The Frontal Cortex

Physics and McSweeney’s

Funny stuff from McSweeney’s:

General relativity is your high-school girlfriend all grown up. Man, she is amazing. You sort of regret not keeping in touch. She hates quantum mechanics for obscure reasons.

Cosmology is the girl that doesn’t really date, but has lots of hot friends. Some people date cosmology just to hang out with her friends.

Can we come up with a similar list for the brain sciences? I think you could replace quantum mechanics with brain imaging and perhaps substitute electrophysiology for general relativity.

Via kottke

Comments

  1. #1 Ian
    July 23, 2008

    Intelligent Design is Ann Coulter. She looks like she ought to have amounted something but in the end is just shrill, vacuous, and boring.

  2. #2 PhysioProf
    July 23, 2008

    Yeah, objectifying women and making it clear that science is really a man’s pursuit is real fucking hilarious.

  3. #3 Abel Pharmboy
    July 23, 2008

    Sorry, Jonah. This is just simply wrong. Simon Dedeo should know better as well.

  4. #4 Evil Monkey
    July 23, 2008

    Classy, Jonah. Right up there with “Behaviorism is the fat chick in the corner that nobody will dance with, but we’ll all collaborate with at some point in our careers when we think nobody is watching.

    Give me a break. I’m with PP. It just ain’t funny.

  5. #5 Jonah
    July 23, 2008

    I apologize if anyone took offense. Needless to say, this is a commentary on dating and relationships, not women or the role of women in science. The joke would work also work with boyfriends instead of girlfriends.

  6. #6 PhysioProf
    July 23, 2008

    Sorry, dude. Not gonna fly.

    Instead of a fake-ass “I apologize if anyone took offense”, how about “I apologize for giving offense”?

  7. #7 Dr. Free-Ride
    July 23, 2008

    Well then, could you recast a couple of them in terms of boyfriends to see if it actually works?

    My own sense is that these metaphors are trading heavily on the old Nature-as-a-mystery-to-be-made-to-yield-her-secrets (by force if necessary) view of the scientific enterprise. The fact that this view had such a heavy hold when scientists were pretty much exclusively male undoubtedly still leaves residual traces on popular understanding of science, the world science studies, and those mysterious creatures, women.

  8. #8 Aerik
    July 23, 2008

    Wow, stereotyping sciences through stereotyping women. <sarcasm>Ha, ha ha.</sarcasm>

  9. #9 Jonah
    July 23, 2008

    Ok, I apologize for “giving” offense, although I’d also appreciate it if you tried to curse a bit less on my blog. Giving offense was clearly not my intent. I find this funny, but I can understand why other people might think it’s stupid and sexist. Such is the nature of humor. While I think the nature-as-a-mystery-to-be-made-to-yield-her-secrets explanation is really interesting, my own hunch is that this joke trades more on the tropes present in mediocre television sitcoms, and not 17th century natural philosophy. I still find this funny:

    “General relativity is your high-school boyfriend all grown up. Man, he is amazing. You sort of regret not keeping in touch. He hates quantum mechanics for obscure reasons.”

  10. #10 Aerik
    July 23, 2008

    I apologize if anyone took offense. Needless to say, this is a commentary on dating and relationships, not women or the role of women in science. The joke would work also work with boyfriends instead of girlfriends.

    Then why didn’t you make the companion boy-oriented jokes?

    You know, either you think it was sexist or you don’t. Pick one for fuck’s sake.

    Sorry if anybody was offended but not willing to discuss the merits of it all to any extent. A politician’s non-apology. Fuck that.

  11. #11 GirlPassingBy
    July 23, 2008

    Actually I found the original ones at McSweeney’s hilarious. It IS more of a comment on relationships and dating and the interrelations of various parts of physics rather than sexism or anything silly like that. The string theory one was the best. :)

    It wouldn’t take too much to switch them all into male-stereotypes either. Who cares anyway? Lighten up.

  12. #12 jinxyte
    July 23, 2008

    I take much more offense to the fact that you’re recycling blog content! But it’s almost okay because the piece still hilarious the second time around. Instead of posting it again, you should have written the biological sciences version.

    http://scienceblogs.com/cortex/2007/03/physical_theories_as_women.php#more

  13. #13 Zuska
    July 23, 2008

    I apologize if anyone took offense. Needless to say, this is a commentary on dating and relationships, not women or the role of women in science. The joke would work also work with boyfriends instead of girlfriends.

