“Hot Wheels” Helena acquired her nickname because, despite being an Advanced Driver who can cadence-brake, control-gear, and turn into skids with the best of them, she used to get about in an ancient
Mini Metro Rover 100—and get me about in it when she was my Genome Campus car-sharing partner.
She’s ruined the (weak) joke now by buying a silver convertible sports car that goes faster than a chav leaving the chemists with a pocket full of Gillette razors, but there was a time when Mini Metro convertibles were considered the sexiest thing a girl could drive, as the opening sequence of the terrible pilot episode of the fortunately-undeveloped Dr Who spin-off K9 and Company shows.
Helena’s is still a scientist however; I’m not, though yesterday she emailed me asking if I could cite an example of a badly-written scientific paper. It wasn’t the answer she was looking for, but the first thing that came to mind was the physicist Alan Sokal’s notorious hoax. This doesn’t count because its badness was deliberate:
In the autumn of 1994, New York University theoretical physicist, Alan Sokal, submitted an essay to Social Text, the leading journal in the field of cultural studies. Entitled “Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity,” it purported to be a scholarly article about the “postmodern” philosophical and political implications of twentieth century physical theories. However, as the author himself later revealed in the journal Lingua Franca, his essay was merely a farrago of deliberately concocted solecisms, howlers and non-sequiturs, stitched together so as to look good and to flatter the ideological preconceptions of the editors. After review by five members of Social Text’s editorial board, Sokal’s parody was accepted for publication as a serious piece of scholarship. It appeared in April 1996, in a special double issue of the journal devoted to rebutting the charge that cultural studies critiques of science tend to be riddled with incompetence.
I have a friend who has edited (and edits) more than one interdisciplinary scientific journal. Just like my mum can glance at West Africans and tell you their tribe, my editor friend has necessarily become expert in identifying sub-species of scientists solely from their appearance. My disparate degrees were spotted like this:
- dresses like he knows how to iron a T-shirt, but doesn’t wear anything to work that might be an expensive loss in a phenol spill; carries books and laptop in rucksack—therefore at some point he probably studied biology, but
- resorts to plastic bag to lug the overflow from his rucksack around; plus he uses Linux and typesets his dead-hard sums in LaTeX—therefore at some point he probably studied physics
Carrying an old plastic bag full of printouts is a very strong signal and, although I am not an expert myself, I’d tentatively suggest that spectacles of the sort worn in this photograph
by Andrew Wiles, the great mathematician, are pretty tightly linked to British mathematical and physical scientists of a long vintage. No one with the slightest concern about fashion would be seen dead in them (unless they were sunglasses or being worn ironically), but they are inexpensive and offer an extensive field of corrected vision.
It’s worth remembering this when examining another physics-related scandal, the Bogdanov affair. In the debate about whether the output of the twin brothers Bogdanov—one with a PhD in mathematics, the other with a PhD in physics—is truly groundbreaking or an elaborate con, no one seems to have asked the obvious question:
Do these men look like serious theoretical physicists, or early 90s MTV Europe VJs?
Well, the Bogdanovs were (are?) TV presenters, so that’s not far off…
And they’re French.
They don’t quite look human. That blokes cheek bone; looks like he’s contracted some rare, tropical, subdermal face fungus or something.
Indeed. I have often propounded the theory that if we just judged everyone on what they look like we would be right 75% of the time and could forget about all the expensive nonsense of job interviews, criminal courts and so on. It deserves further research.
Definitely serious physicists, Geek. Both of them. The one on the left was the one who invented hair.
Hi everybody, i’m french…
And I know the Bogdanov brothers well by the TV
You have a problem with French, Squander Two ?
The Bogdanov brothers do not come from another planet
They are just ugly, But they are very intelligent…
They were at the Ecole Polytechnique and Université de Bourgogne, who are large schools for the large studies…
They are completely human and allow me to say to you that you have an oyster IQ beside them…
Maintenant, je vais vous laisser avec vos idées idiotes Ã leurs sujet… Sachez que les frÃ¨res Bogdanov sont les personnes les plus normales que je connaisse… Et si vous avez un problÃ¨me contre les FranÃ§ais, je vais vous expliquer ma maniÃ¨re de penser au sujet des Anglais !
Are they French? I spoke with Igor, they come from Kazan (their father wos born there). They are Russian probably?
Good god Roro, you’re a brilliant agent and I want you as a manager !
The truth ? Well I remember those two guys from my youth and they are fast talkers, they even have their number where they talk really fast one saying a sentence and the other one taking over the rest confirming it, giving you the illusion of an agreement. But both are to science what Uri Geller is to… whatever he pretends he can do.
Are they scientists ? In your dreams. They do a pitiful job stacking up speculation upon speculations, spreading a thick layer of Sci-Fi quotes in a manner that would make L. Ron Hubbard jealous. Each of their show is hilariously bad. The new ones show their ugly faces (their own fault for taking steroids) with ridiculous extras in the background dressed in star wars suits. The entire thing is like a lame effort to appeal to 12 year olds with a “sciency” looking thing that reminds you more of a scene out of Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla (the old ones)
They used to host a cheesy show where they mostly talked about sci-fi authors and from there they got that reputation of being smart by Joe Average in France. They speak fast, you fail to register what they say so then it must be smart. I don’t know if I can blame them entirely for what follows, I suspect that French TV tried very hard to typecast them as scientists and they tried to legitimize that image by the imposture they are now best known for. Thing is yes they are frauds, and if their paper looks incomprehensible it’s because they have made an entire career with the one act of being cryptic.
High IQ ? it’s all P.R. In fact today you can get “I.Q. centers” to give you whatever score you pay for, just look in the google ads.
so Roro, me too just like them I have half-a-talent at best, can you change my career ?
To others: yes they may very well be from Kazan. Their French is native like, so they might be second generation immigrants. Thing is France is rather open on that (within limits of course), look at Sarkozy.
skeptic frog non-extraordinaire.