Mischievous or Moronic?

By Mark Trodden | December 26, 2008 7:55 am

If you’re a friend of a Brit, then you’ll undoubtedly know that we’re a dry people, and you may sometimes find yourself doing a double take and wondering whether we’re joking or serious. But after reading yesterday’s Guardian, I’m wondering whether I’ve spent enough time out of the country to lose my own edge. Perhaps I can on longer distinguish finely-crafted satire from mind-numbing stupidity.

This crisis of self-confidence was brought on by reading Michele Hanson’s article, as part of Cif charades “:A special Christmas series in which Cif regulars write about a counterintuitive topic suggested by our readers” I’ve looked at others in this series, but unfortunately they haven’t provided me with the appropriate humor/bullshit compass necessary to divine the meaning of Hanson’s column. I’ve even checked myself against coumns that I know to be humorous, such as David Mitchell’s recent fun rant, but I can’t find a problem.

So maybe it’s me. Maybe I’ve lost the ability to tease out the dark humor in

Quantum physics is a bit of a black hole to me. You jump in and where do you get? Nowhere.

or

I wonder whether there weren’t better things physicists could have been doing over the last century. Just look where their work has got them. Niels Bohr, whose research led to quantum mechanics theories, went off to work on the Manhattan Project, and we all know where that got us. Thank you Oppenheimer, Bohr et al for the atom bomb.

For a moment, I thought I recognized something familiarly jolly in Hanson’s closing remarks

I asked another friend out with her dog. Her knowledge of plain, never mind quantum, physics was fairly basic. “Apples fall on your head,” she said. “Heat rises except in my oven, and E = mc².”

I can manage that, except for the last equation. Let’s not go there.

until I realized they just reminded me of a lazy undergraduate who claims they can’t do addition because they’re “not a math person”.

So I’m stumped. Surely The Guardian wouldn’t green-light a thoughtless and meaningless column by a patently ignorant and anti-intellectual author, would they? So how come I’m not finding it funny?

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Media, Science and the Media
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Random samplings from a universe of ideas.

About Mark Trodden

Mark Trodden holds the Fay R. and Eugene L. Langberg Endowed Chair in Physics and is co-director of the Center for Particle Cosmology at the University of Pennsylvania. He is a theoretical physicist working on particle physics and gravity— in particular on the roles they play in the evolution and structure of the universe. When asked for a short phrase to describe his research area, he says he is a particle cosmologist.

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