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An Unauthorized Autobiography of Science

Journal article explanations of how science
works often differ from the actual process
magazine cover

According to 55 percent of 350,000 people from 70 countries who participated online in Richard Wiseman’s Laugh Lab experiment (discussed in last month’s column), this is the world’s funniest joke:

Two hunters are out in the woods when one of them collapses. He doesn’t seem to be breathing, and his eyes are glazed. The other guy whips out his phone and calls the emergency services. He gasps, “My friend is dead! What can I do?” The operator says, “Calm down. I can help. First, let’s make sure he’s dead.” There is a silence, then a shot is heard. Back on the phone, the guy says, “Okay, now what?”

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The Really Hard Science

To be of true service to humanity, science must be
an exquisite blend of data, theory and narrative
magazine cover

Over the past three decades I have noted two disturbing tendencies in both science and society: first, to rank the sciences from “hard” (physical sciences) to “medium” (biological sciences) to “soft” (social sciences); second, to divide science writing into two forms, technical and popular. And, as such rankings and divisions are wont to do, they include an assessment of worth, with the hard sciences and technical writing respected the most, and the soft sciences and popular writing esteemed the least. Both these prejudices are so far off the mark that they are not even wrong. (continue reading…)

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