Science advisor of EEVVVIIILLLL

By Phil Plait | September 2, 2011 10:00 am

I was going to make an empassioned plea about how science does really make a lot of stuff better, but then decided that this Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal strip was too funny to try to add any snark to it.

I’m just glad Zach didn’t draw the science advisor to look like me.


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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Humor, Science
MORE ABOUT: SMBC, Zach Weiner

Comments (44)

  1. QuietDesperation

    Economics = a science? Bah ha ha ha ha ha! Good one! OK, everyone get out their wands. Point at the economy. Stimuloso!

  2. VinceRN

    Macroeconomics is a religion, not a science. This strip started out so well, then crashed.

  3. Keith Bowden

    But Phil… you’re obviously the misguided super-villain! However, we know you’d never make that missteak. ;)

  4. Jim Johnson

    Phil, so you’re saying the difference between “Evil Astronomer” and “Bad Astronomer” is more than one of degree?

  5. Peter Eldergill

    Wasn’t there an episode of GI Joe years ago that was essentially this plot line? Hilarious

    “DNA doesn’t work that way”

    Heh

  6. mike burkhart

    Sicence should be working on a better breakfest cereal one with more nuturation and tastes grate . All I have for brakefast is :coffie, instent brakefest and orangejuice normaly (some times I have bagels and donuts) . You now one thing of early scifi is the idea that in the future everybody takes pills that provide them will all nuturation . So Phil are scientists working on these pills? If so when will they be on the market?

  7. Ryan the Biologist

    I disagree that this would be 100% impossible, just more difficult that most people might expect and beyond our current technological abilities. Assuming you had the DNA from these individuals, and assuming you knew what (genetic) traits you wanted from them and where along the genome those traits could be found, it would be entirely plausible to mix-and-match the desired genes between multiple individuals. In fact, this is something we do already with transgenics, GM foods, and recombinant proteins (like insulin). Sure, doing this kind of mash-up with 4 (let’s not forget: long-dead) humans is considerably more complicated and currently beyond us even if we had the DNA in front of us, but “impossible”?

    Even many personality traits are either genetically influenced or determined, and identical twin studies turn up more of these kinds of surprises all the time. Sure, you can’t give such a transgenic child the built-in knowledge to be a superb warlord (though considering the nature of instincts and genetic memory, even this isn’t 100% out of the question), but you could produce a child that had a higher chance of having a high IQ, a domineering temperment, greater levels of testosterone, etc. Given the right environment and nutrition, you could certainly nurture such a genetically-optimized little conquerer to perform acts similar to those performed by his/her pedigree.

    Basically, as the state-of-the-art stands, this cannot currently be done. But it remains theoretically possible. Though I suppose it would take more than mushing historically-valuable bones into a paste and dunking them into an aquarium…

  8. frankenstein monster
  9. frankenstein monster

    Macroeconomics is a religion, not a science

    certain schools of macroeconomics surely are… but all macroeconomics ?

    methinks you are overgeneralizing here. :)

  10. @Ryan the Biologist,

    Yes, it could be done in some highly technical sort of way, but it’s funny how SMBC pops the super-villain stereotype of mixing some DNA together to magically combine it into a hybrid of the two forms. If you take some shark DNA and bear DNA, stir them together with a spoon, and zap them with a laser, you’ll get a burned mess, not a Shark-Bear.

  11. Ryan the Biologist

    @TechyDad

    Yeah, I know it was meant to be funny. The point I was trying to make is that if someone did manage to create a human embryo with genetic traits from 4 other men or created a shark/bear hybrid through the insertion of genes, the response from the scientific community (ethical issues aside) would be more: “Pretty impressive! How did you get the embryo to survive into adulthood and *insert more specific inquiry here*?” rather than “WOW! That should not have been possible! We have to rewrite the textbooks to accomodate this impossible thing you’ve just done!”

    I just dislike the haughty attitude by this fictional scientist character. I think he gives the rest of us a bad rap.

  12. TerryEmberson

    @1. QuietDesperation:

    Economics = a science? Bah ha ha ha ha ha! Good one! OK, everyone get out their wands. Point at the economy. Stimuloso!

