motion detector. He had some bottles and wiring. The vice principal saw the incipient device and the school went into lockdown. By the way, The San Diego Union-Tribune newspaper reports that this is a school that emphasizes technology skills. The kid and his family were reported to be “very shaken.” And the kid announced that “no way I’m being a EE major when I get to college, it’s English lit from now on.”

Story 2 is true, the blood pressure drugs known as angiotensin receptor blockers appear to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s and other dementias, according to the British Medical Journal. And it’s not just the lowering of the blood pressure, because this specific class of drugs seems to have a greater effect than other bp meds. Researchers obviously hope to figure why the drugs have this preventive effect.

And story 3 is true, a study confirms what gardeners long suspected—droplets of water on plant leaves can focus sunlight like a magnifying glass, leading to burns on the leaves. The effect is more pronounced on plants with small hairlike structures, such as ferns, that hold the water droplet in place. For more, check the out the January 12th episode of the daily SciAm podcast, 60-Second Science, titled, "Wet Plants Feel the Burn".

All of which means that story 4, about NFL telecasts only featuring about 24 minutes of football action is, is TOTALLY BOGUS. Because the analysis by the Wall Street Journal, which confirms earlier work, finds that there’s only about 11 minutes of actual football action in a three-hour telecast. Commercials take an hour. Replays take about about 17 minutes. That’s right, there’s more time on replays than on the actual plays. And 75 minutes is players…standing around. My particular taste, if I wanna see players standing around, I watch baseball.

Well, that’s it for this bogus add-on to last week’s podcast. Get your science news at And check out the special January 18th Ask The Experts feature on the effectiveness of propaganda. The title is Im-Propaganda: How Effective Are Misinformation Campaigns to Manipulate Public Opinion? We’ll be back with a full Science Talk episode later this week. For Scientific American, I’m Steve Mirsky, thanks for clicking on us.


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