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Gary Dodge on stage at the Scientific Theory Slam.

Scientific theory slam contestent Gary Dodge explaining his "there is no lint gland" theory with a PowerPoint presentation. The images show an "umbilicus (or belly button) suction cup" trial he and three "esteemed colleagues" conducted on a test subject.

Definitely not Darwin...

The Bell Museum and SlamMN bring closet theorists together for the first ever scientific theory slam

By Pauline Oo

Published on March 12, 2005

Theory No. 1: A good time can be had when you invite people you don't know to share an original theory--plausible or not. Theory No. 2: Spectators will gather even if you change the location twice.

To test the first theory, the Bell Museum of Natural History on the Twin Cities campus joined forces with SlamMN and created the world's first Scientific Theory Slam. The call for contestants drew 12 bold souls--a mix of men and women between the ages of 20 and 80. To test theory no. 2, the organizers moved the event from its original location at the Kitty Cat Klub in Dinkytown to the Varsity Theater around the corner, and finally to Loring Pasta Bar, three doors down. Space, apparently, was the issue, but the participants and onlookers still came. The unusual concept captured 85 spectators, who had no qualms about personal space--many were left standing and crowded together when seats and floor space disappeared.

Humor and sex ruled, with bodily functions the theme for 11 out of the 12 participants.

Gary Dodge's theory about lint and belly buttons, which came complete with a PowerPoint presentation, had the crowd cheering and pumping their fists in the air. ("There is no lint gland, and lint does not arise by spontaneous generation of the belly button," Dodge says.) Zachary Johnson's presentation about human life being the product of alien creation elicited just as many claps as it did rolling eyeballs. Cynthia French's hypothesis about the dying art of sexual experimentation was greeted with cat calls and wolf whistles.

"[The event] was intellectually stimulating and on the frontiers of scientific theory," says John Troyer, the Minnesota Slam poet and U graduate student who emceed the event. "And it was amazing just because we didn't know what to expect."

Four scientists from the University and Macalester College had free rein to question or comment on the originality, creativity, or plausibility of the theories. The contestants had three minutes to present their ideas, and five randomly selected members of the audience judged them on a scale from 0 to 10 (with decimals encouraged to prevent ties).

After two rounds and almost two hours, the top three scientific theorists were named. Taylor Stevenson won third place, with his theory that Sigmund Freud got it all wrong ("This is a microphone and nothing else"), French took second spot, and Dodge, the belly button lint guy, grabbed the grand prize--a little statue in a white coat.

"[This is] as risky as the Bell Museum will get," says Peggy Korsmo-Kennon, head of public programs at the Bell Museum. "It was an idea that someone at SlamMN suggested, and I think there was enough science [that night] to justify our being involved."

Will we see a second annual Scientific Theory Slam?

"It was definitely a lot of fun, but we're waiting to see what the reaction is," says Korsmo-Kennon. "We had a couple of people [from the audience] leave because [the content] was a little bit raw. But the event is something that we will consider doing again."

The Scientific Theory Slam was part of the Bell Museum's monthly Cafe Scientifique.

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