Monday, 24 February 2014

More QI QuIbbles

I enjoy the TV show QI with its combination of fascinating facts and entertaining banter, but occasionally the programme's smugness gets too irritating, especially when it gets things wrong - and I have in the past (herehere and here) moaned a bit about this. It's doubly irritating when QI spends part of its time attacking the fact checking on another show, as the first of the K series (repeated last week on the BBC) did.

It was rather ironic that the show itself happened to contain two errors itself.

One was on the matter of the red kite. Stephen Fry asked what colour a red kite was, and inevitably the siren sounded as someone said 'red'. He pointed out the quite interesting fact, featured in my book Light Years, that orange wasn't given a name as a colour until around the sixteenth century, and until then 'red' was used for both red and orange (the word 'orange' existed, but just for the, erm, red fruit). But the boo-boo was that he said that a red kite was orange. In fact, it's brown. Yes, it has an orange patch, which gives it the red name, but there is no doubt whatsoever that this is a brown bird. Wrong, QI. (Actually biologists, get your act together. It's not red. It's not a kite. What are you on? Though I admit 'brown bird' would be a bit generic as a name.)

What colour is this bird? It's brown!
More worrying was the way a totally wrong answer was allowed through. If Mr Fry has one failing, it's a tendency to be overly impressed when one of the participants comes up with a bit of science whereupon he tends to lavish praise them - unfortunately, in this case, the science was wrong, but he didn't realise, which was fair enough, but also the 'elves' in the background didn't pick up this glaring error.

Fry was going on about the size of the intestine, and someone said that the human intestine was far too long for a meat eater, which proved that we were naturally 'vegetarian', one of only three animals that had switched diet over time, and this was why we find meat so hard to digest. I'm sorry, but this is rubbish, pedalled by those trying to justify vegetarian and vegan diets, with no good evidence to back it up.

Firstly there are other animals, for instance, the capuchin monkey, with very similarly proportioned gastrointestinal setups and guess what? They aren't 'vegetarians' - they are omnivores, consuming a diet that's roughly 50:50 meat and fruit/vegetable. Our gut morphology indicates that we are omnivores. Our teeth indicate we are omnivores. The fossil record bears this out, showing humans have always eaten meat as part of their diet, as does our handling of various nutrients that makes an omnivorous diet the best for our requirements. The suggestion is pure woo.

Sorry QI - big fail here in not picking up the panel member on her error.

Images from Wikipedia

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