Sunday, September 22, 2013

ReRunday: A Scientific Approach to Understanding Book Banning

Originally posted on September 28, 2010.


Tuesdays with Morzant
Experiment 451.0: Determine the Dangerous Properties Inherent in Banned Books

[Bigfoot enters Morzant’s lab.]

BIGFOOT: What’s going on? You look frustrated.

MORZANT: I am. The results of my latest experiments don’t make sense.

BIGFOOT: I appreciate your hard work to figure out why all my photographs turn out blurry, but it’s not worth getting upset about.

MORZANT: This isn’t about your photography impediment. It’s to do with banned books.

BIGFOOT: Banned books?

MORZANT: Yes. I’ve been hearing a lot about books that have been banned from schools and libraries. Apparently it’s not uncommon for a defect to be found in a book after it has been published. It then becomes necessary for those potentially dangerous books to be recalled. It seems that Earthlings are frequently careless in the manufacturing of their goods.

BIGFOOT: No, you don’t understand—

MORZANT: I’m appalled at my negligence. It never occurred to me to that Earth books could be hazardous. I assumed because Zeentonian books are made with inert materials, Earth books would be as safe. A reasonable assumption, perhaps, but one that would have offered no consolation if little Mortimer had been hurt. I’ve been recklessly reading TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD to him.


MORZANT: I take my studies of Earth literature seriously and, as in any scientific pursuit, safety is a primary concern. I can hardly evaluate a book objectively if it causes me injury. Therefore, over the last week, I’ve been conducting a series of experiments in an effort to learn what properties banned books exhibit. Once I’ve isolated them, I’ll be able to test for those same properties in other books. No offense to those in charge of banning books—I’m sure they’re quite diligent—but there doesn’t seem to be a comprehensive inventory of these dangerous books. I’ll feel more secure if I can identify them myself.

BIGFOOT: There’s nothing different about—

MORZANT: My first step was to collect as many banned books as I could. I assumed it would be difficult, but most of these books are easily accessible. Even so, nobody at the library seemed the least bit concerned for their safety.

BIGFOOT: That’s because books aren’t—

MORZANT: I collected a sampling of banned books from several locations, as well as books that have not been banned. It occurred to me that there might be variations in inks and papers used, so I also collected several editions of the same book. If there were any outward indications of the books’ dangerous propensities, I could not detect them, even with my keen powers of scientific observation. I then began systematically testing for combustibility…

BIGFOOT: Oh, no.

MORZANT: …radiation, chemical and biological toxins…

BIGFOOT: Please stop.

MORZANT: …pathogens, allergens, and parasitic infestations. I even ran a rigorous round of tests to determine if banned books are more predisposed to giving paper cuts than non-banned books.

BIGFOOT: You’ve been wasting your time. Books aren’t—hey! Is that my first edition CATCH-22?!

MORZANT: Of course not. I was very careful to separate—oh, dear.

BIGFOOT: It’s ruined!

MORZANT: I’m so sorry. But I’m sure you’ll be pleased to discover that your copy of CATCH-22 seemingly presents no more danger to you than this copy of THE HAPPY CHILDREN OF SAFEVILLE. In fact, I could find no harmful properties in any of these banned books. None of my tests yielded any recognizable differences between the banned books and the books that have not been banned. I’m at an impasse. How can I test for a quality that is outside my circle of knowledge?

BIGFOOT: You can’t.

MORZANT: Exactly. That’s why I’m frustrated! Discerning what constitutes a book that needs to be banned is beyond my scientific ability.

BIGFOOT: No. I don’t mean you can’t. Nobody can.

MORZANT: I don’t understand. Clearly some scientific standards of evaluation are applied to determine whether a book is deleterious or innocuous. Otherwise there would not be banned books.

BIGFOOT: Science has nothing to do with it. It’s strictly emotional. Some people feel as though certain books are harmful and they want to protect others from being harmed by those books.

MORZANT: Unless you’re psychic, how can you feel a book may explode without empirical evidence?

BIGFOOT: The people who ban books aren’t worried about explosions or radiation. They’re afraid of exposure to harmful ideas.

MORZANT: Harmful ideas? Bigfoot, you really need to stop pulling my leg. It’s getting so I don’t believe a word you say.

BIGFOOT: I’m not pulling your leg. I wish I were.

MORZANT: You’re saying that I spent all this time looking for danger where it doesn’t exist?


MORZANT: So, it’s safe to read this copy of Lauren Myracle’s ttyl to Mortimer?

BIGFOOT: Of course.

MORZANT: Both the hardback and the paperback editions?

BIGFOOT: Absolutely.

MORZANT: What a relief. Finally, I can return to my previous studies of Earth literature. I have a theory that the recent spike in dystopian novels is inversely proportional to the decline in Earth’s polar bear population.

BIGFOOT: Have you also taken into consideration the PBF?

MORZANT: What’s that?

BIGFOOT: You’re not familiar with the Paddington Bear Factor?

MORZANT: No. Do you think there could be a connection?

BIGFOOT: Undoubtedly.

MORZANT: You’re back to pulling my leg again, aren’t you?


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