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Sunday, October 20, 2002
Important scientific research

It is not long before my departure for winter quarters, so I am preparing myself for the journey and for the research I shall be undertaking while away. One of the most significant pieces concerns the efficacy of artificial corks.

It appears that the Bruces at the philosophical department of Walamaloo, down under, have so far not pronounced on the different physical properties of bottle stoppers i.e. between corks and plastic corks. I know that such a question would not normally be the subject of a philosophical enquiry but it has great importance in the fly-blown outback of Australia. Just in case Mrs Trellis does not know, the one negative aspect to Australia (apart from the need to walk upside down) is the superabundance of flies. They seem to find you everywhere whenever you are away from an urban environment. Having ten thousand flies round your face constitutes one of the worst forms of torture known and, unless you take precautions, they ruin any visit to rural Australia.

You will have seen the large sunhats worn unselfconsciously by Australians at home. I have one, too. Many Aussies, including the Bruces, modify their hats to help reduce the menace of flies round the face. Adding mosquito nets is considered to contravene rules one, three, five, and seven: (no poofters). However, it is considered acceptable, yea even manly, to hang corks from the brim. The tiniest movement of the head disturbs the corks and these, in turn, deter the flies heading for the face. It may be Heath Robinson but it works.

While modifying my new sunhat appropriately, it occurred to me that there might be a difference in fly-deterrent properties between corks and their artificial brethren. Indeed, it may well be that screw tops from wine bottles may be equally, or even more, effective. I am therefore looking at ways to conduct a suitable series of experiments while I am away.

I currently have a problem: my experiments would not be double-blind. I would know what sort of stopper was hanging from the strings round the brim of my hat so I might, albeit unconsciously, be influencing the results. I may enlist the aid of the Bruces at Walamaloo. Meanwhile, if Mrs Trellis should care to offer some helpful hints on a rigorous experimental methodology, I would be delighted to hear from her.

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