Pharyngula

I’ve been seeing this xkcd comic everywhere today, and it might be heresy to do this, but I have to disagree with part of it. It just didn’t ring true.

Here’s the original:

i-fbe13a63e151a39373120e0a6c17ca80-scientist.gif

I’d have to add a third conclusion, the professional scientist.

i-1009ab673b9867ad32e0070c278f397a-experience.gif

In our favor, I would add that we’d cheerfully substitute a fly, a frog, or a mouse for the student if we could convince them to pull the lever for us.

Comments

  1. #1 Max Udargo
    March 30, 2007

    Now that was funny.

  2. #2 AustinAtheist
    March 30, 2007

    The teacher/learner experiment, but this time, it’s for real.

  3. #3 TheBrummell
    March 30, 2007

    In my experience as a graduate student, your addition is wonderfully true and realistic.

    “Try it again” was a common saying in my committee meetings.

  4. #4 Sonja
    March 30, 2007

    Did Scott Adams draw that?

    Because it reflects his view of scientists vs. regular people. He uses this “common sense” approach to justify his belief in the magical power of affirmations.

    In the real world, we almost never get to test our strategies with scientific rigor. But we all agree that some amount of anecdotal evidence should, cumulatively, influence our decisions as long as we apply some common sense. It’s an imperfect approach to life, but it’s the best we have.

    For example, let’s say your house has two doors. Every time you walk out the North door, you get hit on the head with a golf ball. Scientists can’t figure out where it comes from, because it never happens when they’re watching. All you know is that it happens every time you walk out the door when no one else is watching. And it hurts.

    Which door do you use in the future?

  5. #5 Dan
    March 30, 2007

    In the real world, we almost never get to test our strategies with scientific rigor. But we all agree that some amount of anecdotal evidence should, cumulatively, influence our decisions as long as we apply some common sense. It’s an imperfect approach to life, but it’s the best we have.

    For example, let’s say your house has two doors. Every time you walk out the North door, you get hit on the head with a golf ball. Scientists can’t figure out where it comes from, because it never happens when they’re watching. All you know is that it happens every time you walk out the door when no one else is watching. And it hurts.

    Which door do you use in the future?

    Buy a helmet, jackass. Or duck. Then go find the fucker who’s pelting you with golf balls and kindly ask him to cease and desist.

  6. #6 stogoe
    March 30, 2007

    Sonja, the answer is simple. Scrounge up some grant money to get a scientist to hang out watching your north door indefinitely. The golf ball will stop hitting you, and you win!

  7. #7 Elena
    March 30, 2007

    Hi PZ and everyone,

    PZ, I’ve been reading your blog for a while and am duly impressed. I also enjoy many of the intelligent comments triggered by each of your postings.

    Here, I tend to agree with the fact that the cartoon is accurate. “Normal [person]” may refer to normal in the statistical sense, with a normal distribution (for IQ?). And yes, scientists are willing to take risks to unravel mysteries…

  8. #8 Aa
    March 30, 2007

    A good rejoinder to Adams is to use his own words

    “When did ignorance become a point of view?”

  9. #9 Shaggy Maniac
    March 30, 2007

    Very funny!

    I’m reminded of my own confirmation that indeed I developed a nasty allergy to morel mushrooms. Previously having had no adverse reaction, I made a batch of spaghetti sauce with some morels that I had picked the previous spring and dried. An hour after eating I was vomiting violently. Not convinced it was the morels, I did the same thing about two weeks later with the same result. Next spring when fresh morels were aplenty, I surmised that my bad experiences must have been due to a problem in how I had previously dried the morels and so I decided to have a meal with fresh ones. Well I suppose you can guess the result, but it took me three times to be convinced. Too bad for me ’cause they are so damn tasty!

    Unfortunately, substituting a student as an experimental subject wouldn’t have helped.

  10. #10 Saint Gasoline
    March 30, 2007

    BLASPHEMY! NO ONE CHALLENGES XKCD.

    Yes, but your version does ring much more true. Perhaps back in the day, before the universities held sway, the scientists were more inclined to get shocked themselves. (Benjamin Franklin, anyone?)

  11. #11 chaos_engineer
    March 30, 2007

    In the golf ball analogy: If golf balls don’t hit you when scientists are around, then surely the best solution is to become a scientist yourself!

    Golf balls are pretty light, so I don’t think you’d need to be a professional scientist to deflect them. Getting a subscription to Popular Science magazine would probably work.

    (Actually, I’m not sure I understand the analogy. Maybe “getting hit by a golf ball every day” = “getting conned by a scam artist every day”? Scam artists don’t like to ply their trade when there are educated witnesses nearby, so scientists would tend to repel them.)

  12. #12 mark
    March 30, 2007

    Yep, those of us still here in the lab at 5 on a friday afternoon agree. That’s damn funny.

  13. #13 haffax
    March 30, 2007

    http://xkcd.com/c154.html
    To “balance” ^^

  14. #14 DaveX
    March 30, 2007

    Or, you could do what I did, when I used to work on a golfing range:

    Take the first hit to your collarbone, which knocks you on your face. Silently curse the ass who insists to work out his slice until the last few seconds the range closes.