    Economics does = a science. Economic stimulus and Keynesian economics was shown to be faulty four decades ago. Its still faulty today. Where is the problem?

  13. Sledge

    @3

    I prefer the ribeye cut of missteak covered in Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ with some grilled veggies on the side :)

  14. Bruce

    @13 “Economics does = a science”

    Your peddling of conservative economic theory as a “scientific” theory of humanity and proof of libertarian ideology’s inevitable victory has creepy parallels with the “scientific” marxism of the early to mid 20th century. Just saying.

  15. @Ryan the Biologist,

    In other words, movie science versus real science ala http://xkcd.com/683/

    In movie science, Evil Villain mixes the DNA of a shark and bear together in a mysterious chamber and out (dramatically from some fog) pops a Shark-Bear. Evil Villain laughs maniacally.

    In real science, Scientist does a lot of dull (as far as a movie would be concerned) work to combine the genetic codes of a shark and bear. He overwrites a series of eggs’ genetic codes with this and puts them in some bears to grow. Most die. He repeats a few times until he gets a viable offspring. Viable meaning it’s born alive but dies 3 minutes later. He might refine his method more until he has a viable, surviving Shark-Bear. Finally, he presents his findings in a paper in a major scientific journal so that others can replicate his results.

  16. Jens

    #13: Don’t know much about economics but I do know someone who does:

    http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/

    And I suspect he will disagree with your viewpoint.

  17. TerryEmberson

    @15 Bruce:

    Your peddling of conservative economic theory as a “scientific” theory of humanity and proof of libertarian ideology’s inevitable victory has creepy parallels with the “scientific” marxism of the early to mid 20th century. Just saying.

    First, nice shifty ad hominem. Second, it’s not conservative, it’s liberal. Third, I absolutely do not believe that the libertarian ideology will inevitably have victory. Fourth, I hope that no one tries to create a libertarian world. Fifth, ‘scientific’ Marxism was the Intelligent Design of economics; it used scientific labels but ignored evidence which disproved any elements of it. And finally, Sixth, any rational examination of the last 300 years will prove that free market economics makes the lives of people better from the lowest to the highest segments of populations.

    Personally, I believe that any rational examination of the last 300 years of history has also shown that greater freedom in economic and social activity is better than greater restriction of economic and social activity. I think government should exist to protect me from others and not from myself. That doesn’t make me a libertarian, that makes me a liberal.

  18. Douglas Troy

    OMFSM! LOL!

    That was awesome.

  19. frankenstein monster

    I think government should exist to protect me from others and not from myself. That doesn’t make me a libertarian, that makes me a liberal.

    That makes you an libertarian hypocrite ;)

  20. Bob_In_Wales

    Ryan @8 – I thought the most recent evidence showed that lower levels of testosterone in men made them more violent? That’s what my Second Book of General Ignorance says anyhow. So if you produce a Genetically Engineered Evil Genius (a GMEG?) wouldn’t you want to have him have lower levels? I think this kind of unknown shows how far we have to go to have the ability to produce GMEGs.

  21. Jake

    I’m not arguing the scientificity (yeah, that’s right) of economics one way or the other, but I think the strip is referring to the science of genetics in this particular case.

  22. Ken

    Economics is a science to the degree that it tests its theories. Unfortunately a great deal of economic theory over the past several decades has concentrated on elegant math to the exclusion of testing. In some cases, in fact, the theories are based on assumptions that are known to be false. In any other field of science, this would be of more than a little concern, but not in economics.

    For a specific case consider the Black-Scholes theorem, which assumes is that everyone can borrow unlimited amounts at the risk-free interest rate. Despite the fact that everyone acknowledges this is false, the theorem won the Nobel in economics, and is incorporated into the algorithms that price and trade options. To me, that’s a little like hearing that NASA uses Ptolemaic epicycles to calculate trajectories for interplanetary probes.

