I was going to begin by saying that science marches on but then it occurred to me that science doesn’t really march, it meanders. It wanders down one path until it reaches a dead end then backtracks and tries another until it finally reaches a place where the conclusion is sustainable, unquestionable and reproducible by others. That’s how science works even if many still choose to ignore it and hold to the belief that lightning comes from the gods.
Right now we are in the midst of the recognition season for scientists and the work they do. After all, for every mad scientist who slaves in the lab and successfully reanimates a creature made from dead body parts that thinks for itself and contributes to society there’s 100 who come home late from work after reanimating a brain-dead hulk who only responds to orders and despairs to the wife: “Honey, I failed. I made another Republican.”
This week, Nobel Prizes were awarded in physics and medicine for work that adds to our knowledge of how the universe works. The awards went to researchers whose work, as I used to explain to my students, is IBB, Important But Boring, like having to repeatedly repeat the background of a court case you’re covering. It’s boring to you, as the journalist, because you know it. But it’s important to the reader who doesn’t.
But not all science has to be boring. Last month, those other Nobel Prizes for scientific research, were handed out at Harvard and the European version takes place this week in Amsterdam. They honor legitimate scientific research that at first makes you go, “Huh?” but then makes you think.
In fact, this year’s winner in literature was a paper entitled, “Is ‘Huh’ a Universal Word?” that exists in every known language.
And just like Newton’s revolutionary research on gravity that shows that all objects, regardless of weight, fall at the same speed when dropped from a height, the winners of this year’s physics prize proved another constant with their paper entitled, “Duration of Urination Does Not Change With Body Size.” And, in case you’re curious, the research showed that, on average, regardless of body size, it takes all mammals about 21 seconds to empty their bladders.
But my favorite this year has to be the groundbreaking research originally started by bored farm boys like myself. If I had just stuck (no pun intended) with it I could have won a Nobel. The prize for biology was a paper entitled, “Walking Like Dinosaurs: Chickens With Artificial Tails Provide Clues About Non-Avian Theropod Locomotion,” in which researchers attached a weighted stick to the tails of chickens and then observed how they moved.
For more insights into how the world works, such as the Singapore police discovering that, by giving officers extra money they were less likely to accept bribes, and for a complete list of this year’s winners, visit the Nobel web site at www.improbable.com
Marty Russell writes a Wednesday column for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at email@example.com.