Adventures in Ethics and Science

Let’s see your mug.

Dave at The World’s Fair is collecting field data on coffee mugs. Or maybe he’s trying to create a meme.

Anyway, he poses a bunch of questions which I seem to be unable to resist answering:

  1. Can you show us your coffee cup?
  2. Can you comment on it? Do you think it reflects on your personality?
  3. Do you have any interesting anecdotes resulting from coffee cup commentary?
  4. Can you try to get others to comment on it?

My answers will be restricted to the coffee delivery vessels (all three of them) I use at work, thus excluding the travel mug I use in the car on weekday mornings and the mugs I use at home on weekends. Also, since I have the necessary materials and apparatus in my office to make tea, but not coffee, these mugs might more properly be counted as “tea mugs” (or “coffee and tea mugs”).

The ScienceBlogs mug pictured above is not available in any store (so far — if the people were vocal in their desire for ScienceBlogs swag, it might happen). I received it by mail from the Sb mothership shortly after the ScienceBlogs project was launched.


This is the mug the American Chemical Society sent me when I had been a member for three years. That’s lithium, element 3 in the periodic table. It hasn’t yet been the case that I’ve needed lithium’s atomic mass to three decimal places while partaking of a warm caffeinated beverage at my desk, but it’s good to be prepared.


This is a mug that Stanford’s Undergraduate Philosophy Association had made the year before I came to SJSU. They didn’t make very many of them, and they became a highly prized possession for those who had one. I expressed a wistful longing for one of these mugs, an lo! one was given to me (although not by a member of the UPA).

Strictly speaking, I did not purchase any of these mugs (although I did pay dues to the ACS). I’m not a mug buyer so much as a receiver of mugs.

There are three of them so I can be hospitable to people visiting my office and, more importantly, to minimize the time I have to spend washing mugs.

These mugs are less a reflection on my personality than on my tribal affiliations (although I suppose putting those affiliations on display says something about my personality). When they make an appearance out of my office, these mugs are usually being schlepped to a meeting or even at which coffee is being provided, and how others interact with a given mug tells me something about their tribal affilliations:

“ScienceBlogs, eh? So what’s the deal with blogs? Who the heck reads them or writes them?”

“American Chemical Society? I thought you were in philosophy.”

“Hey, the “U” on your mug is full of XYZ! You could use this mug to drink coffee from Twin Earth!

Mugs, like T-shirts, seem to be communicating with ever smaller groups of people. (At least, that seems to be the trend with my mugs and T-shirts.) But I can’t imagine toting around a blank mug. It would be tantamount to seeming like I had nothing to say.


  1. #1 Audrey
    May 18, 2007

    I also have mug #3. Fringe benefit of being grad advisor for the Dualist!

  2. #2 mt
    May 18, 2007

    Your Top Science Stories window states NASCAR finds new evidence of Dark Matter. I can’t tell you how disappointed I am to learn that Stock Car Auto Racing has resorted to artificial substances to improve performance. Is nothing sacred?

  3. #3 Z. M. Davis
    May 31, 2007

    At first I supposed that the third mug was referring to the Virgin Mary, but now I see it’s referring to the Color Scientist, which makes much more sense. (The mention of Twin Earth might have clued me in.) Neat!

New comments have been temporarily disabled. Please check back soon.