Another quick game

Is it biological or physical? It’s a little unfair, you ought to be able to just click “physics” for everything and get a perfect score, but I managed to get 12 out of 12 by the simple strategy of calling anything interesting biological.


  1. #1 Alcari
    May 31, 2008

    11/12 for thinking the Helix Nebula was some kind of anemone.

  2. #2 Max Fagin
    May 31, 2008

    Just remember all you lowly biologists: All science is physics or stamp collecting.

  3. #3 mikeg
    May 31, 2008

    arrgh… 9/12… martian sand dunes, liver cells, and dust whatevah

  4. #4 Cody
    May 31, 2008


    They’ve got it wrong; if those Martian sand dunes look like life, then the simplest explanation is that they are life.

  5. #5 Sven
    May 31, 2008

    I found the ballot extremely confusing and demand a recount.

  6. #6 BobbyEarle
    May 31, 2008

    8/12…I am bringing up the rear this morning.

    Maybe I should stick to rollerderby.

  7. #7 defectiverobot
    May 31, 2008

    Um…aren’t they all physical?

  8. #8 Daniel R
    May 31, 2008

    My strategy: since there must be pitfalls everywhere, I clicked on “physics” when I thought it was “biology” and vice-versa.

    Result: 8/12. Not convincing…

  9. #9 BigT
    May 31, 2008

    C’mon PZ, the Cat’s Eye Nebula not interesting???

  10. #10 Hank
    May 31, 2008

    12/12 Woot! I did, though, use the PZ Algorithm

  11. #11 Pablo
    May 31, 2008

    I will grant bioluminescence could be called bio, but why isn’t it physics? Actually, I was looking for the chemistry option…

    Luminescence is great physics.

  12. #12 kcrady
    May 31, 2008

    The first 12/12 (with the exception of PZ?)! Woot!

    Maybe I’m a generalist or something, but I found just about all of ’em interesting…

  13. #13 Sili
    May 31, 2008

    Heh – I got the Helix Nebula wrong too. Though I thought it was sperm or summat. Does it show that I never paid attention in biology? (Before coming here of course.)

  14. #14 Frank
    May 31, 2008

    Twelve of twelve. By the simple expedient of using the inverse of PZ’s formula. (I.e. anything interesting is physics. ๐Ÿ™‚

  15. #15 Planeten Paultje
    May 31, 2008

    12/12 :-), although I thought the stained liver cells were somebody’s testicles…..

  16. #16 stuwat
    May 31, 2008

    That’s funny, my strategy was to call anything interesting physical.

  17. #17 RamblinDude
    May 31, 2008

    Hey, how do they know that those dust knots in the Helix Nebula aren’t sentient? Have they been there? Huh?

    I mean, just look at this thing staring back at you. Nothing biological going on there? Hmph!

  18. #18 Santiago
    May 31, 2008

    12/12, and I’m sorry PZ, but for me biology shines most in the processes and macroscopic end results, and less in the actual, “this smudge right here are collagen fibres” bit, especially when compared with, ahem, beautiful nebulae light years across.

    My opinion, obviously.

  19. #19 Bob Munck
    May 31, 2008

    10/12. Phobos? That’s Phobos? It’s all … shiny.

    And I have to echo BigT: “C’mon PZ, the Cat’s Eye Nebula not interesting???” My god, it’s full of stars!

  20. #20 The Science Pundit
    May 31, 2008

    10/12 pfft!

  21. #21 A. Rice
    May 31, 2008

    12/12. Easy, but for an out-of-focus rock that kind of looked like limestone but which turned out to be an out-of-focus mars rock.

  22. #22 Nancy
    May 31, 2008

    LOL, I should’ve read the comments before taking the quiz. I got the Cat’s Eye Nebula and dust knots of the Helix Nebula wrong – 10/12.

  23. #23 trast
    May 31, 2008

    You scored 12/12.

    You mislabeled 0 biology things and 0 physics things.

    Yay? ;> I took your tip PZ and it worked. xD

  24. #24 Carlie
    May 31, 2008

    Physical science =/= physics, so those were really stupid labels. (10/12)

  25. #25 SteveN
    May 31, 2008

    Yahoo! 12/12. The really sad thing is that I actually knew what eight or so of the pictures were showing.

