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Did Early Humans Wear Babies Into Battle?!

Sep 15, 2014 10:08 AM EDT

"Our proposal, suggests that extreme infant distress vocalization (EIDV), or 'crying,' could only have survived it if offered some sort of advantage to humans, adults and infants, at the group level."

Those are the words of Tomer Ullman, a well published graduate student at MIT who suggested, in front of an auditorium packed full of intellectuals like himself, that babies cry - despite the fact that this makes them "predator beacons" - because EIDV helps adult humans wage war more efficiently.

"The hypothesis is clear, our early ancestors harnessed the natural adrenaline boost provided by crying infants, by [physically] harnessing infants to themselves and carrying them into battle," he proposed over the roar of an audience crying with laughter.

Now, before we take this absolutely anywhere at all, let me assure you that our ancestors did no such thing. But as Ullman shows, even the most absurd idea can make a surprising lot of sense if presented in a logical (albeit hilarious) manner.

Ullman was the winner of the first-ever Festival of Bad Ad Hoc Hypotheses (BAHFest) last year, selling one of the most ridiculous evolutionary theories anyone has likely ever heard with a stunning amount of "scientific evidence" and an incredibly straight face. (Scroll to read on...)

[Credit: BAHFest 2013/Nicole Teeny with help from Erik and Marty Demaine]

Other presenters introduced other equally ridiculous concepts, explaining things like why everything tastes like chicken, the existence of hybrid superhumans, and how Lyme disease is selectively turning geeks into kings.

The festival is clearly a great deal of fun, but it also has an important purpose. It shows just how easily someone can make a "bad theory" sound smart. In the absence of any real empirical evidence, the scientists took out-of-context fact and hearsay to make what the festival likes to call "well-argued and thoroughly researched but completely incorrect" evolutionary theories. It shows why the competitive and fact-checking nature of the research world is so important, with nonsense theories such as these never making it through peer-review.

The experts themselves also get to show off how convincing they can be, with the winner earning "the coveted sculpture of Darwin shrugging skeptically. And eternal glory, of course."

The people behind this zany event have planned two more festivals this year, with the East Coast event being held again in Cambridge, Mass. on Oct. 19, at MIT's Kresge Auditorium. A West Coast event will be held six days later at San Fransisco's Castro Theatre. You can buy tickets here and help support making this an annual celebration of all that's crazy about science.

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