Tuesday, 30 March 2010

The littlest skepchick

De niece — she of the story I've seen a scientist — is my new hero. She blew me away with this latest effort. The scientist must have had an impact.

Recently she lost a tooth, and she knows the tooth fairy will give money for a tooth under the pillow. However: she’s a skeptic (at age 5). She was talking to me about the big event recently, and mentioned that she wasn’t sure if there really was a tooth fairy. I was interested to hear more, and asked her what she thought.

I swear to you, people; she then came up with this, right there and then, all by herself. An idea to test her theory. She decided to count all Mum and Dad's money. Then, the next morning, she could tell if that was where the money came from.

Woah! I was impressed with that. But I just said that sounded like a very clever idea. With that small encouragement, she put the plan into practice. She told her Mum and Dad what she wanted to do. (I shall have to teach her about experimental control protocols later on, I guess.) They also were impressed, and in line with their own feelings on such things, they decided to be completely fair with her on this one. They are quite happy to play the games of childhood and magical beings, but faced with a small and trusting scientist, the path was clear. They told her nothing, but helped her find and count all the money.

The next morning, she had her brand new two dollar coin, as usual. And she went ahead and counted all Mum and Dad’s money. No cheating had taken place, although to make life a bit difficult it had been a pocket money day, and there was deduction to make. But de niece has her uncle's genes, and numbers are no problem. She ran all the calculations and sure enough, Mum and Dad had two dollars missing; a confirmed prediction and falsification of the null hypothesis.

So now she knows: and she is pleased as punch at having figured it out. She asked Mum point blank if Mum was the tooth fairy, and Mum had to confess the truth. The excitement of discovery far outweighed any disappointment at loss of the story. The problem, however, was explaining to her that she couldn’t go ahead and tell all her friends at school.

Basically, however, she got it in the end. This is a game that parents play with their children, and now she’s in on the game too, and she shouldn’t spoil the game for other children. She now knows there’s a tooth fairy — and knows also who the fairy actually is! And it’s a secret, which other children will find out in time from their own parents. So when teacher asked her if the tooth fairy came, she was able to answer yes, and then later on in private explained to her teacher that now she knew the tooth's fairy's alter ego.

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