Has anyone out there heard this urban legend? (I could swear I've heard it from multiple sources, but I can't find it on snopes.com, so I'm beginning to doubt my memory.)
Apparently an engineer once performed a bunch of aerodynamics calculations on the weight, shape, and wingspan of the common bumblebee -- and proved that bumblebees can't fly! But they do fly, demonstrating conclusively that bumblebees know "the secret", or something like that...
This little gem has got to be one of the funniest examples of empiricism FAIL. Our knowledge of aerodynamics is ultimately based on observation and experience. So when your theoretical calculations contradict experimental evidence in an obvious and consistent way, then perhaps your first thought should be "Hmm, where did I go wrong in this calculation?" not "Eureka! I've proven magic!"
Now, it's very possible that bumblebees do fall outside the norm in terms of mass vs. wingspan. But then (by asking why? and how?) they should be taken as a golden opportunity to learn something new about flight. As Isaac Asimov famously said 'The most exciting phrase to hear in science -- the one that heralds new discoveries -- is not "Eureka!" (I found it!) but "that's funny..."'
Actually, that one really is on snopes. It turns out that it's not clear Asimov ever said that. But he should have! :D