I myself once received a blue ribbon in the local science fair for demonstrating the varying efficacies of handwashing agents, as measured by the growth of bacteria on Petri dishes I had touched following their use. A look at the organization's website suggests this modest effort likely would not prevail in today's ultracompetitive environment; top honors went this year to projects with such titles as "GO distribution in the biofluidome," "Analysis of T-DNA Insertions in the Arabidopsis DAD1 Class III Family Protein," and "The Role of Transient Receptor Potential Vanilloid 1 Channel and Metabotropic Glutamate Receptor 5 in DHPG-Induced Thermal Hypersensitivity in Vivo."
What makes me happy, however, is the simple beauty of a study conducted by one Laura Pilgram, a freshman at the Crossroads School in St. Louis. Miss Pilgram set out to answer the vital question of whether zoo visitors are uncomfortable speaking aloud the words "Somali Wild Ass." Utilizing the nearby zebra enclosure as a control, Miss Pilgram observed parents' reactions on approaching the Somali Wild Ass pen. While all 50 subjects spoke the word "zebra" to their children, only 8 seemed willing to utter the common name of Equus africanus somaliensis. One mother explained that she feared her 19 month-old daughter would "pick up" the word ass: "It's short, and it has three letters, I don't want her taking it to church."
Pilgram is concerned that the word ass--which she points out is only rude as a corruption of arse--dissuades visitors from learning important facts about the Somali Wild Ass. For instance, one might not discover that this Ass is one of three subspecies of African Wild Ass, that this six hundred pound Ass is the smallest of all Wild Ass species, or that the Ass has a highly flexible social structure, ranging from solitary Asses to Ass herds of up to fifty Asses, some herds composed of only male Asses, some of only female Asses, and some of both male Asses and female Asses.
Strong work, young Laura, strong work. You have a bright future ahead of you. If only we could say the same for the critically endangered Somali Wild Ass.