    Wrong on several counts here. It IS a commentary on the role of women in science, which is: to be fodder for the jokes of men in science, to play the role of Nature, and to be objects for the amusement of men. Also wrong on the “I apologize if anyone took offense” bit, as Physioprof noted. If you really want to apologize, then apologize for unintentionally giving offense. It’s not a crime to unintentionally give offense, people do it all the time. But we have to own responsibility for our unintentional as well as our intentional acts, for both can cause harm. The proper thing to do here is to apologize for the unintended offense, and try to learn why it is that what you did gave offense – not try to convince those who are letting you know that you goofed that they really shouldn’t be bothered at all and should join you in the sexist laff fest. That’s possibly more annoying that the unintentional offense. Realize that doing something unintentionally that gives offense does not make you a bad person. Don’t refuse to learn from this; let go of the defensiveness and listen to what the folks on this comment thread are saying.

  14. #14 Aerik
    July 23, 2008

    Well said, Zuska. It’s Greg Laden’s stupid lightbulb joke all over again.

    The perfect response to Jonah’s male privilege and sexism here can be found in Amanda Marcotte’s alternet story from yesterday morning.

    But I like how the reporter Alexandra Silver says, “Leave aside” the patriarchal elements, which is like writing an article about Watergate and saying, “Leave aside the burglary and corruption, and let’s talk about G. Gordon Liddy’s tie.” Of course, I suppose that’s standard in journalism now. “Leave aside the fact that Bush lied to get us into a war, and let’s talk about how he grins so charmingly at reporters.”

    Replace “Alexandra Silver” with “Greg Laden” or “Jonah Lehrer” here and it’s the same shit.

    “Hey, it made somebody laugh, therefore it can’t possibly be bigoted! Right? Aren’t I right? Come oooon.”

    No. Bad Jonah, bad! *slaps jonah on nose with rolled up magazine* Bad!

  15. #15 Josiah
    July 23, 2008

    So, um, for real. Did any of you offended people notice that the implications of systemic misogamy that you saw in a quoted joke was a projection of you expectations into the joke?

    Making a joke based on the parallels between hard science and stereotypical social constructs might prove that the person making that joke doesn’t know there are (rightly) sensitive folks in her audience but it in no way implies that she endorses those stereotypes, just that they are ripe for an easy laugh.

    So if the rules are that no joke can be made using gender stereotypes, ever, then we’re all going to have a lot less to say.

    And if the rule is we can’t have stereotyped gender roles in our heads, ever, then our cognitive load will kill us.

    People make bad generalizations based on poor labeling systems, cope.

  16. #16 Alexandra
    July 23, 2008

    People make bad generalizations based on poor labeling systems, cope.

    Better yet, stop.

  17. #17 Aerik
    July 23, 2008

    So, Josiah, you think it’s only marriage-phobia that fuels the retarded joke? Nice try covering up the misogyny of it all, dimwit.

  18. #18 yogi-one
    July 24, 2008

    Wow – are you grad students really this bored?

  19. #19 Josiah
    July 24, 2008

    Damn you inattentive spell check, damn you.

  20. #20 Michael Anes
    July 24, 2008

    yogi-one and Josiah,
    You can claim all you like events like these are jokes, and that there are horrible “rules” in place to which we should adhere – I adhere to the science, well covered just this morning (!) by Mahzarin Banaji in The Chronicle of Higher Education in response to the New Yorker Obama cover cartoon…and here I quote some meat from the middle of the piece.

    It is not unreasonable, given the inquiring minds that read The New Yorker, to expect that an obvious caricature would be viewed as such. In fact, our conscious minds can, in theory, accomplish such a feat. But that doesn’t mean that the manifest association (Obama=Osama lover) doesn’t do its share of the work. To some part of the cognitive apparatus, that association is for real. Once made, it has a life of its own because of a simple rule of much ordinary thinking: Seeing is believing. Based on the research of my colleague, the psychologist Daniel Gilbert, on mental systems, one might say that the mind first believes, and only if it is relaxing in an Adirondack chair doing nothing better, does it question and refute. There is a power to all things we see and hear � exactly as they are presented to us.

    For decades, psychologists have described the “sleeper effect” � the idea that information, even information we might reject at first blush, ends up persuading us, contrary to our intention, over time. That often occurs when the content of the message (Obama=Islamist) and the source providing the message (The New Yorker trying to be cute) have split off in our minds. When satire isn’t done right, as in the case of the Obama cover, the intended parody easily splits off from the actual and more blatant association. The latter then has the power to persuade over the long haul, when conscious cognition isn’t up to policing it. Communicators of mass media should be alert to that, so that decisions about particular portrayals are based on knowledge of their full impact, and the justification for the supposedly sophisticated cognitive function they serve offered in light of such basic knowledge.

