or: the essence of scientific research

Once upon a time, in a far-away country, there lived a farmer. Like his father and his grandfather and ... well, like all his ancestors before him, this farmer bred chickens with great care and dedication. In the time when the events of this story took place, the eggs of chickens were favoured food, and so were the chickens themselves. The farmer was therefore doing well, very well indeed, and he had good prospects for the future, and a healthy son that would take over the farm in due time.


But then, one morning in July, the farmer went into his barn and found one of his chickens lying dead on the floor. He was confused, for he could not see anything wrong with the chicken, however good he examined it. Later that day another chicken died mysteriously, and another died, and another ... This went on for a few more days and the farmer got really worried. He then decided to go into town and turn to the university for advice.


First the farmer was sent from this room to that desk, but at the end of the morning he was sitting face to face with a learned man. The farmer told his story and the learned man thought about it for a while, and then he told the farmer to paint a red square on the door of his chicken barn. Relieved to have received such good advice, the farmer went back home and painted a red square, just as he was said to do.

The next day the farmer went into his barn and saw that there were still chickens dying, and the days after that also, and still he could not tell why. The farmer got more worried and he went into town again, to ask the learned man what to do now. The learned man listened carefully and - after some thinking - he advised the farmer to paint a green circle just inside the red square. Relieved, the farmer went to a shop in order to buy some green paint (he had run out of it after painting his fence a month or so before) and back home he painted a green circle within the red square. Full of hope that all his problems would be over, he went to bed that night and fell asleep almost immediately.

When he went into his barn the next morning, the farmer again found a number of dead chickens. He waited for a few days to see if the green circle had any effect, but no: more and more chickens died mysteriously. So he went into town once more to visit the learned man. This time the learned man thought longer and he then advised the farmer: paint a yellow triangle at the right of the square, with one corner pointing at the square. Remembering he had still some yellow paint left after painting a toy for his son, the farmer hurried home to paint the triangle as he was told to do.

But the yellow triangle appeared not to help either: the chickens kept dying, and two days later there was no living chicken left. Very upset and angry the farmer rushed into town and walked right into the room of the learned man, who was just drinking his morning coffee. The learned man looked up at the farmer and wanted to speak. But the farmer spoke first, and he said:
"Your advice hasn't helped. All my chickens are dead!"
And the learned man answered:
"I'm sorry to hear that, for I still have so many ideas ..."

Free after a Jewish anecdote.
With special thanks to Slava Meleshko.

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last modified: 26 May 2001