What is the Scientific Method? (and Can Cats Swim?) – Instant Egghead #36


House cats are good at a few things mostly sleeping, destroying things and starring in countless hours
of online videos. But can they swim? We probably all have an opinion
on this important question. And some of us, unfortunately, have directly experienced a cat
coming into contact with water. For a scientist, however,
such questions are best answered by applying what is known as
“The Scientific Method”. The first step int the method is
to propose a correct answer, which is also the most cautious one. Cats cannot swim. This is called Null Hypothesis,
null means nothing, or zero. The next step is to collect evidence in a systematic way to test the hypothesis. We can either reject the null hypothesis,
or fail to reject it. Yes, this is a negation of a negation, but remember, scientists are cautious. The simplest way to test
whether cats can swim would be to toss about a hundred of them, one at a time and on separate occasions,
into a pool of water. Of course, if any of the cats
failed to swim we’d rescue them
before they came to any harm. Anything else would be unethical. Fortunately for science, the internet
hosts a lot of videos about cats, more than 1 million on YouTube alone. And it looks like some cats
actually can swim. However, if you divide the number
of swimming cat videos by all the cat videos on YouTube
you see them swimming in less than 1%. In any case, we now have
multiple pieces of data: videos of cats swimming in deep water, to provide evidence and support
rejecting the null hypothesis. Does this mean
that cats can definitely swim? After all, those videos
could have been faked. Direct and humane observation of many cats may be the best way
to answer this question So, we suggest, if you really want
to know if cats can swim, you spend as much time as possible watching them amble, paddle and
sleep their way through their days. For Scientific American’s Instant Egghead, I’m Yasmin Tayag.