The science journalist’s job is simple: find the news, report the news. But sometimes, it’s even simpler. Sometimes, the news finds the journalist. Today is one of those days. Today is the day we solve the age-old question: is my throat strong or sharp enough to cut a spaghetti noodle in half?
In this investigation, I’ll take you through the steps of the scientific method (which we’re sure you, like me, once pretended to know, so this should be easy for all of us) as we investigate whether my throat is strong enough to cut spaghetti.
That’s the first step of the scientific method: ask a question. Next, we do research in order to formulate our hypothesis. So… what exactly is going on inside the human throat? Will looking at it get us any closer to answering if a throat can act as a sort of spaghetti guillotine (spaghuillotine) when a noodle is dangled halfway down the esophagus?
Here’s what your head would look like if you were bald and also a cross-section. Notice the “incisor” (tooth). Evolutionarily, this is the body part that is designed to cut spaghetti. However, the mouth is very long: notice that the mouth extends backward and down, broken into two separate chambers by the soft palate and the epiglottis, which act as the gates to the digestive system. Now ask yourself: if I held my bald head backward and dangled a spaghetti vertically down my mouth and swallowed, is my epiglottis strong enough to slice it in half?
The next part of the scientific method, now that we know what the inside of our bald heads look like, is to formulate a hypothesis. I try to believe in the power of positive thinking, and I’ve also got a reeeeeally strong hunch (which has been scientifically shown to be valid in making judgments, and this is a real thing). My null hypothesis, best made as a negative statement so I can design an experiment to disprove it, is this:
No: my epiglottis is not sharp enough to chop a cooked spaghetti.
Now, we design our experiment.
The process should be simple: dangle cooked spaghetti noodles down a volunteer’s throat and have them swallow. For variety and rigor, I have elected to test three kinds of noodles: spaghetti (long, skinny, round), fettuccine (long, skinny, flat), and bucatini (long, less skinny, round).
In order to perform the most rigorous experiment possible, I have performed a control experiment, but will not be forcing you to see photographic evidence of the fact that I put an uncooked spaghetti as far down my throat as I could in order to try snipping it in half with my epiglottis.
Conclusion: my throat is NOT sharp enough to cut a raw spaghetti.
So with the control experiment complete, let’s prepare the experiment proper.
I’ll be cooking two of each kind of noodle: one al dente, and one with a little classic American overcooking. This totals six variables I’ll be measuring in my observations: al dente spaghetti, soft spaghetti, al dente fettuccine, soft fettuccine, al dente bucatini, and soft bucatini. I salted and boiled about four cups of water, and cooked six individual noodles like so:
With the noodles cooked, the test phase of the experiment begins. Readers of delicate constitutions, I urge you to proceed with caution. Some graphic imagery follows.
The final step in the scientific method after gathering data is drawing conclusions.
So let’s break down what happened during the test phase of each noodle species:
- Al dente fettuccine: null hypothesis proved
- Soft fettuccine: null hypothesis proved
- Al dente spaghetti: null hypothesis proved
- Soft spaghetti: null hypothesis DISPROVED
- Soft bucatini: null hypothesis proved
- Al dente bucatini: my throat hurt too much to continue with the experiment, so this unfortunately is not a valid data point.
Here’s a little reminder: we’ve been attempting to disprove the null hypothesis, which would mean gathering conclusive evidence to the contrary (ie, “yes, my throat IS sharp enough to cut a spaghetti in half”). Out of our five valid data points, I was only able to operate one successful spaghuillotine maneuver. Following experimental procedure, my epiglottis was only able to snip a soft spaghetti noodle. This is a 20% success rate, which we will weight more lightly because the severed noodle was the most delicate of the bunch.
By analyzing this data, and by accounting for how much my throat hurts now, it is scientifically valid to conclude the following:
Our null hypothesis is correct. It is not in fact feasible for the human throat to consistently act as a spaghuillotine.
I am committed to spreading rigorous, reduplicable, and relevant science to all of my readers. While I strongly discourage any of you from attempting this experiment yourselves, I would salute your scientific courage and consider any subsequent experimentation as valid peer review. If you do perform this or any similar experiment yourself, please submit any research or conclusions to me for future publication. I will get back to you after I finish drinking many cups of echinacea tea in swift succession.