Friday, April 04, 2008

Can a spoof be scooped by reality?

Well, if you read this blog, or a few others, you may already know that what I reported on here on April 1 regarding NIH cracking down on brain doping, was, in fact an April Fool's joke. I will write more about this joke later and how we planned it, starting at something called scifoo camp at Google headquarters in the summer of last year. But I do want to write about one thing here -- we sort of got scooped by reality. I had been planning for some time to do an April 1 joke on performance enhancing drug use among scientists. And as I was recruiting others to be involved in this plot, reality got in the way when Nature and then the New York Times started to report on brain doping as a real issue. It kind of took the absurdity away from our joke and made it seem like we were making some real commentary on brain doping when in fact, we were at least originally just trying to come up with something ridiculous but possibly believable at first look.

And now it has happened again. The second spoof I considered doing was to write about doing DNA and drug testing on some water bottles I collected from the Tour of California - a bike race that came 1 block from my house. I went for a little ride on the route of the race a few minutes after the peloton came by and got about 10 bottles from different teams. (This was real). And then I was going to pretend that we took those bottles and (1) figured out whose they were by DNA testing and (2) did drug tests of them. And this would allow me to write about 23 and me and other DNA testing companies as well as to make some fun of performance enhancing drug scandals. And I thought this would be ridiculous in a way because it could not possibly be legal to test someone's DNA without any real just cause. And low and behold look at what comes along --- Amy Harmon has an article in the Times yesterday on people doing exactly this type of thing --- testing other people's DNA (good article, by the way).

So now twice my spoofs end up getting scooped by reality. To me, a good spoof/April 1 joke is completely absurd in hindsight even if it is believable initially. So every time one of these jokes/pranks I want to pull gets close to reality, it becomes much much less funny to me. Who knows, maybe Craig Venter will in fact sequence his own microbiome, as I joked about last April 1.

Maybe before my next joke, I should call up Amy Harmon and other reporters to make sure they are not working on related stories first?

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