Pseudoscience On ‘How I Met Your Mother’? Noooo!
Do you watch How I Met Your Mother? You should. Why? Just friggin’ do it.
It’s one of my favourite shows, and alas, it was invaded with pseudoscience in last week’s episode, ‘Baby Talk’. (Yes, I know I’m a week behind. Don’t worry, I have a DVR).
Anyway, Marshall (my favourite character) is trying to get his wife, Lily, pregnant. Not only that, but he feels the need to conceive a boy because he has no idea how to raise a girl.
So, his helpful father gives him a few tricks of the trade. The conversation went like this:
Dad: Since the Viking age, the Eriksen men have passed down ancient secrets for conceiving boys. Number one, avoid lemons; they’re baby girl fertilizer.
Marshall: No offense dad, but I doubt there’s any scientific data to support…
Dad: (in mocking, nerdy voice) I doubt there’s any scientific data to support…
I had all sons, your grandfather had all sons, your great-grandfather had ALL SONS! SCOREBOARD! So who are you going to listen to: me, or (*mocking tone*) scientific data?
We now know enough about reproduction to know thats its the male sperm that determines the sex of the baby. So Marshall’s family having all boys is not unheard of. King Henry VIII had a similar problem when he could only have girls, unable to sire a male heir. They didn’t know back then what we know now (unfortunately for King Henry’s wives).
Well poor Marshall, desperate to conceive a son, ignores common sense and nerdy scientific data and tries some of his Dad’s tips (with hilarious results).
They include eating pickled herring, pointing Lily north whilst making love, and yes he even dunked his junk in ice water prior to mating!
This is supposed to be funny (and it is), but in reality it has been shown that people are more likely to listen to a friend or family member than (nerdy voice) scientific data. Which is unfortunate, but there is a reason why.
We’ve all heard the old wives’ tales regarding pregnancy myths. They get passed down from generation to generation largely due to confirmation bias.
Example: I’ve heard people say that if you’re ‘carrying low’ it is indicative that the baby will be a boy. If you predict the baby will be a boy, and its a boy, your theory that she was ‘carrying low’ (I’m not even sure what that means) is confirmed in your mind. So you tell the next woman you see that she’s carrying low, so it will be a boy. In your mind, it’s a proven fact.
And people remember if you are right, and forget if you are wrong. It’s the same principle that so many psychics rely on to make themselves seem credible.
So sorry Marshall, it really is just luck of the draw. All the pickled herring in the world won’t guarantee which of your swimmers makes it to the finish line.