Great Failed Social Experiments

August 26th, 2007

Experimentation should really be left to scientists (amateur or professional) who know how an experiment is supposed to work.

For some reason today I remembered this great “successful” social experiment “pulled off” by a bunch of liberal-arts students at my uni:

There was an advertisement for some on-campus party, with free beer. That’s a pretty big draw, so, needless to say, lots of people showed up. The beer was free-flowing, and throughout the course of the party, wandering around, you would overhear snippets of conversation like this:

“What the hell kind of beer is this? No matter how much you drink, you get zero buzz.”

“This party sucks.”

“I may as well be drinking water.”

“I’m going back to the dorm to have some proper beer.”

…or, rather, that’s what you’d hear for the first hour or so, because by the second hour or so most folks had left.

The next Friday, when the school newspaper came out, there was a big article exposing the super-sneaky fact that the beer served at the party was actually non-alcoholic beer, and nobody caught on! The article went on to describe in detail how it was done as an experiment to prove that inebriation wasn’t necessary for a successful party, and that the fun of being drunk was actually a psychological effect, and that students would have just as much fun with near-beer as real beer. That the whole campus had been fooled by these clever armchair psych students, etc. etc. etc. Fully glossing over the fact that: no, it wasn’t a success. First, the party sucked. Second, people figured out it was near-beer, or at least so weak that it may as well have been. Basically, pretty much everything said in the article was a description of what the organizers hoped to have happened, turning a blind eye to what actually did happen.

My guess is that the folks who organized that party all work for the DEA now.

2 Responses to “Great Failed Social Experiments”

  1. Victor Vorski Says:

    Hmmm… But isn’t evolution just one big experiment? Heck, for that matter isn’t evolution of ideas (memetic competion) one big experiment?!

    http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/view/id/116

  2. bugbread Says:

    Evolution isn’t an experiment; it isn’t done in order to test something. True, it does happen to test stuff, but intentionality is a necessary element of experimentation. Evolution is just a description of natural processes.

    Ditto with memetic competition.

    Of course, there are people experimenting in both. People testing out different theories with fruitflies, and people making multiple memes on purpose to see which is successful. Those are experiments. But evolution itself, and memetic competition itself, are just descriptors of natural processes.

    But I was being flippant anyway when I said only scientists should do experiments.

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