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Research Into The Weird, Pointless, And Just Plain Silly
Posted: 20 July 2011 04:40 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 61 ]
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Come on, I think DM chose the story because it was bizzare; it’s not common to hear about suits of armor in experiments, that’s all. The scientific method is not being criticised. Absurd humor is the key.

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Posted: 20 July 2011 05:02 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 62 ]
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I agree, this is a rather bizarre set of circumstances. But he did far more than point out its oddity: he ridiculed its utility as well as its conception:

Wearing heavy plate armor was hard work and made you burn more calories?  Who knew?  Thank you, science!  Now my life is complete.

In other words: it was stupid research that actually managed to turn up something interesting.


Perhaps if I present a caricature of his point, I can make my own point clearer:

“Hey Ma, getta load of this: some hoity-toity scientists from Harvard are looking at stars by going out into the desert and watching funhouse mirrors wobbling around. Whatta buncha idjits! Har! Har! Har!”

“I can top that, Pa! Here’s a story about some scientists who are trying to figure out what goes on inside the sun—by going into a mine two miles deep and watching a million gallons of dry cleaning fluid! Ain’t that a hoot? Yuk! Yuk! Yuk!”

“I got something even better, Ma and Pa! Didja know that those nitwit scientists figured that they wanted to talk to people on other planets, so they sent out a satellite with a pitcher of a nekkid feller and a nekkid lady! If’n those aliens find that, they ain’t gonna come here for science—they’ll be lookin to get some nookie! Those hot-shot scientists aren’t too swift, are they?”

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Posted: 20 July 2011 05:51 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 63 ]
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I really want to drive this point home, so here I present a more serious rejoinder:

Let us recall the case of an obscure Moravian monk who spent years growing peas and carefully recording stupid things like the precise color and shape of the flowers. He published his results in one of those scientific journals that will print anything, and his paper was promptly forgotten. After all, what possible scientific value can there be in worrying over the exact characteristics of peas? We don’t admire their flowers, we eat the peas! One might as well record the precise movement of pebbles in a brook.

It was only after his death that somebody else noticed his work and integrated it with Darwinian theory. Nowadays, Gregor Mendel is known as “The Father of Genetics”. But—and this is crucial—at the time he did his work, it seemed weird, pointless, and just plain silly. Nobody, not even the scientists of the day, recognized it as having any scientific merit. Yet it turned out to be momentous work of the first order.

My point is that nobody can dismiss any properly executed scientific work as silly or pointless. All properly executed scientific research has potential merit, and it is impossible to know in advance which experiments will change the world and which will be forgotten.

I definitely agree that some scientific research is weird—weirdness is fundamental to scientific progress. Einstein’s idea of riding on top of a photon was really weird, but it led to the theory of relativity. All sorts of great scientific advances (and a huge number of little advances) have been generated by somebody coming up with a weird idea. What Dead Monky calls “weirdness”, I call “scientific creativity”.

Recall the motto of the IgNoble Prizes, referring to stuff that makes you laugh and then makes you think. I did an undergraduate research project many years ago, which required me to build a special random number generator. That’s trivial with computers these days, but back then computers capable of doing what I needed cost exorbitant amounts of money. I cooked up a contraption that was really weird. When my advisor first saw it in operation, he burst out laughing—but he also thought it brilliant.

So yes, let’s laugh at the bizarre stuff that scientists do. It *is* bizarre, and often funny. I often laugh when reading the details of some scientific work—but I’m laughing at the creativity and ingenuity of the idea. I think, “What an amazingly devious way to accomplish that!” and I laugh.

But let’s not assume that bizarre implies stupid, pointless, or silly. Let’s not denigrate the work of scientists when we don’t even know the intellectual context in which the experiment is carried out. If Dead Monky would only dispense with the critical commentary, he’d have something to entertain us all. (I’m still looking for a good contribution. I shall redouble my efforts.)

