The importance of being serious in science

11 10 2010

CJA Bradshaw1,2

1The Environment Institute and School of Earth and Environmental Science, University of Adelaide, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

2South Australian Research and Development Institute, Henley Beach, South Australia, Australia


The rising influence of the conservative voice in science politics (Prick et al. 1981; Wanker, Apcin, Jennerjahn & Waibel 1998) compels the modern empiricist to conduct experimentation, publication and general science communication in an entirely open and highly professional manner (Pain 1996). However, scientists having not yet established a solid reputation for objective excellence (Loser, Jennings, Strauss & Sandig 1998), might find this approach challenging. Of course, scientific mentoring (God, Gumm & Stump 2001; Lancelot et al. 2005) has assisted bringing younger scientists to the fore of public science debates (Odour 1996), even though their ability to convince public dissenters (Yob et al. 2001) might appear futile (Russell & Waste 1998) without employing unconventional communication tools.

To measure a scientist’s capacity to address misinformation (Wrong, Norden & Feest 1994) quickly, efficiently and wittily, here I present a novel analysis measuring the degree of humour employed by scientists as a function of years elapsed since obtaining a PhD. I hypothesise that the use of humour will decrease with age.


I used the ISI® Web of Science search tool to compare 153,496 scientists’ output and impact scores (assessed using the m-index; Crap et al. 1995). I then manually assigned an entirely subjective measure of comedic content for each paper’s title and abstract, summing over each author’s publication list. This, the Subjective Humour Index Tally (S.H.I.T) was then regressed against the number of years elapsed since PhD. Read the rest of this entry »