I guess I just feel like trashing Marilyn Vos Savant today
Every Sunday Parade magazine features the putative “world’s smartest person,” Marilyn Vos Savant. People send in questions and try to stump her, and she answers them, often completely missing the questioner’s point. She has written a number of books, including one about Fermat’s Last Theorem, which I am assured by an actual mathematician is completely off-base. Her husband is famous, too; he’s Howard Jarvik, the artificial heart guy who is now shilling for some cholesterol medicine.
Today Ask Marilyn was a special issue, “Questions Too Funny To Answer!” I suppose the “joke” she is trying to make is that the questioner is such a dumbass that they don’t deserve a real answer. But many of the questions were quite legitimate. Here’s a sample, along with my answers:
Suppose we could get all living beings on Earth to face one direction and then begin running. Would this influence the speed of the Earth’s rotation?
- Waterloo, N.Y.
My answer; Yes. But because of the tremendous difference between the Earth’s mass and that of the runners, the effect would be almost too small to measure with the most sensitive instruments, and normal rotation speed would resume when everyone stopped running.
Where did all the stars go? In the ‘50’s the sky was loaded with them.
- St. Petersburg, Fla.
My answer; The stars are still there, but because of light pollution, it’s harder to see them. Your town’s population of a quarter-million people, and location next to Tampa, ensure you won’t see many stars without going out into the country. Street lights and advertising lamps that spill most of their light up into the night sky are to blame – and better-designed light fixtures would solve the problem.
Do flies ever get sick?
- Riverside, Calif.
My answer; Yes they do. In fact, some of the parasites they get have been commercialized as non-chemical pest control.
I see falling stars nearly every night. They seem to come out of nowhere. Have stars ever fallen out of any known constellations?
- Batesville, Ark
My answer; Fortunately for us, “falling stars” are not really stars, but little chunks of rock or debris burning up as they enter our atmosphere. You are fortunate to live in a town of less than 10,000, away from big-city lights, where you can see the night sky. You might enjoy getting a telescope and doing a little stargazing!
I just observed a flock of geese flying in a “V” formation. Is that the only letter they know?
- Holbrook, N.Y.
My answer; The ‘V’ formation is actually for aerodynamic efficiency. The lead goose is breaking the airstream for all those following, and if you observe enough flocks, eventually you’ll see them switch off this harder-working position, an example of “altruistic” cooperative behavior among animals.
When I dream, why don’t I need my glasses to see?
- Peabody, Mass
My answer; If you mean that in your dreams, you aren’t wearing glasses yet you can see perfectly well, then your self-image isn’t that of a glasses-wearing person. Or, that you’re so used to wearing glasses that you’re just not really aware of them. Have you tried contacts?
Comment: I think a lot of these were serious questions, and all ‘Marilyn’ did was make fun of the people who asked them. Savant advertises herself as being in the Guinness Book as “Highest IQ” but her talent for missing the point is even greater. I guess being really smart doesn’t make you a good listener. Nor is intelligence even something you can just map out on a linear scale.