  26. #26 BaldApe
    May 31, 2008

    Hmph! 10/12. That cat’s eye nebula certainly looks like a foram, and Phoebos looks a lot like part of a polyp.

  27. #27 TheBrummell
    May 31, 2008

    11/12, thought Phobos was a coelenterate. Oh well. That’ll learn me when I get smacked by it on my ill-advised tour of the inner solar system in a home-made ship.

    The pretty blue things:
    This is an In-Situ Hybridisation of chromosomal RNA in mouse embryonic stem cells, and therefore biological.

    Bah. Fluorescent In-Situ Hybridization is equal parts mad-physicist-playing-with-horrid-chemicals and mad-physiologist-tormenting-cute-critters. It’s both.

    aren’t they all physical?

    Yes, yes they are. Even at the trivial level of considering the fact we are looking at photographs, taken using principles of optics, the study of which is firmly within the Physics department.

  28. #28 Tony Popple
    May 31, 2008

    I got 10/12.

    I gambled and guessed wrong on the guy with the beaker.

  29. #29 MPG
    May 31, 2008

    10/12 there. I thought Phobos was the bell of some sort of jellyfish, and I was getting punchy at the end with the trichrome stained cells and thinking “that looks biological, but it must be a trick”.

  30. #30 NoXion
    May 31, 2008

    I only got the guy holding the beaker of bioluminescent dinoflagellates wrong, thinking it was a beaker of cold plasma or something like that. I also recognised three of the physics pictures, so you can probably guess that physics is my preferred area ๐Ÿ˜›

  31. #31 brightmoon
    May 31, 2008

    phobos looks like a cnidarian

    the helix nebula and the cats eye nebula i recognized having seen them sooo many times that part of it was easy to trying to learn basic astronomy…. i got tired of creationists finding that i have a bio degree and then asking me something about particle physics or cosmology ….actually that stuffs pretty interesting ..time really IS variable! ..but not how YECs think of it

  32. #32 craig
    May 31, 2008

    Is it cheating if you’re such a space nut that you recognized all those photos from having seen them before?

    And its the physics stuff that’s the coolest.
    In physics, craters are cool. In biology, craters are at best regrettable.

  33. #33 Nicole
    May 31, 2008

    Note that all, if I’m not mistaken, of the physical ones are astronomical or planetary. Score! Although some bubble chamber tracks would have looked cool.


  34. #35 Brandon P.
    May 31, 2008

    Got 9/12. I was tricked by the Plumes, liver cells, and dust knots.

  35. #36 co
    May 31, 2008

    Re: #34,

    Unfortunately, there are flying objects which remain (or once were) unidentified. Yes, I believe that. However, just to be a *rational* person, I’ll answer “no”, since I very much doubt they were any sort of alien-inspired craft.

  36. #37 Emmet Caulfield
    May 31, 2008

    11/12 – got the stained liver cells wrong ๐Ÿ™

  37. #38 ed
    May 31, 2008

    12 for 12, too easy.

  38. #39 catta
    May 31, 2008

    10/12, and I don’t think that’s too shabby for a liberal arts major.

  39. #40 Togusa
    May 31, 2008

    12/12. The photo of the chap holding the large flask was the only one where I essentially took a coin flip.

  40. #41 anonymouse
    May 31, 2008

    dang it! got one wrong:

    These are liver cells stained with florescent antigens, and therefore biological.”

    i coulda sworn those were nebulae

  41. #42 -R
    May 31, 2008


    I didn’t even suspect the picture of the guy with the beaker would be about bioluminescent dinoflagellates :P.

  42. #43 anonymouse
    May 31, 2008

    i wanna put in my 2 cent to the “aren’t they all physics” discussion:

    Sure, yes – but there also exists a subset of the images which exhibit emergent properties of biology, which are in turn emergent properties of chemistry, which are in turn emergent properties of physics. So if we choose to define biology as something two orders of complexity magnitude above physics, then it’s clear how the choices are quite distinct.

    Though i agree with a previous poster that the phenomena pictured which are primarily chemical make it hard to pick a camp. however, going down that road gets you into an epistemological discussion regarding the labeling of reality, and then we get all french post-modern, and then all hell breaks loose.

  43. #44 anonymouse
    May 31, 2008

    Hey, Togusa, is that a pseudonym? i wanna share with somebody that I just finished S.A.C 2nd Gig. Brilliant!

