The McBournie Minute: Drinking like a fish

I think I picked the wrong line of work. You see, when I was a kid, all I wanted to do was write. It was actually one of the only ways I felt I could really express myself. And let me tell you, I had a rough childhood. Did I mention I grew up in Vermont? You don’t want to know what I’ve seen, man.

I eventually grew up to be a writer, and also an editor. That means I get to take peoples’ dreams, crush them, and then tell them what they need to do better if they want to keep living the dream. Sure, it’s fun, but it’s not scientist-fun. I’ve always felt that if you get in with the right lab, you don’t have to research boring stuff like cures for cancer, you can use public funding to goof off. You can build robots or experiment on animals or something.

You can even get animals drunk and chase them around with a robot.

Researchers at the Polytechnic Institute of New York University found kindred slacker spirits in those at the Istituto Superiore di Sanità in Rome. Last year, we told you about their building of a big robot fish last year. (Extra points if you remembered. Remember, we’re on the honor system.) Compared to the little, guppy-like zebrafish it was supposed to mimic, it was huge, with blue and white stripes running the length of its body and a yellow head, complete with a smile. In other words, it looked nothing like a zebrafish. But they accepted the monstrosity as one of their own, anyway. Science now believes that zebrafish may not be the smartest things swimming, thanks to that work.

But like Ludacris, Usher and Lil John, one collaboration for the labs in New York and Rome just wasn’t enough. Fans wanted more.

So they went back to the drawing board, and decided that this time, they would build ANOTHER robot fish to test on their gullible subjects. Only this time, they would make it look like a predator (read: pretty much anything that swims and is larger than a couple inches). They had the Indian leaf fish, a natural predator in mind, when they gave their smaller robot a half-assed paint job this time. It even had stick-on googly eyes for menacing effect.

They found that the zebrafish avoided the AquaPredator 5000 however they could, which means they recognized it as a threat. The lesson here is that if you see a robot fish swimming toward you, it probably doesn’t want to be friendly.

OK, that’s not the conclusion. That’s not even the extent of the experiment. The researchers then put a fake heron head, of equal craftsmanship, to dart into the water. Same thing. Then the scientists added ethanol, or as you and I know it, “booze,” into the water, getting the fish drunk.

They found that the fish with the most alcohol in their systems were the least likely to shy away from the robots that had been sent to kill them. So even without the complex emotions of people, simple-minded fish are more daring once they’ve had a little liquid courage.

So, these researchers spent months building killer robots, getting fish drunk and then chasing them around. My guess is it was to settle a bar tab.