    Josiah, if it really is a huge cognitive load for you to keep a check on your sexism, maybe you need a workout.

  21. #21 Spaulding
    July 24, 2008

    …There is a power to all things we see and hear – exactly as they are presented to us…the “sleeper effect”

    So, for example: having dialogues about racism will lead to acceptance of racist ideas that have been refuted in the dialogue. And telling a joke about a dumb racist will lead to acceptance of racist ideas that have been ridiculed in the joke. Sorry, I don’t buy that as a reason to avoid a subject rather than address it through discussion or disarm it through humor.

    Re: the original post: the jokes do in fact work as well if you swap the gender. I’m guessing the sinister reason that Simon Dedeo used female gender for all of them is that he (or “the narrator” if you prefer) is a straight male. Maybe he also knows males that he considers “complex”, “complicated”, “amazing”, “profound”, “knows stuff you don’t” – but he doesn’t date them or “fall deeply in love” with them.

    Re: Zuska: Good, quotable comment on the best way to react constructively to giving unintentional offense. However, not all causes of offense are equal. Some people hold attitudes that can or should be unapologetically challenged, even if it causes offense. (Should cowboys apologize to Hindus? Should Hindus apologize to cowboys? Should mixed-race couples apologize for offending archaic anti-miscegenist sensibilities?)

    Furthermore, if one is so desperate to satisfy a martyr complex that one takes offense at hearing relationships discussed via metaphor or used as a metaphor, then perhaps the world does not in fact owe one an apology.

    On the other hand, Evil Monkey offers a good example for how this writer’s formula could turn crude in the wrong hands.

  22. #22 Aerik
    July 24, 2008

    Who are you, a sockpuppet trying to convince us you’re Pam Spaulding?

  23. #23 GirlPassingBy
    July 24, 2008

    Regardless of whether or not he’s a sock puppet: he’s right.

    Chill out people!!

  24. #24 Mike
    July 25, 2008

    Jonah should not have to apologize.

  25. #25 Spaulding
    July 25, 2008

    Nope, Aerik – no relation known or suggested.
    I’m not familiar enough with Pam Spaulding to know where you’re going with that one.

    Since you seem confused, I’m also neither actor Spaulding Gray nor the Spalding sporting goods company. Thanks for playing, though.

  26. #26 Brian
    July 25, 2008

    What I’m getting from this post is that humor is no longer allowed. I’m sorry, Zuska – normally I fully agree that 90% of men need their shoes puked on. You’ve only heard from me in the past when I disagree, because, well, saying ‘right on!’ is kind of boring. And the fact is, people on this planet have relationships – and a lot of those are based on physical attraction. Jonah is not judging women scientists based on attractiveness, some ethereal Gaea-like quality or anything else. This is a joke based on the absurdity of equating human relationships to science. This kind of joke would work equally well with women’s relationships with men or people’s relationships with dogs (with some tweaking).

    Unless you’re saying that things are what they are, and no analogies, jokes, or any remotely non-serious dialog can be drawn out of intergender relationships. Because sexism doesn’t just permeate science, as I’m sure you’re aware.

  27. #27 Terry
    July 25, 2008

    Well a little off topic…

    How about:

    Sigmund Freud is like Woody Allen, for ages he was
    “la creme de la creme” among the intelligentsia, but
    then he got kicked off his perch, and now they aren’t
    quite comfortable with him anymore.

    Or how about:

    My dog is like Pavlov, every time he rolls on his back,
    I automatically rub his belly.

  28. #28 Frederick Ross
    July 25, 2008

    The problem here is stylistic. Personally, I would find these jokes still funny if they were gender reversed or gender neutral, but I did my degree in physics. There’s lots of subtle in jokes and shadings about the way the physics canon is taught in the English speaking world. Unfortunately we do not yet have a stylistic way of indicating relationships without indicating gender that does not seriously detract from the flow of the English language.

    A writer who can produce such a style would be doing us all a great service. The test: rewrite these jokes with the same colloquial flavor, and no gender reference whatsoever. They’ll still be funny, and you will have made a real and significant step in the development of English.

    If someone can point out such a style to me, I would be deeply grateful. Really, honestly, I would.

  29. #29 physicist
    July 25, 2008

    I’m startled by the visceral responses people have had to this. I thought it was kinda cute — not gut-bustingly hilarious, but cute. It works just fine if you switch the gender or make it gender-neutral. I assume Simon Dideo picked women because he’s a straight guy.

