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I inform people against their will!

I’ve heard this one last year (02.16.2007) but heard it again today (it will probably re-air tomorrow – check your local NPR station) – the This American Life episode about Quiz Shows. It was composed of three stories:

The first one is kinda weird – the guy was lucky with questions on the Irish version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, he was shy and this win gave him self-confidence, and he is using the money to live and to help other people.

The third story totally floored me – I hope someone like Zuska or Amanda or Echidne does the analysis of it – it is about a failed quiz show for girls. Intended to showcase how smart the girls are it ended up showcasing how stupid they were, to the horror of the question-writer for the show. It really made my jaw drop and I don’t know what can be done!

But the second story, a fun story about a puzzle competition at MIT, had a snippet (between minutes 42 and 45 when you click on “Full episode” (I don’t see a transcript anywhere) that really made me raise my eyebrows. One of the competitors is talking about his life, his work at Hallmark and his colleagues there. One day, they go out to lunch (the guys from Humor department, thus presumably intelligent, curious and funny) and someone mentions the Hallmark cards that show chimps yet use the word “monkeys” to describe them. The guy tells them a little bit about the difference between monkeys and apes, a little trivia about errors in “The Planet of the Apes” and a tiny little bit about Prosimians. The other guy’s response? “Speaking of animals, would you like to see the rat’s ass that I give?” Wow! Anti-intellectual and proud of it?! The guy’s thought: “Oh, that’s my problem: I inform people against their will!”

And that is, in one sentence, the problem with science communication – we try to inform people against their will.



  1. #1 mary
    February 3, 2008

    arg…I do it too, and this brings back all the times my literarily-not-science inclined husband fussed at me for being ‘didactic’ with the kids when they were little. And to my chagrin, neither boy, now in college, will touch anything like math or science with a 10-foot pole. When he was six, my son wrote in his journal about parents’ jobs: ‘My mom is a speech pathologist. She helps children explore the world.’ I find myself informing teachers against their will, too.
    But the world is so full of interesting things, and anyone can know them, and the more you know, the more interesting it gets. What’s with the rest of the world, anyway?

  2. #2 QrazyQat
    February 3, 2008

    The more you know, the more you know you don’t know everything. A lot of people find that very scary.

    Others find it fascinating; they become scientists, either pro or amateur.

  3. #3 rev_matt_y
    February 4, 2008

    I have the same problem. And I sent the link to this story to one of my best freinds, who responded ” I saw the title and I knew it was a reference to the re-run of TAL. And I kind of remember having the same thought.” Which is why my friends are all people like him 🙂

  4. #4 joe m
    February 10, 2008

    On the podcast, according to my iPod, it is at about 44:40.

  5. #5 Coturnix
    February 10, 2008

    I heard it on the radio again on Friday night.

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