Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A Random Walk in Science

An Anthology Compiled by R.L. Weber. Edited by E. Mendoza. New York: Crane, Russak & Co., Inc. 1973.

Why read it? Although the anthology contains many humorous items, there is a fairly serious intent to the book. The 133 selections record anecdotes about noted scientists, items of historical interest, and articles showing the often bizarre ways in which scientists work.

Sample quotes:

“Physicists recognize that the crucial step on the way to scientific discovery is not rational, but intuitive.” p. vii. ………. “Much of the misunderstanding of scientists and how they work is due to the standard format of articles in scientific journals.” p. xv. ………. “By research in pure science, I mean research made without any idea of application to industrial matters but solely with the view of extending our knowledge of the laws of nature. JJ Thompson. p. 3.

“One of the characteristics of humor is that it eludes definition.” Feleki. p. 4. ………. “The greatest blessing of humor is that it relaxes tension.” Feleki. p. 4. ………. “It is estimated that if all redundant passages were eliminated, the whole concert time of two hours could be reduced to twenty minutes, and there would be no need for an intermission.” Anonymous. p. 7. ………. “…the relation between an analogy and a pun: in the former one truth lies under two expressions, and in the latter two truths lie under one expression.” RV Jones. p. 8.

“The crux of the simplest form of joke seems to be the production of an incongruity in the normal order of events.” RV Jones. p. 9. ………. “…the more advanced jokes usually involve a period of preparation…sometimes elaborate, before the incongruity becomes apparent.” RV Jones. p. 9. ………. “There has long been felt in American physics the need for an efficient governing body to organize the vast quantity of useless research that is being pursued day by day and hour by hour in the many institutions of higher learning in these great United States…The American Institute of Useless Research.” AIUR. p. 23.

“Report writing, like motor-car driving and love-making, is one of those activities which almost every Englishman thinks he can do well without instructions with usually abominable results.” Margerison. p. 49. ………. “There are no bad research students, only bad professors.” PMS Blackett. p. 59. ……….”Once again…the high energy physicists have presented us with a paper with more authors (27) than paragraphs (12). RA Myers. p. 84. ………. Admiral William Leahy to President Truman in 1945: “The atomic bomb will never go off, and I speak as an expert in explosives.”

“The exact temperature of Hell cannot be computed but it must be less than 444.6 degrees centigrade, the temperature at which brimstone or sulfur changes from a liquid to a gas.” Anonymous. p. 106. ………. “Effective as the strapless evening gown is in attracting attention, it presents tremendous engineering problems to the structural engineer.” Anon. p. 115. ………. “ ‘It has long been known that’…actually means ‘I haven’t bothered to look up the original reference.’ ” CD Graham Jr. p. 120. .......... “ ....of great theoretical and practical importance’ actually means ‘…interesting to me.’ ” CD Graham Jr. p. 120.

Oral exam: “…the basic purposes of the oral examination are to make the examiner appear smarter and trickier than either the examinees, or the other examiners…and to crush the examinees.” SD Mason. p. 160. ……….Oral exam: “Be reserved and stern in addressing the examinee; for contrast, be very jolly with the other examiners.” SD Mason. p. 160. ………. Oral exam: “Impose many limitations and qualifications in each question…to complicate an otherwise simple problem.” SD Mason. p. 160.

Comment: You have to have gone through an oral exam for a doctorate to appreciate the truth of the preceding analysis of an oral exam. In addition, from reading these quotes, I decided that scientists sometimes take all the fun out of fun. Note the analysis of humor. The whole anthology is worth reading. RayS.

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