Mistrust But Verify

Constantly Questioning What I Think I Know


I did a science experiment yesterday. It was pretty dumb, to be honest, but seemed important in the moment.

When I had my nose rebuilt a couple years ago (thanks, skin cancer), I discovered a great sun hat made by a company in Portland, Oregon. They’re currently having a sale, so I ordered a couple for my summer hiking. Not only do these hats have a huge full-coverage brim, they are reversible—two giant hats in one. Perfect. The hat I bought after my surgery is purple on one side and white on the other. I hike with the white side up, because everyone knows white is cooler. Right?

It didn’t even occur to me that someone would make a black sun hat, so I was surprised when one of the new ones turned out to be Johnny-Cash-meets-Sophia-Loren fashion black on one side. The other side was black and white, so yeah, pretty much a black sun hat. Might not be the best choice for the desert, I thought.

Then—as with most thoughts these days—I wondered if this well-known “fact” that a white hat is cooler than a black hat is actually true. I don’t know about you, but between the political gaslighting, media obfuscation, and general bullshit of this moment, I find myself often questioning what’s true and looking askance at “facts” far more than I ever have.

When I called the hat company, the person on the phone was very sweet and said a return would be no problem. But there was a problem: I actually really liked the black hat—preferred it, honestly. Like most who had an active dance club life in the 1980s, black is my power color. That’s when I decided to do the experiment.

I still have a display card of 1970s darkroom thermometers from my days at The Camera Exchange, so I dug out a couple of those. My immediate thought was, “Two digital thermometers would be more accurate.” My next thought was, “You sure about that?”

(See what I mean?)

Anyway, I placed two EVA Birkenstocks in such a way that the sun hit them from about the same angle. These would insulate the thermometers from the concrete.

After putting a thermometer (cooled to the same temperature) on each shoe, I placed the hats over them, with the crowns directly over the thermometers. I left them there for about 20 minutes.

If you’ve watched the above video, you already know that, in fact, the black hat was hotter. What you don’t know, is I repeated this experiment four times, swapping thermometers, swapping hat placement (left/right), changing time duration. Real science-y stuff, man. The results were the same each time: the black hat’s thermometer was always four to six degrees higher. Might not seem like much, but six degrees on your head is significant.

So back the black hat goes back for exchange. I just wish the myriad other questions that torture me on a daily basis were as easy to verify.