Tag Archives: Humor

Innervated follicles and spider-moms


Hyperactivation of sympathetic nerves drives depletion of melanocyte stem cells | Nature

Why do we go gray after stress? Linkages between nerves and stem cells in our hair follicles! This happened to me in the month before my dissertation: I got gray in my beard. So strange.


Have the Boomers Pinched Their Children’s Futures? – with Lord David Willetts – YouTube

I am not an economist, but I think this talk articulates important issues. Larger cohorts have a strange weight in democracies.


Gregor Czaykowski on Twitter: “ha ha happy new year https://t.co/29c2r0hrBk” / Twitter


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In Brief: Ze Frank, humorist, making Video Essays on Time.com

Ze Frank is doing videos on Time.com. I’m a fan of Mr. Frank from years ago when he was doing The Show. In the same spirit, he’s doing 3 minute videos at Time.com.

The one that is most salient for The Big Upshot is his little introduction to the Healthcare Debate, which I think sums up a lot of the absurdity. Have a look, you’ll get a chuckle, I think.

Ze Frank on the Healthcare “Debate”


Medical Hypotheses about belly button lint

There’s an article in C&EN that led me to about this article in Medical Hypotheses about belly button lint. A real scientist, Prof. Steinhauser of Vienna University of Technology made a careful study of the stuff. I almost wrote serious scientist, but I think Prof. Steinhauser would agree that he is a funny scientist.

The upshot is that his hypothesis seems to be true: if you have belly hair, you are probably more prone to belly button lint.

The reactions to this 2+ year trial have been mixed. I certainly think he deserves an IgNobel award. That is mixed praise at best. But I will say this: there is a place for frivolous science. Frivolous is not the same as wasteful. A study that is funny, interesting and still rigorous and well designed constitutes a feat.

I would make the analogy of a serious columnist writing a humor piece. It’s still journalism and it’s still an opportunity for good writing. In a similar way, science with a spirit of levity still deserves to be called science.


Darth Vader's Work Ethic

It struck me this evening that we don’t really know much about Darth Vader’s work ethic. Does he work late? Weekends? It’s totally unclear. What are the hours like for a sith apprentice? For that matter, what about the Emperor, Himself?

It has a lot to do with a TED talk on glamour. By the old definition of the word, the Dark Side has a lot of glamour. It has a seductive, deceptive allure. But glamour has nothing to do with hard work. In fact, if it turned out that Darth Vader spent a lot of his time studying prospective spacecraft designs, thumbing through blueprints and tapping his chin, it clashes with his whole image. I find it strange to think that a character who represents ruthless effectiveness is not superimposable on the prerequisite behavior for effectiveness.

In fact, Vader fails at almost everything in the films. He has no self control. He loses the Death Star and his command ship. I think the films could have emphasized Anakin’s laziness more. I think that’s what got Vader into trouble. Always trying to take the easy way out and get everything at once. That’s what gets him in trouble again and again.

There’s a lesson there.


Breaking News: Cellist disease a hoax

Cello Scrotum is a hoax! Hypochondriac male musicians inclined toward large stringed instruments will have to find a new problem with which to afflict themselves. Guitar nipple, however, is all too real.

Alert reader Jason brought this L.A. Times article to our attention. It seems that in or around 1975, a mated pair of physicians cooked up the idea of Cello Scrotum despite the fact that a properly operated cello does not, in fact, come in contact with the genetalia. The paper got published anyway. It’s an early example of a parody in the scientific literature being taken literally.

It reminds me of a more recent iteration of this phenomenon: Alan Sokal published a computer generated gibberish paper in Social Text. He tells why he did so in his book, Beyond the Hoax: Science, Philosophy and Culture.  Another instance occurred more recently: an MIT student got a conference paper accepted that was pure gibberish. To be fair, conference papers are not held to the same review standards as journal papers. Nonetheless, The Register sums up thusly:

Perhaps because of the atomization of the disciplines in both arts and science, the quality of published academic papers appears to be at rock bottom.

And these days, simply being published means you’re an authority. The MIT pranks illustrates all it takes to be published, is to submit a paper.

Maybe that’s true for Social Text, but it’s another matter for, say, Analytical Chemistry.