    Take your second hit, this time to the right shoulderblade. Curse the mother****** loudly and clearly, while driving a golf cart up the hill to throw his club off the range before stalking back to work in pain.

  15. #15 Sonja
    March 30, 2007

    A little history: way back in 1998, I emailed Scott Adams regarding his idiotic golf ball analogy.

    Fast forward to 2006 and a Google to see if Scott Adams had wisened up and voila — I discovered Pharyngula! (And that Scott Adams was still a moron.)

    I’ve been a PZ fan ever since.

    FYI, Stogoe, the indents mean quoting someone else. 🙂

  16. #16 JakeB
    March 30, 2007

    re #10–

    I get him barbequed, right?

  17. #17 daenku32
    March 30, 2007

    Isn’t the golf ball analogy used in Iraq, but instead of using the south door they order an air strike towards the direction of the golf ball attack?

  18. #18 Dicky
    March 30, 2007

    I objected more to what you see if you check the properties/float over the image:
    “How could you choose avoiding a little pain over understanding a magic lightning machine?”
    He could have at least put magic in quotes.

  19. #19 Shawn S.
    March 30, 2007

    The people are offended by the comic think that it portrays the scientist as a fool for wanting to try it again. I think this quality isn’t foolish, but rather endearing. I might not touch it again, but I’d damn sure find another way to trigger it… and if that didn’t work… I’d have to go back and touch it to make sure it wasn’t just activated by human touch. 🙂

    Science isn’t common sense. It’s uncommon and thoroughly amazing sense.

    I do like PZ’s addition, though. XD

  20. #20 Rory Parle
    March 30, 2007

    What I love about XKCD is my occasional reaction of, “Oh my God! You’re me!” Never was this more true than when looking at the car indicator comic. This comic elicits one of two reactions in anyone I show it to: baffled “I don’t get it” silence or stunned “Is he in my mind?” silence.

  21. #21 Jess
    March 30, 2007

    Shaggy: your morels + vomiting connection is further complicated by the fact that nausea and vomiting are the strongest (un)conditioned responses evoked by a stimulus, particularly if the stimulus is food. So maybe the first dish with the morels was tainted, and the vomiting resulted from that. Just a thought.

    As for the comic–lovely addition. Good job, PZ. (I thought it was hilarious in original form.)

  22. #22 Cyan
    March 30, 2007

    Rory,

    My wife’s friend said, “I don’t get it.” My wife replied, “You would if you were married to a scientist.”

  23. #23 Charlie (Colorado)
    March 30, 2007

    “… and there are things rats won’t do.”

  24. #24 Tina Rhea
    March 30, 2007

    In the basement of the Life Sciences building, there was a series of doors with labels: Lab Animals, Lab Animals, Lab Animals, Grad Students, Lab Animals…. Those of us who fell into one of those categories wondered why they had bothered changing the sign.

    I am also reminded of the vet who stuck a dose of ear mites into his own ear so he would know what they felt like to the dogs and cats. Later he did it again to see if it felt the same way the second time. That was research. But the guy who shot himself in the shoulder to see what it felt like and then, after he’d been patched up, did it again to see if it would hurt the same way the second time, was just stupid….

  25. #25 Caledonian
    March 30, 2007

    Or maybe – and I know this is stretching, but bear with me – maybe your mushroom-identifying skills need work.

  26. #26 Emory Kimbrough
    March 31, 2007

    If you don’t think a scientist would pull that lightning-machine lever, check out this famous experiment performed at the University of Alabama back in the 1930s, in which the good Dr. Blair deliberately convinces a black widow spider to bite him. In the early decades of the 1900s, it was widely believed that black widows were not dangerous. Dr. Blair knew this myth was dead wrong and boy was he going to prove it:

    http://www.randomhouse.com/boldtype/0598/grice/excerpt.html

  27. #27 Thony C.
    March 31, 2007

    “Ich habe keine besondere Begabung, sondern bin nur leidenschaftlich neugierig.” Albert Einstein.

  28. #28 bad Jim
    March 31, 2007

    Thony: maybe so.

    One of my childhood memories is putting a (carbon-zinc) battery into my mouth. It was the worst thing I’d ever tasted; I think I probably called for my mommy. I also remember doing it again and getting the same result. I haven’t done it since.

    Even as a young child I was afraid of jumping to conclusions.

  29. #29 truth machine
    March 31, 2007

    A good rejoinder to Adams is to use his own words
    “When did ignorance become a point of view?”

    Adams is one of those immensely arrogant people for whom “ignorant” means “doesn’t agree with me”.

  30. #30 truth machine
    March 31, 2007

    One of my childhood memories is putting a (carbon-zinc) battery into my mouth. It was the worst thing I’d ever tasted; I think I probably called for my mommy. I also remember doing it again and getting the same result. I haven’t done it since.

    And why exactly is getting a result twice so much more convincing than getting it once? Do you read everything twice to make sure it says what it seemed to say? Notice that the cartoon also suggests this fallacy of induction — that one can determine whether something happens “every time” by trying it twice (or n times).