  44. #45 Olaf Davis
    May 31, 2008

    Hope you people enjoyed it.

    Those of you feeling bad about only getting 9 or 10: I can assure you that plenty of people did much worse but declined to comment here.

    Thanks for the link PZ!

  45. #46 Samantha Vimes
    May 31, 2008

    10/12. I thought the liver cells might be astronomy– but I also thought they did look like cells, so even though I guessed wrong, I feel content.
    Phobos I got wrong because I used PZ’s formula. Dammit, I *saw* it had craters, but decided that if interesting = biological, I must be wrong about the craters and they were really pores or summat.
    I think when it comes down to it, I actually find physics more interesting.

  46. #47 chuckgoecke
    May 31, 2008

    Seem like I remember one of PZ’s co-professors, Van Gooch, use to(still does?) work on bioluminescent dinoflagellates, specifically their circadian rhythms, as I recall. I missed the damn stained liver cells, errg. Fun eye candy puzzle, but I find the cosmological just as interesting as the biological.

  47. #48 Zeno
    May 31, 2008

    10/12. I suppose that’s not bad for a math guy. I recognized the astronomical objects and the bioluminescence. Should have caught the stained cells, too, but I was overly suspicious.

  48. #49 Randall
    May 31, 2008

    11/12, because I somehow misclicked the Encedalus image. Seriously, how’d I screw that one up? I almost got the Martian dunes wrong, but figured I had too many biology things and switched it before submitting. I was expecting harder images, frankly.

  49. #50 Knight of L-sama
    May 31, 2008


    Mistook the glowimng beaker for ordinary chemical flouresence and the RNA thingy for something like a dark matter distribution map on the biology side.

    The physics side I’ve got better excuses. I mistook the erosion grooves in the mars rock for a fossil and I blame the dunes mis-identification on the fact that it’s a false colour image.

  50. #51 Fifi
    May 31, 2008

    Yeah, 10/12 !

    I mislabeled the liver cells with florescent antigens – thought it was some nebula – and dust knots in the Helix Nebula – mistook for a a lake colonized by algae.

  51. #52 Luke
    May 31, 2008

    Thanks for posting this PZ ๐Ÿ™‚

    For people going through these comments, seeing all the high scores that commenters have got, and thus feeling like a failure: Of the people who have taken the test so far, the median score was 9, and the most common score was 8.

    So either people who do well are more likely to comment, or people who post comments are better than non-commenters.

    Take your pick.


  52. #53 natural cynic
    May 31, 2008

    11/12. I first thought the cat’s eye nebula actually was a nebula, but it looked too symmetrical to be nebular. I then guessed it was some kind of spiral cleavage. Tsk, tsk

  53. #54 Bride of Shrek
    May 31, 2008

    I got 6/12. I think that officially gives me the “Dumbest Pharyngulite” award. I thought the guy holding the beaker was mixing up some weird type of margerita and I really should get extra points for the originality of thinking the Mars sand dunes were a close up of some raspy type thing like a cat’s tongue.

    Aaah, looks like, based on those results, academic success has yet again eluded me and I’ll just have to get on in life with only my witty and sparkling personality.

  54. #55 genesgalore
    May 31, 2008

    ah, the continuum. the sentience of salt can not be discounted.

  55. #56 uknesvuinng
    May 31, 2008

    3/12 here. No one else need feel dumb now.

  56. #57 Grep Agni
    May 31, 2008

    I’m not sure about the scoring system on this one. Copied and pasted:


    You scored 9/12.

    You mislabeled 0 biology things and 2 physics things.

    12-2=9 now?

  57. #58 John Emerson
    May 31, 2008


    Some of my successes came from psyching out the testers: “Is this a biological thing that seems physical, or a physical thing that seems biological?” For example, luminescence can be either physical or biological, but bioluminescence is less typical.

  58. #59 Coffeeassured
    May 31, 2008

    12/12 Quite worryingly I have already seen many of those images and I knew what they were.

  59. #60 John Emerson
    May 31, 2008

    I was also going to say, only four of the slides were basically familiar to me (martian geology and stained cells). Someone who had worked in biology would have visually recognized certain kinds of test reports (liver cells and RNA).