  23. Chris A.

    [spelling pedant]Umm, Phil? It’s “impassioned,” not “empassioned.”[/spelling pedant]

  24. To those that claim Macroeconomics is a science:

    The fact that Dole’s economic theory agrees with your politics does not make it a science. There are no reproducable results, it is all subjective, none of it is in anyway science. It is, in fact, religion. You believe that certain signs mean something will happen, and that certain actions will have certain effects, and you are undaunted by the repeated failures of the real world to conform to your belief, you just make excuse for why it didn’t. Science adjusts itself based on results, religion does not, Macroeconomics does not. Macroeconomics is religion, it is woo. Doesn’t matter if it is conservative or liberal, it is all woo.

  25. QuietDesperation

    Oh dear, I started a holy war.

    (munches popcorn)

    Actually, economics can’t be a true religion because there’s really no consistent dogma. Or hats. All power religions have wicked hats.

    Related image: now we’re takin!
    http://www.thelaughingstock.co.uk/acatalog/pator_hat.JPG

    Don’t know much about economics but I do know someone who does:
    krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/

    Bah ha ha ha! Archbishop Krugman? Are you serious?

  26. @Techy-Dad: You’re trying to be all sciency and stuff but you don’t even grasp the basics.

    DNA ALWAYS combines alphabetically. So it’s a Bear-Shark, not a Shark-Bear. Everyone knows that!

  27. Is it ok if I don’t know what macroeconomics is AND that I don’t care? Or will something bad happen to me?

  28. QuietDesperation

    Is it ok if I don’t know what macroeconomics is AND that I don’t care? Or will something bad happen to me?

    I’m afraid so, and it involves weasels.

  29. frankenstein monster

    The fact that Dole’s economic theory agrees with your politics does not make it a science.

    does it agree ?

    There are no reproducable results, it is all subjective, none of it is in anyway science.

    Strong words. Can you can you back them up somehow ?

    You believe that certain signs mean something will happen, and that certain actions will have certain effects, and you are undaunted by the repeated failures of the real world to conform to your belief, you just make excuse for why it didn’t.

    Now, you definitely have to support such serious accusations with something more than your word.

  30. Messier Tidy Upper

    Hmm.. Not sure about a few things there. :-(

    Are Genghis Khan, Alexander the Great, Charlemagne and Napoleon really the world’s greatest conquerors?

    Would they count as super-villians?

    What about others such as the Roman Caesars & the British empire builders who had half the world under the British commonwealth? What about Attila the Hun, Rupert Murdoch and General Tojo / Emperor Hirohito?

    Plus is it science or economics ruling the world at the end anyway? :-(

    I don’t think economics is a science – if it was wouldn’t it work a lot better and be a lot more predictable than it seems to be today? Are economists capable of making accurate predictions – and if so why the Global Financial Crisis?

  31. @frank”s monster – not sure why that says ‘Dole’, autocorrect on this tablet is weird. Anywho, you’ve got it wrong. I don’t have to prove that whatever economic theory you subscribe to doesn’t work. If you claim that your economic views are science then you have to demonstrate that they do work, that they do have reproducable results and make verifiable and accurate predictions. No economic theory ever has, so I’m pretty sure yours doesn’t.

  32. ColinC

    MTU Says:

    and if so why the Global Financial Crisis?

    Oh, I don’t know, why global warming?

    Economics as a science has been politicized since Adam Smith and Karl Marx came out with competing explanations. The more politicized the science, the less clear cut it becomes. Smith was more right than Marx, but that doesn’t matter because Marx became popular with college professors.

  33. ColinC

    What I find funny is that people can get so upset about the effects of global warming, the worst factors of which are as yet theoretical in that they haven’t actually happened, but planned economics strategies have ALREADY caused the death of at least 30 million in the last century due to starvation, deprivation, and government violence inspired to keep people in line. This is ALL predicted, scientifically.

    That said, I’ll concede that most economic forecasting is not scientific, any more than most of the climate debate is scientific. Many of those that actually do the economic research do it scientifically, but then their research gets twisted by people with political goals. The same is true for pure climate science. There is also the recursive factor where the science itself is made to achieve certain results in the first place. Fortunately the world provides us a great lab to test scientific principles.

    How many countries with planned economies have fat poor people. How many countries with free market economics have fat poor people? How many countries where government protects private property suffer from famine? How many countries where the government does not or can not protect private property rights suffer from famine?

