New Internationalist

Simply… Alice’s Adventures In Blunderland

Issue 182

new internationalist
issue 182 - April 1988

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Alice's Adventures in Blunderland
We hear much of the wonders of science. But what about its blunders?

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Alice was getting tired of sitting by the river with nothing to do when suddenly a White Rabbit ran close by her muttering: 'Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be late'. Burning with curiosity, she ran after it and was just in time to see it pop down a large rabbit hole. She followed suit and after falling for several minutes landed in a long narrow corridor. At the end of it was a shining metal table on which stood a bottle marked: Drink Me in big letters. Underneath, in smaller letters, she read: Laudanum - For health and tranquillity. Made from the finest opium. Daily usage recommended by the medical profession. Alice thought it sounded ideal for her and took a swig from the bottle. At first she felt wonderful. But then she began feeling rather sick and peculiar and had the very strong sensation that he must take more of the medicine to feel good again...

 

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LEECHES!' Suddenly she heard somebody shouting. A Mad Hatter had appeared at her side. 'Quick'. A March Hare appeared carrying a box of sluggish creatures and put them on Alice's arms and legs 'What are you doing!' Alice protested, trying to shake oil the bloodsuckers. But Hatter and Hare held her down until the leeches were well-gorged. 'Why?' asked Alice, more feebly now. 'Because you were pale and ill, of course' said the Hatter tetchily. 'Disease must be extracted from the body by taking blood.' 'Wait!' protested Alice, 'Blood nourishes the body and fights off bacteria. If you drain my blood I'll get worse, not better. And...' [image, unknown] Alice burst into tears of fear and frustration. The March Hare shook his head sagely. 'Depression,' he pronounced and within seconds Alice was tied to the bed with wires attached to her scalp and her body racked with convulsions. 'Why did you do that'?' she moaned when she came to her senses again. 'Electric shock therapy. By sending currents of electricity through the troublesome frontal lobe of the brain (about which we know nothing) patients can be shocked out of their depression,' explained the Hare. 'But I'm even more unhappy, now!' sobbed Alice. 'Then we must give you some more,' he retorted.

 

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FIGHTING off her grogginess, Alice decided she had had quite enough of Hatter's and Hare's expert advice. 'I don't believe you have the faintest idea what you are doing,' she accused them. The Hatter and the Hare were taken aback and whispered conspiringly to each other. 'It is obvious that you know little of the wonders of science,' said the Hatter at last 'So we have decided to enlighten you by taking you on a guided tour'. They led her to a dark dank underground tunnel where people were chipping away at rock. Alice assumed that they must be trapped down there and were trying to find a way out. 'They are using Davy Safety Lamps,' said the Hatter proudly. 'Such a wonderful invention. They've made mining so much safer...' Then Alice spotted some writing on the wall of the tunnel: 'Miners' lives lost: Five years ago - 10,561. Two years ago - 15,697. This year, so far - 19,474,' But it's going up!' she exclaimed 'Exactly,' said the Hatter absent-mindedly. 'They are mining much more coal now, thanks to the Davy Lamp Now come along. No time to waste.'

 

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SOON they arrived at a brightly-lit operating theatre. Alice heard someone shouting: 'Off with her head' and her heart sank 'That's the King Surgeon,' whispered the March Hare reassuringly. 'He's always saying that'. A woman was lying unconscious on the operating table. 'She has a tiny tumour in her breast' the Hare explained. 'Then why are they removing half her arm?' Alice asked 'Radical Mastectomy,' bellowed the surgeon, who had overheard this remark. 'Wonderful. Wonderful. Been doing it for donkey's years' 'And does it cure cancer?' 'It stops it spreading. The more of the patient you cutaway the fewer places it has to spread to.' 'But what about the patient? Are her chances of survival any greater?' 'Ummm... Not really. But that's not my department, dear. I'm after tumours: hunt 'em down, whip 'em out, make sure they have no place to go!' And as they left the theatre they could hear him chanting cheerfully: 'Off with her headl Off with her head!'

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SUDDENLY they found themselves before a strange building that was belching out clouds of smoke. 'Whoops, Chernobyl,' said the Hatter. 'Mustn't tarry. Mustn't linger'. 'What's happening?' asked Alice. 'Nuclear power clean, cheap, modern, safe to use,' said the Hatter. 'What are all these people running away from then?' 'Safety,' explained the Hare. 'They were doing a safety experiment with the cooling system and something went a bit wrong. Now come along. Mustn't linger. Not safe. Nuclear fallout. Makes people very ill'. 'Or dead' added the Hatter. 'Why do we have nuclear power stations, then?' asked Alice. 'It's the energy of the future, that's why,' they said dragging her away from the scene. And they started singing a little ditty: 'Electricity, clean simplicity. Clean, simple and a joy to use.'

 

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AH, the wonders of biotechnology,' said the Hatter proudly, as they came to a plantation of huge bananas. 'We are looking at the end of world hunger. Science can make everything bigger and better'. Alice was dive-bombed by an enormous mosquito. 'Why are these people so wretched?' she eventually asked, pointing to a group of thin-looking men. 'Because they are starving,' snapped the Hatter. 'Why don't they eat some of those bananas?' 'Because they don't belong to them, silly,' interjected the March Hare, 'they just grow them'. 'But why can't they grow any bananas of their own?' 'Because they haven't got any land, of course, bristled the Hatter. 'And even if they had land they couldn't afford to buy seed or fertilizers and pesticides. Now, let's move on. Science moves so fast. There really isn't time to think about... people.'

 

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'HEY!' exclaimed the March Hare, looking at his watch. 'We must get back! lt's time for Zap Track Master Mind Blitz.' And they whisked Alice into a living room. 'Oh, I see. It's just a TV programme,' she said. 'What do you mean, just!' exclaimed the Hare. 'It is an entire education package. No need for books any more!' he added, pushing the buttons on his Remote Control Viewer Input Mouse. And now, ladies and gentlemen it's Ronnie Games time! said the TV announcer. This, as you know, is the most intellectually demanding part of the show: the ultimate intelligence test. For this is when you the viewer, can test your ability to blast the universe to extinction in record time! Alice was beginning to wonder if she was stupid or something. 'But what is the point?' she asked. 'To get the highest score of course, you ninny,' snapped the Hatter. 'But why?' But the two were gazing fixedly at the screen and manically pushing buttons on their Input Mice. And when they did communicate it was to say only this: 'Zap... Buzz... Gotcha... Zonk... Flak... Gook...'

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