Sock Gnomes?

Skeptics CircleOccasionally I lose socks. This usually happens at laundry time. I think that when nobody is watching, sock gnomes break into the washing machine or tumble dryer and steal socks. I think they use them to make little suits out of to keep themselves warm.

I’ve just covered the first two steps of the scientific method.

  1. Determine the problem: Why do socks go missing at laundry time?
  2. Make a hypothesis: I think sock gnomes are stealing my socks. (in layman’s terms this could be called a “theory” which is why there is often confusion between hypotheses and theories. More on that later.)

Now if I’m going to prove my hypothesis, I need to experiment. What I’ll do is install a small camera in my washing machine and record what happens when the machine is left unattended. If there are sock gnomes, the camera will catch them (unless they’re invisible sock gnomes; ut oh my experiment needs fine tuning, possibly involving a bag of flour).

Of course a key piece of the scientific method is replication. If I do see sock gnomes in my washing machine, that won’t be enough for most scientists because they are suspicious and skeptical by nature. They will want to reproduce my experiment on their own washing machines and see the sock gnomes for themselves. If everyone sees sock gnomes, then my hypotheses has been validated.

Once we have data from many experiments (not just with cameras, those scientists are smart, they will come up with different ways to detect the sock gnomes, maybe even catch one!), then we can analyze the data and come up with a scientific theory.

There’s that theory word again. This is where people get confused. In layman’s terms, a theory is a hypothesis, something you might say to your mates over a few beers. “I reckon if you tied a piece of bread butter side up to the back of a cat, then dropped the cat, it would float”. That’s a hypothesis, and your average non-scientist might call it a theory.

It is not the same as a scientific theory. Aerodynamics is a scientific theory. We don’t say “I don’t believe in aeroplanes, aerodynamics is just a theory!”. That’s because a scientific theory is the conclusion of a repeatedly tested and validated hypothesis. A scientify theory has a wealth of analyzed data and observation backing it up. A scientific theory is something we can rely on.

So can a scientific theory be wrong? Well sadly yes it can, but the chances are, if the theory has experimental data backing it up, it is at least partially right. It might need tweaking here and there, it might be missing some crucial details, it might need refining, but that data tells us we have a firm foundation.

Evolution is a scientific theory. It is the conclusion of repeatedly tested and validated hypotheses. It has a wealth of experimental data and observations backing it up.

Sadly my sock gnome hypothesis will probably never become a scientific theory. Sock gnomes could exist and could be stealing my socks as we speak, but I doubt I could get funding for a serious research project into the sock gnome hypothesis. There is as much proof for my sock gnomes as there is for Creationism.

15 thoughts on “Sock Gnomes?”

  1. Look on the bright side: even if you never see a sock gnoe, all you need is a fuzzy picture of a pile of lint to inspire a horde of cryptozoologists that there is (cue X-Files theme) something out there …

  2. I am thinking you have got too much dungeons and dragons on the brain. Sock gnomes… how ridiculous. Everyone knows gnomes don’t steal socks, elves do!
    Wait, I’ve got a picture of a sock elf right here… now where did I put that picture…

  3. Maybe the little sissys are afraid of being washed! I love your theory though. Very good. Good luck with that. Damn gnomes… Gar.. we WILL kill them one day… *DIE!*

  4. Having studied the genetics of both elves and gnomes at the little known Scientific Center of the Tolkienesque (SCotT) I would like, if I may, to clear up the matter of the disappearing socks.

    Many moons ago, when the colonies of Glamdorando (Elven) and Putripidos (Gnomen) were at war with one and other it was not uncommon for occupied areas to cross pollinate and create their bastard offspring – the Gnelves. These unmentionables held both the fabric loving elven tendancies coupled with the thieving habits of the Gnomes. As soon as Gnelves were discovered – they were banished from their respective colonies and settled, mainly unnoticed for many years, in the land of men. (Yes AND women…gah!). They managed to temper their cravings for fabric and thieving until the last 50 or 60 years or so, when the revolutionary “W-A-S-H-I-N-G-M-A-C-H-I-N-E” was invented.

    It is also a little known fact that Gnelves, when combined with fabric conditioner, water and detergent become invisible and weightless (Scientific theory by SCotT) and thus they were able to stalk and ravage unprepared socks. Much to the chagrin of the common man. (YES AND THE COMMON WOMAN…COME ON!!!)

    So you see… we are dealing with a force more potent and despicable than the otherwise docile and peaceful (unless warring and feuding) Gnome and Elf.

    Few have been caught. And those which have, have remained loyal to their instincts… but this I do know:

    Your socks are safe if you urinate upon them first.

    Thank you.

  5. I was basically going to say what Procrasto did (since everyone knows about the Gnelves…rolls eyes), but my comment was going to go like this :
    “Pee on your socks if you want to keep them”.

    I was also thinking of adding a precaution against using flour in your experiment since, as we’ve all seen in 5th grade science classes, when flour mixes with water (such as would be found in a laundering situation) it becomes a most effective gluing agent…as evidenced by the fact that papier mache lasts forever. (It was going to be papier mache’s slogan “Papier mache lasts forever”, but DeBeers got to it first and insists that it’s diamonds.) Anywho, I wouldn’t use flour to find Gnelves in your washing machine unless you want to end up with a big laundry pinata.

