Comment »Posted on Tuesday 16 December 2008 at 12:02 pm by Jacob Aron
In Musings

I was wondering when the first “science-of-Santa” story would appear this year, and the only one I’ve spotted so far is this university press release. It’s the usual fare: a mix of special relativity and nanotechnology with a bit of genetic engineering.

...because he's coming soon.
...because he's coming soon.

Larry Silverberg, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at North Carolina State University, told the news agency that Father Christmas “exploits the space-time continuum,” in order to visit millions of homes in just one night.

In a new twist, it turns out that FC doesn’t actually carry any presents on his sleigh – rather, he uses nanotechnology to reorganise the molecules of snow and soot in order to construct gifts for girls and boys. Neat trick.

Finally, his reindeer are “genetically bred” in order to fly (without wings, mind – are they perhaps gas powered?), stand on rooftops, and see in the dark. Presumably a genetic marker similar to the Nobel winning green fluorescent protein is also used to make their noses glow red.

“This is our vision of Santa’s delivery method, given the human, physical and engineering constraints we face today,” Silverberg says.

“Children shouldn’t put too much credence in the opinions of those who say it’s not possible to deliver presents all over the world in one night. It is possible, and it’s based on plausible science.”

I’m not sure how I feel about these types of stories. Yes, its silly Christmas-themed fun, but should Father Christmas really be explained in terms of science? You never see press releases about the gene-splicing involved to allow the Easter Bunny to lay chocolate eggs – pre-wrapped in foil, no less. Yet, the “science-of-Santa” makes an annual appearance in the media.

It’s the quote at the end that I find particularly troubling. It might be “plausible science”, but it’s not really “science”. Stories such as these dilute the public impression of what science really is, as much as those bloody formula stories I was ranting on last week. Perhaps, however, I should just bite down on my Humbug and enjoy the festivities.

Oh, and I’m not in any way saying Father Christmas doesn’t exist. He does. And he’s watching.

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