  60. #61 Coturnix
    May 31, 2008

    11/12 – thought Phobos was biological.

  61. #62 Notkieran
    May 31, 2008

    As a friend of mine once said: if it moves it’s biology, if it stinks it’s chemistry, and if it just sits there doing nothing it’s physics.

    This explains a lot about me.

  62. #63 Torbj๖rn Larsson, OM
    May 31, 2008

    12/12 – Phobos and Enceladus set the astronomical theme, but I recognized the nebula dust knots (if not the Helix nebula) anyway. Too much widely spread photos perhaps. That colony animal is also stock photo, I believe.

  63. #64 Masks of Eris
    June 1, 2008

    10/12 for missing the flagellates and the dunes.

    And, with profuse apologies for being a bit off-topic, has anyone ever heard a sweeter song about Drosophila?

  64. #65 Mike
    June 1, 2008

    Wow did as you PZ and only 6/12. I wonder did they change some?


  65. #66 Don Smith, FCD
    June 1, 2008

    12/12. though it really ought to be called “Biology or Astronomy?” since all of the physics pix were on APOD at some point. And, yes, they were all physics.

    Only the fellow with the beaker was a bit of a puzzler until I remembered physicists almost never work with flasks full of stuff you can actually hold in your hands without dying!

  66. #67 djlactin
    June 1, 2008

    i got 0/12, just to be contrarian!

  67. #68 douglas clark
    June 1, 2008

    Thank you Don Smith. As a non scientist who got 10 / 12, I simply guessed wrong at the beaker picture. I was wondering what amazing insight you chaps had. Now I know.

  68. #69 Richbank
    June 1, 2008

    9/12 here. Screwed up on the dinoflagellates, Phobos, and the dunes. I just took a guess on the dinoflagellates, but Phobos looked like a 3D rendering of a cell pore. I have no excuse for the dunes, although I convinced myself afterward that I thought they were guard cell on plant stomata. Btw, did anybody else think the stained Hela cells looked like they had little alien heads floating around inside them?

    Masks of Eris, that was brilliant. I especially liked the part where the lyrics went something like “Nyner Nyner” ๐Ÿ™‚

  69. #70 BobbyEarle
    June 1, 2008

    Well, as I posted earlier: 8/12

    And I dosent rieley pheel dum att al,

  70. #71 Sonja
    June 1, 2008

    Holy crap! I got 11 out of 12 — and I’m only a BA in Poli Sci.

  71. #72 Knitterman
    June 1, 2008

    Hey, hey, now…. several of the physical shots were “interesting” as well, at least to me. In fact, two of my more popular yarn colorways are derived from that picture of the thawing dunes on Mars and a variation of a different picture of the Cat’s Paw Nebula, so I already knew those pictures. ๐Ÿ™‚

  72. #73 claschxtreme
    June 1, 2008

    12/12 maybe i’ve been reading too much science lately …

  73. #74 Patricia C.
    June 1, 2008

    50 years of nice church lady kicks back in…I’m not going to go look at a picture of anyone doing something naughty with a fossil. Humpff! Dinoflagellates, shame on the whole lot of you perverts.

  74. #75 Carlie
    June 1, 2008

    And, yes, they were all physics.

    How is a rock physics?

  75. #76 John Scanlon, FCD
    June 1, 2008

    11/12; I considered whether that was bio- or some other kind of luminescence, but figured the guy swirling the flask looked more like a physicist. And though I’m a biologist I’d seen most of the space pics before.

  76. #77 Monado
    June 2, 2008

    11/12. I missed Phobos, which looks awfully biological to me: it must be an artist’s impression rather than a real image of the satellite.

  77. #78 mona
    June 2, 2008

    Has anyone else noticed that the sixth photo is the same one from this post, about someone looking for trilobites in Martian rocks?

  78. #79 philosophia
    June 2, 2008

    10/12. Not bad for a philosophy major ๐Ÿ™‚ For some reason, the Colony of Siphonophora looked like a starscape to me, so I got that one wrong. And I was totally flummoxed by those liver cells.

  79. #80 Cappy
    June 2, 2008

    Environmental Science is applied Biology.
    Biology is applied Chemistry.
    Chemistry is applied Physics.


  80. #81 wintremute
    June 2, 2008

    11/12. Stupid dinoflagellates.

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