    This comment would’ve been more satisfying if I knew how to type international characters.

  6. Ah yes, of course:

    Peeing on socks today keeps the gnelves away.

    My mom taught me that rhyme, but I never understood it until now.
    Thanks for clearing up the gnome/elf issue Procrasto.

    By the way, flour in the washing machine is how you catch the evil bastards. They get stuck in the flour/glue and you can then pee on them (they disolve like the wicked witch of the west when she gets wet).

    No poo Jen, only pee. Sorry.

  7. Hi, I’ve got a bit of an odd problem. Iím not entirely sure if itís Sock Gnome related, but I’m grasping at straws and have nowhere else to turn. So hopefully someone in this community can help me or point me in the right direction.

    Basically I own two types of socks. Black socks and white socks. About a month ago I started noticing that all of my ‘right’ black socks began to slip right down the back of my heal as I walked. My ‘left’ black socks as well as both my ‘left’ and ‘right’ white socks behave in the normal fashion.

    Not only this, but one day as I was walking down the street with my flatmate, noticing my ‘right’ sock start to play its little sliding games. I pointed this out to my flatmate who said she had too had just recenly begun having this very same problem – however – the problem was not with her ‘right’ black socks as you would have assumed…it is acutally only happening to her ‘left’ black socks. At first I thought she was just pulling my leg but with a quick roll up of her pant leg, the proof was in the pudding. No joke.

    Now before this discovery, I was blaming the problem on either some kind of environmental change, a heavy water issue, or perhaps wear-and-tear on my ‘right’ Puma shoe. But as soon as I heard this the possibily of Sock Gnomes came to mind.

    Now I know this isn’t normal aformetioned Sock Gnome behaviour, but I just don’t know what ele it could be.

    If anyone has any ideas or remedies to my problem it would be greatly appreciated. As a short-term measure I did go out this weekend and purchase five new pairs of white socks, but unfortunatly black socks seem to be more and more important these days as I get older and need to dress smarter in certain situations.


    Perplexed Slippy Sock

  8. Dear Perplexed Slippy Sock,

    How about trying some different colours? Maybe dark green socks would be less slippy than black socks. Or perhaps stripes would act as a sock-pest deterrent. Or polka dots. You could solve the problem and become more stylish at the same time.

    I don’t think sock gnomes are your problem, unless sock gnomes are really really small and can sit comfortably in your shoes. But then if sock gnomes are that small, how would they carry away socks? I suppose they could be really strong like ants. Or maybe this is a case for the sock elves, which could be smaller and have a different raison d’etre.

  9. i swear i’ve seen a gnome once. i was very young and laying in bed. i looked up at the window and saw the lil bugger peeking in. i hopped up to get my mom, but he was gone by then. true story

  10. Hi, I wonder whether or not your aware of the fact that most washing machines contain a portal linking them with the Fifth Dimension, and it was into this portal that the lost socks were originally thought to dissappear at random, however since the theory of the sock gnomes has been put forward, it would seem that the gnomes could make use of these portals to travel unseen from machine to machine carrying out their evil deeds with impunity, and thus creating the myth of their invisibility !
    A question which has always puzzled me is, what use is made of the stolen socks, has anyone ever received a ransom note for the safe return of their sock, indeed is the sock that was left behind pining for his (pardon the pun) soul mate ??

  11. Explained:- The law of non-conservation of socks in washing machines.

    Ivan’s nearly correct. ‘Sock gnomes’ is a very silly idea! There are indeed invisible portals within washing machines which lead to wormholes into hyperspace, as also exist with office desks, accounting also for the otherwise unexplained disappearance of all those ball point pens.

    Often, a warp in the space-time continuum will reverse time, returning not only an errant sock but also ink detritus to your washing machine through said portal.

    This also accounts for the fact that the fluff in your navel is always pale blue. Q.E.D.

    Gnomes? Get real, folks! Don’t be daft!

  12. I have noticed over the years my socks dissapearing biggie , buy a butt load of socks at tax time usually gets us thru. One day while cleaning my bedroom under my computor desk i saw one of my socks hanging out so i pulled it out and low and behold another sock behind it .. I pulled out a dozen socks . How did they get there? well I thought to myself I must have inavertantly done that . I pulled all the socks out and kept cleaning . When my daughter moved out of the house decided to use her room as the computor room .Moved the desk .. more socks were up under the file drawer I had cleaned them out before the week before. Now moved desk into the other room .guess what cleaning this morning . THERE are more socks under there ..get this also a electric adapater with a chord looked like it was pulled under there .btw these socks are dirty socks … i cant make sence of it cept maybe there are sock gnomes .. there is no sign of rodent infestation in my home pooh or sounds . any ideas?

  13. sock gnomes ARE REAL!!! They deconstruct socks at a molecular level and reconstruct them into guns for Iraq. Note: Gnomes may be killed by anything that rhymes with the word gnome.

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