    Even as a young child I was afraid of jumping to conclusions.

    It seems that even as an adult you can’t tell the difference between jumping to a conclusion and making a rational inference.

  31. #31 truth machine
    March 31, 2007

    “Ich habe keine besondere Begabung, sondern bin nur leidenschaftlich neugierig.” Albert Einstein.

    But that is is a special gift.

  32. #32 darius
    March 31, 2007

    Caledonian:

    Or maybe – and I know this is stretching, but bear with me – maybe your mushroom-identifying skills need work.

    How would that help with morels?

  33. #33 AndreasB
    March 31, 2007

    Emory: That may be so, but he didn’t try to pull the lever a second time:

    One of the questions Blair had in mind when he began his experiment was whether people acquire immunity over successive bites. He never answered this question because, as he frankly admitted, he was afraid of having another experience like his first.

    It may be excusable in his case.

  34. #34 dhonig
    March 31, 2007

    I don’t want to bother PZ with more email, but here a new SCIENCE CARTOON.

  35. #35 Shaggy Maniac
    March 31, 2007

    Caledonian:

    While I have no formal training in mycology or just plain old mushroom ID, I’m quite confident that what I ate were morels. However, they included both Morchella angusticeps (I think that’s correct – I don’t have a reference handy) and Morchella esculenta. The former are reported to make some people sick so maybe it’s not such a surprise. When I did the third replicate of my personal study, however, the fresh morels that I ate were definitely M. esculenta and I still got sick. There were others who ate them at the same meal with no adverse reaction.

    Jess- possibly the reaction to fresh morels was simply a conditioned response but I didn’t find the thought of eating them at all off putting; in fact I quite enjoyed eating them. The vomiting occurred about an hour after the meal and came on quite suddenly. In any case, I’ve decided I’m not going to try again though I still have the almost instinctual desire to look for them every spring.

  36. #36 Sonja
    March 31, 2007

    Just for fun, I posted that email conversation I had with Scott Adams in July of 1998 after I pointed out the irrationality of his golf ball analogy.

  37. #37 melior
    March 31, 2007

    Which door do you use in the future?

    Any door you like, just pray really, really hard to Jesus protect you each time before going through it.

  38. #38 melior
    March 31, 2007

    “I do not have a special gift, but am only passionately curious.” Albert Einstein.

    Thanks, Babelfish!

  39. #39 Ken
    March 31, 2007

    Swaying from the original subject now melior

  40. #40 Jimothy
    March 31, 2007

    One time, I was mugged by a black person.

    I don’t go near black people anymore.

  41. #41 Simone Manganelli
    March 31, 2007

    And why exactly is getting a result twice so much more convincing than getting it once? Do you read everything twice to make sure it says what it seemed to say? Notice that the cartoon also suggests this fallacy of induction — that one can determine whether something happens “every time” by trying it twice (or n times).

    This is laughable. The scientific method is fundamentally based upon being able to repeat an experiment and get similar results. So, yes, repeating an action twice and getting the same result is more convincing than just doing it once. This is how people can verify an experiment, and what scientific peer review is based upon. Repeating an experiment yourself to make sure you get the same results is one of the most important things you can do in science. If you get a different result, then you know that some variable has changed.

    The comic doesn’t perpetuate any fallacy of induction. Sure, getting the same result twice doesn’t mean that you’ll get it every time, but it’s a valid hypothesis. Science can never prove anything; it can only disprove things. So at some point you have to accept that something will happen every time, even though you cannot prove it. (Sure, 2 times isn’t sufficient for any experiment, but it’s a frickin’ web comic!)

    When you drop a ball, are you continuously surprised that it falls to the ground? If not, then you must believe that the ball will fall to the ground every time you drop it. But you can’t prove it, so why do you believe it?

    Because of the scientific method. And the comic illustrates it beautifully.

  42. #42 Michael H
    April 1, 2007

    Hypothesis: All golfers are scientists.

  43. #43 khan
    April 1, 2007

    Be sure to see the April 1 edition of the comic.

  44. #44 khaaaaaan!
    April 1, 2007

    “Scrounge up some grant money to get a scientist to hang out watching your north door indefinitely. The golf ball will stop hitting you, and you win!”

    Great, now I have an unconscious grad student outside my north door.

  45. #45 milander
    April 2, 2007

    Your add just described my tutor to perfection… he is also a big fan of the ‘darwin awards’ lol

  46. #46 tim rowledge
    April 2, 2007

    Don’t forget the religionist.
    Scene – standing by lever in front of crowd.
    Religionist: “God says you must never touch this lever!”

  47. #47 SEF
    April 2, 2007

    Well I already knew I was a scientist, but the repeated trying of PZ’s link which crashed first my browser and then the rest of the machine’s internet access does rather confirm it. Again, as with someone else’s example, I couldn’t exactly farm the experiment out to a student / victim. Nor, after I’d lost the whole of the internet for all applications, could I go on and try other browsers. A complete reboot on another day got it working again but I was a little too busy to run further experiments until now – when I’ve finally returned only to find PZ has removed the problem (the adverts) anyway.

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