Dropped Chops, Salmonella Speculations, and the High School Hypothesis


I love urban myths. Few things get me more excited than fanatically hunting down questionable Facebook memes and skimming the latest Snopes updates for the truth, whether it’s the high price tag of Hillary’s designer jacket or
the impending invasion of sea lice.

There are many questionable claims out there, hitting us from all sides. But there is often little credible evidence to support them. So today, when I came across an article on CNN about scholarly research on the validity of the 5 Second Rule, I had to put down my lemon biscotti. And. Read.

Most of us are familiar with the 5 Second Rule. We triumphantly announce it when we drop a piece of food on the floor, then proceed to eat it. “Still good! Five second rule!” The reasoning is that if the food stays in contact
with the floor for fewer than five seconds, germs have no time to attach themselves. The 5 Second Rule has been a unifying mantra that knew no color or creed, until recently, when CNN ruined it for us all. Apparently, we have
all been wrong. Our claims have been unfounded. And guess who we have to thank for it?

A high school student named Jillian Clarke.

Yes–this urban myth, the origins of which have erroneously been credited to Julia Child, was brought into question by a high school student. After Clarke’s initial research, a study was conducted in 2007 through Clemson
University, which backed up Clarke’s findings, and then was again confirmed by another study last year in the UK. The study outcomes were the same, and I do take some liberties in summary: if it hits the floor, it’s no good.

What is the moral of the story here? There are many possibilities, but what resonated with me is that this urban myth has been debunked because a high school student had the gumption to question something that didn’t sound
right. She questioned it, then set about to prove whether her questions were merited.

Not only should you remember this story when you drop your food on the floor, but you should remember it when you conduct research for your writing. You will likely come across all sorts of articles, texts, and claims that sound similar to this: someone says something is true, and you believe it, even if something deep down inside thinks it’s fishy.

Listen to that little voice. Listen, even if means that you have to go back and do more research. Don’t plug the first thing that sounds intellectual or unique into your writing without vetting it. Be sure you understand
everything you’ve read and that it makes sense. Be Jillian. Be brave enough to say, “Maybe I should do more research…”

Be brave enough to question everything you read, because sometimes the experts haven’t caught up to the common sense-driven writer, and sometimes YOU may be the only one who questions the propaganda.

Be brave, and leave the food on the floor.

Lisa Hacker supervises a community college writing center where she finds immense joy in helping students become better writers. She also teaches writing at a local university. She lives in Texas with her husband, David, and has three adult children. She is also the grandmother to Julia and Graham. Recently she started a new writing business, The Queen’s English. Visit her website.

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