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Posted: 20 July 2011 06:14 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 64 ]
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Oh Dead Monky, always being misunderstood. Don’t worry, I understand what you’re saying, bro

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“What people do is they confuse cynicism with skepticism. Cynicism is ‘you can’t change anything, everything sucks, there’s no point to anything.’ Skepticism is, ‘well, I’m not so sure.’” -Bill Nye

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Posted: 21 July 2011 12:26 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 65 ]
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To connect with the space shuttle thread from the opposite direction: 

When I was still in school in the 70’s I had the good fortune to go to England.  I remember a tour guide, perhaps at the Royal Museum, or Tower of London, proudly telling us that NASA had borrowed suits of plate armor to help with the process of designing space suits.  NASA apparently thought there were enough similarities in the function of medieval plate armor and pressure suits to make the study worth while.  Knowing how the body expends energy in a suit of armor could well be useful information for planning space walk activities.

The fact that I remember this probably is pointless.

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Posted: 21 July 2011 02:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 66 ]
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Anything which has or had utility, can tell us a lot about design and function.
The “teepee” employs a very sophisticated ventilation system which keeps it cool in the summer and warm in the winter.
It was described by a well known architect as a marvel of a portable home.
The 2000 yr old Chinese wok, is the most functional and versatile cooking utensil in existence.

[ Edited: 21 July 2011 02:51 AM by Write4U ]
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Posted: 22 July 2011 01:33 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 67 ]
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Chris, my eyes just rolled so far back in my head that I think I caught a glimpse of my brain.

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“In the end nature is horrific and teaches us nothing.” -Mutual of Omicron

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Posted: 22 July 2011 02:47 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 68 ]
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I take it then that you have no coherent response to my arguments; if I am wrong, please provide as much.

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Posted: 22 July 2011 03:02 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 69 ]
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I agree with what you say, Chris. But I also enjoy the levity brought by DM. And I have to say that, given your picture in your profile, I would think you would also find it a hoot.  smile

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Posted: 22 July 2011 03:09 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 70 ]
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Yes, I enjoy the tales of bizarre scientific experiments. Some folks out there are wildly creative. But—and this point still seems to be lost on some readers—I object to the unnecessary and inappropriate denigratory baggage the Dead Monky attaches to his tales. It’s rather like hearing a good joke about a guy and a gal with the narrator adding at the end “Ain’t women stupid?” It takes all the fun out of it.

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Posted: 22 July 2011 03:14 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 71 ]
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Chris Crawford - 22 July 2011 03:09 PM

Yes, I enjoy the tales of bizarre scientific experiments. Some folks out there are wildly creative. But—and this point still seems to be lost on some readers—I object to the unnecessary and inappropriate denigratory baggage the Dead Monky attaches to his tales. It’s rather like hearing a good joke about a guy and a gal with the narrator adding at the end “Ain’t women stupid?” It takes all the fun out of it.

LOL

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Posted: 22 July 2011 10:23 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 72 ]
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Jeciron - 21 July 2011 12:26 AM

To connect with the space shuttle thread from the opposite direction: 

When I was still in school in the 70’s I had the good fortune to go to England.  I remember a tour guide, perhaps at the Royal Museum, or Tower of London, proudly telling us that NASA had borrowed suits of plate armor to help with the process of designing space suits.  NASA apparently thought there were enough similarities in the function of medieval plate armor and pressure suits to make the study worth while.  Knowing how the body expends energy in a suit of armor could well be useful information for planning space walk activities.

The fact that I remember this probably is pointless.

No that’s not pointless at all.

But, hmmm, did the Guide add… perhaps a bit more “license” to the story than it deserved?  oh oh

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Posted: 27 July 2011 09:08 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 73 ]
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Chris, I could have been “coherent” (whatever that means).  I even had a whole post of this “coherence” as you call it written up at one point.  But then I thought to myself, “Why am I bothering with this?  It does no good.  It’s like banging my head against a wall.”  So, sarcasm.

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“In the end nature is horrific and teaches us nothing.” -Mutual of Omicron

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Posted: 27 July 2011 06:24 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 74 ]
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Whle there was a fair amount of fantasy in the Startrek series, one thing that fascinated me was the accuracy of the depiction of both Spock and Data as being brilliant, logical, clear thinking but with essentially no understanding of humor.  I wonder why there’s at times so little correlation between awareness of humor and intelligence?

Occam

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Posted: 27 July 2011 06:53 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 75 ]
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Hmm, I’ve always thought that the creation of humor involved a goodly amount of intelligence. So, are intelligence and humor correlated or anticorrelated?

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