Some years ago, I went through a period of incessant sneezing. If you lived near me, that’s what that sound was that used to keep you awake.
I experienced day-long sneezing fits about 50 times each year. Then it just stopped. And I have a theory:
It was because the cat died.
“Aha!” you say. “You were allergic to the cat.”
That also was my first guess. You lived with a cat and sneezed your head off until the cat died. Then you stopped sneezing. Mystery solved.
Maybe. Maybe not.
Actually, there are dozens of facts that might explain why a few years of sneezing suddenly ended.
Walking, for instance. About the same time the cat died and I stopped sneezing, I started walking for exercise. I started going to buy coffee on foot, breathing buckets of fresh morning air.
That also was the year we started using industrial strength furnace filters in an old house. Maybe the filter defeated the mold.
Or was it one of the shrubs we planted? Was my sneezing cure triggered by removing a rose bush that was a lot uglier in real life than in the plant catalogue?
On the other hand, my sneezing stopped about when I replaced the sugar in my diet with aspartame, the artificial sweetener. Aspartame allowed me to drop a few pounds. Perhaps I had been allergic to my own fat.
That’s the trouble with unscientific, untested theories. There are dozens of potential explanations for the sneezing bouts that went away. And it’s almost all useless until a professional stops the guesswork and conducts legitimate, provable experiments that can be replicated by other scientists. It’s called “the scientific method.”
On the other hand, the guesswork that focused me on the cat as the culprit is something called “anecdotal evidence.” An “anecdote” is a little story based on personal experience or hearsay or on making up stuff.
For instance, I could tell you, “My grandfather swears he saw the ghost of Marilyn Monroe smiling warmly at him one night on a street in Hollywood. And he swears he wasn’t drinking.”
That’s an anecdote.
An anecdote is mostly harmless and entertaining, except when it is offered as alleged ironclad proof of something that probably isn’t so. Humorist Will Rogers said, “The problem ain’t what people know. It’s what people know that ain’t so that’s the problem.”
There is an epidemic of such blather today, coming from people in every walk of life, including college graduates – even including some science graduates who offer their unproven folk fantasies as factual scientific conclusions. They say the darnedest things:
“A friend of my cousin’s wife knows a man who said his neighbor died of too much decaffeinated coffee.”
“Every time I eat okra my elbows ache. Okra is poison.”
“A guy who almost won the Pulitzer Prize has proven that cell phones cause gallstones.”
“Eventually, all non-organic food will kill you.”
Some such statements might actually prove one day to be true. Most go unproven, except in disorderly guesswork minds.
Meanwhile, the cat is still the prime suspect on what caused my sneezing. Some real scientists, following the scientific method, have learned that people who are allergic to cats are often allergic to dried cat spit, known as “dander.”
That might explain what happened to me. Our cleanest cat was the one who died – the one who was constantly washing herself.
Our other cat, the one that lived on after my sneezing stopped, never washed.
Meanwhile, a friend of an uncle of my neighbor – who knows a witch doctor personally – swears that dirty cat hair can cure headaches, knee pain, armpit mold – and sneezing, of course.Contact columnist Bill Hall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1012 Prospect Ave., Lewiston, ID 83501.