    While we may not be able to predict economic storms, we can certainly predict what doesn’t work. The debacle of the Washington Consensus and its goals to plan economics shows that we don’t know what the sufficient conditions for free market development are, but we certainly know what does NOT work. We are studying it to get answers, scientifically, despite the political noise that gets in the way.

  34. I’m not a fan of weasels but I’ll take my chances and continue not knowing what macroeconomics are. I’m assuming it refers to the cost of a close-up lens.

  35. QuietDesperation

    I’m not a fan of weasels but I’ll take my chances and continue not knowing what macroeconomics are.

    Probably for the best.

  36. Phyllis

    First of all, let me just state what really must be stated here – this is a **comic strip**. You know, from the “Funny Pages”? Many of you are thinking way, way too much into what is essentially a joke. I mean, can’t we just laugh at the hilarity of it instead of analyzing it’s feasibility as if this were published in the Harvard Science Review or some such journal?? Dang.

    Second of all, kudos to the artist for acchieving what tickled me the most about the strip – a super villian, in a mask/welding shield thing actually looking sheepish! That made me laugh more than the content of the strip, which I thought was pretty funny! Cheers for blending art, science and humor!

  37. Nigel Depledge

    @ Mike Burkhart (7) –
    Apparently, research has shown that the best kind of breakfast you can have is a protein-heavy one (so, bacon, eggs, sausage and beans would be a good starting point). Not so much in terms of vitamins and so on, but in terms of how long it will be before you next feel hungry (and, yes, the studies used various meals with an identical calorie content but different emphasis on various food groups). The least sustaining breakfast is a carb-heavy one, especially one laden with sugars (which is what many breakfast cereals are – for example, there’s one that is advertised in the UK with the slogan “lose the fat” yet is 17% sugar! And guess what the body turns surplus sugar into?).

    The “meal in a pill” fantasy is just that. A fantasy.

  38. Nigel Depledge

    TechyDad (11) said:

    If you take some shark DNA and bear DNA, stir them together with a spoon, and zap them with a laser, you’ll get a burned mess, not a Shark-Bear.

    Aw, man!

    That’s that project going in the bin, then.

  39. Nigel Depledge

    Terry Emberson (18) said:

    And finally, Sixth, any rational examination of the last 300 years will prove that free market economics makes the lives of people better from the lowest to the highest segments of populations.

    Where has there ever been a genuinely free market?

  40. Nigel Depledge

    Ken (23) said:

    In some cases, in fact, the theories are based on assumptions that are known to be false. In any other field of science, this would be of more than a little concern, but not in economics.

    Too true.

    . . . To me, that’s a little like hearing that NASA uses Ptolemaic epicycles to calculate trajectories for interplanetary probes.

    It’s worse than that, in fact. There is one version of the Ptolemaic epicycles system that is a coordinate transformation from a heliocentric solar system with elliptical orbits, and is therefore mathematically equivalent.

  41. Nigel Depledge

    @ QD (26 & 29) –

    LOL!

  42. Nigel Depledge

    MTU (31) said:

    Are Genghis Khan, Alexander the Great, Charlemagne and Napoleon really the world’s greatest conquerors?

    This is an interesting question. I’m pretty sure that Julius Caesar ought to be up there somewhere (he conquered Gaul and various other barbarian regions, but failed to conquer Britain). Genghis Khan and Alexander certainly deserve to be in the list, IMO. I don’t know enough about Charlemagne, and Napolean’s empire lasted only a short time, so his greatness is arguable.

    Who would be your candidates? (IOW, whose DNA would be in your laboratory?)

  43. TerryEmberson

    @40 Nigel Depledge:

    Where has there ever been a genuinely free market?

    Too true, too true.

    Despite the fact that the relatively freer markets have seen greater stability, prosperity, and opportunity while relatively less free markets see greater fluctuations, privation, and social immobility, we continue to think that we can intelligently design our way into a system that is both unfree and prosperous. Or even just unfree and fair. The greater the economic freedom, the less that the have’s can manipulate the system to maintain their control.

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