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.


Entirely contrary to expectation, the S.H.I.T. was positively correlated with time elapsed since PhD (statistics not shown because I violated a few essential assumptions). It appears that scientists in general become funnier and less serious with age.


The dubious importance of this finding cannot be understated. This places serious doubts on the essential role of mentors for improving the serious engagement of younger colleagues with the general public. Instead of growing the serious aspects of their science, scientists in general appear to rely on professional mutualisms (Greathead 1968; Philander 1985; Hole 1996; Dick, Brett & Smy 2003) to advance the increasing irrelevance of their work (Russell & Waste 1998; Junk 2002). The take-home message is younger scientists should not necessarily and blindly heed advice from older, more established peers (Bastard et al. 2004) who pursue more and more non-science activities with age (Rumball, Franklin, Frankham & Sheldon 1994; Tail & Hopkins 1998; Beer et al. 2002).


The article is entirely a parody (Hodges, Comic & Briantais 1989) and in no way attributes (the very real) cited authors to the ideas presented. Persons offended by the material herein (Kok, Forbush & McGloin 1970) should seek legal advice (Headley, Fuck, Fuck & Curti 2006).




6 responses

12 10 2010
Dingo Lady

Too funny.
Having struggled with statistics over the past 4 months I have decided it is all a BITCH or Broard In Total Control of Herself.


12 10 2010
Clem Weidenbenner

I think your index might gain some precision if reworked a tad. Consider a Derivatively Estimated Epistemological & Philosophically Subjective Humor Index Tally. A standard calculus text should have what you need.

I really hope I have some reason to link to this article next April.


12 10 2010

Good suggestion!


11 10 2010

Thanks. Glad you liked it.


11 10 2010

Baahahahahahahahaha :)


11 10 2010

YAY! Malaysia is mentioned! LOL. Thanks for providing a funny read on an otherwise boring Monday :D


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