    Supposing someone were using this humor in a professional setting like a colloquium talk, “women as physical theories” would make me uncomfortable, but I think most people would get a kick out of “significant others/spouses as physical theories.”

    There is such a thing as viewing everything too much through the gender discrimination lens. Bias in science is a real issue, and one I’ve experienced myself many times, but McSweeney’s is the wrong fish to fry. It’s not part of the professional academic sphere, I have a hard time believing that this is indicative of substantial bias on Simon Dideo’s part, and there are much more important problems that deserve this level of scrutiny. I don’t think that this is a shoe-puker, so to speak.

    Those of you who are outraged should spend some time instead making sure that your department has clear-cut appropriate policies and a good atmosphere for new parents, especially mothers, who are very likely to be forced onto the science off-ramp by a new child.

    Full disclosure: I am a female physicist.

  30. #30 Michael Anes
    July 25, 2008

    physicist,
    I most certainly do engage with my department and my college in issues of gender pay equity and child care access, and I certainly agree these issues are in some ways “more important” that the issues in these jokes. However, use of the word “girl” so flippantly (which apparently no one has realized) I think is an issue of dimunition. Clearly there are also folks who think the jokes weren’t objectifying when they are about “hot friends.”
    It would be cool for someone to do some Seinfeldian humor on such a topic; perhaps comparing subgroups of scientists to types of parkers on streets, or city drivers. But evidently that would be too taxing.
    I’ll slink back to my joyless anti-sexism cave now .

  31. #31 Terry
    July 26, 2008

    How about:

    Marie Curie is like Bayesian statistics, she slaved
    away in obscurity for years until finally bursting
    forth in triumph.

    But… if that’s too sexist, how about:

    Albert Einstein is like Bayesian statistics, he slaved
    away in obscurity for years until finally bursting
    forth in triumph.

    http://www.technologyreview.com/Infotech/13438/page5/

  32. #32 Terry
    July 26, 2008

    Personally, I think that if Jonah Lehrer is found
    to be sexist, that he should be *forced” to sing:

    I’m too sexist for my blog,
    too sexist for my blog,
    my blog, my blog,
    too sexist for my blog…

    with the results uploaded to utube.

    Unfortunately, in this case, I really don’t
    think he was being sexist, but perhaps next time…

  33. #33 Spaulding
    July 26, 2008

    Clearly there are also folks who think the jokes weren’t objectifying when they are about “hot friends.”

    Right.
    And there are folks who find expression of human sexuality, attraction, and romance to be demeaning. What’s up with that?

  34. #34 Marc
    July 27, 2008

    I completely agree with ‘physicist'; there really is no need to get so worked up about this. I think at best a few people are being a little over-sensitive and at worst just jumping on the ‘he referenced women / girlfriends, therefore he’s sexist’ bandwagon.

    And it certainly is possible to do the same sort of jokes with men in mind. Perhaps neuroimaging could be the hot young guy who acts like he owns the place, and has an answer for everything, but at least has great fashion sense.

    (From a heterosexual male who works with neuroimaging)

  35. #35 kar?nca yumurtas? ya??
    July 29, 2008

    I most certainly do engage with my department and my college in issues of gender pay equity and child care access, and I certainly agree these issues are in some ways “more important” that the issues in these jokes.

  36. #36 Kar?nca Yumurtas? Ya??
    July 29, 2008

    I’m startled by the visceral responses people have had to this. I thought it was kinda cute — not gut-bustingly hilarious, but cute. It works just fine if you switch the gender or make it gender-neutral. I assume Simon Dideo picked women because he’s a straight guy.

  37. #37 Spaulding
    July 29, 2008

    Gender-swapped version of the list at Twisted Physics:
    http://twistedphysics.typepad.com/cocktail_party_physics/2008/07/tit-for-tat.html

    Lacks the brevity and originality of the original, but the concept still works just fine. The funny parts aren’t the many physics puns, but the specifics of the characters and relationships she describes.

  38. #38 zayıflama
    June 8, 2009

    There is such a thing as viewing everything too much through the gender discrimination lens. Bias in science is a real issue, and one I’ve experienced myself many times, but McSweeney’s is the wrong fish to fry. It’s not part of the professional academic sphere, I have a hard time believing that this is indicative of substantial bias on Simon Dideo’s part, and there are much more important problems that deserve this level of scrutiny. I don’t think that this is a shoe-puker, so to speak.

  39. #39 sarımsak hapı yorumları
    December 23, 2009

    Thank you very useful information written to friends

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