I bought my tickets for BAH Fest, the festival of “bad, ad hoc hypotheses,” on a whim. As a long time fan of Zach Weinersmith and his comic Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, I was aware that BAH Fest was something that happened. I knew it involved science, to a certain extent, and humor to another extent. But really, I had no idea what to expect.
I didn’t think too much about it until the time came for me leave. Suddenly, everything felt wrong. What right did I, a student of writing and literature with a diploma from a forgettable state school, have wandering the halls of MIT? As I circled the block in search of parking I grew anxious. I imagined the glares of passing students who could surely tell that I was not anywhere close to being one of them.
You don’t belong here, they whispered. Who do you think you are?
But I was not about to let my $16 on-a-whim ticket go to waste. Nor was I going to pass up the opportunity to engage with some of my favorite comic creators. Abby Howard (The Last Halloween, Junior Scientist Power Hour) was giving the keynote, and Rosemary Mosco of Bird and Moon was a panel judge. So I shoved my doubts down into the pit of my gut and waltzed into Kresge Auditorium like someone who possessed all the confidence in the world.
It wasn’t the exclusive club I had expected. What I found instead was a group of nerds come together to share their love of comics, experimentation, and bad science.
BAH Fest is designed as a competition of sorts: six applicants were chosen to present their hypotheses to the audience. A panel of four judges (Robin Abrahams, Michael Anderson, Rosemary Mosco, Max Tegmark) poses questions and ultimately decides a winner based on presentation, ability to answer questions, and “amount of science used.”
Zach Weinersmith gave a short introduction before welcoming Abby Howard to the stage. Though her presentation was not judged, it followed the BAH Fest format. She explained how, by removing their natural predators and allowing the overpopulation of certain areas, we had created a strain of fearless, obnoxious deer that is far more dangerous to our way of life than any predator. This idea of homicidal deer became a running joke integrated into many presentations throughout the night.
Those presentations included:
– Alexander Rothfuss, who concluded that the human torso was evolutionarily designed to intimidate predators by mimicking the human face.
– Stacy Farina, who posited that fish disperse their eggs because they are actually horrendous parents.
– Robert Gooding-Townsend demonstrated the important role alcohol has played in increasing the size of human brains.
– Sanjay Kulkacek, who explained how our disgust for small, dead animals is a direct result of our resistance to heap praise on approval-seeking cats.
– Jacob Falkovich listed the benefits of sleepwalking and defined its roots as a way of getting extra exercise.
– Daniel Harris analyzed the negative impact that “funky beats” have on our ability to survive in the wild.
Robert won the love of both the judges and the audience, taking home the $500 prize along with two SMBC books and the BAH Fest trophy.
Ultimately, I thought Robert, Sanjay, and Joseph had the strongest presentations, but it was fun to hear all the outlandish theories presented. I definitely plan on going again next year!