Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Scientists Favorite Jokes: 'An Electron and a Positron Walked into a Bar…'

From the Guardian:
Science is a very serious business, so what tickles a rational mind? In a not very scientific experiment, we asked a sample of great minds for their favourite jokes

Batman: salt of the earth. Photograph: Allstar/Cinetext/20 CENTURY FOX


■ Two theoretical physicists are lost at the top of a mountain. Theoretical physicist No 1 pulls out a map and peruses it for a while. Then he turns to theoretical physicist No 2 and says: "Hey, I've figured it out. I know where we are."
"Where are we then?"
"Do you see that mountain over there?"
"Well… THAT'S where we are."
I heard this joke at a physics conference in Les Arcs (I was at the top of a mountain skiing at the time, so it was quite apt). It was explained to me that it was first told by a Nobel prize-winning experimental physicist by way of indicating how out-of-touch with the real world theoretical physicists can sometimes be.
Jeff Forshaw, professor of physics and astronomy, University of Manchester

■ An electron and a positron go into a bar.
Positron: "You're round."
Electron: "Are you sure?"
Positron: "I'm positive."
I think I heard this on Radio 4 after the publication of a record (small) measurement of the electron electric dipole moment – often explained as the roundness of the electron – by Jony Hudson et al in Nature 2011.
Joanna Haigh, professor of atmospheric physics, Imperial College, London
■ A group of wealthy investors wanted to be able to predict the outcome of a horse race. So they hired a group of biologists, a group of statisticians, and a group of physicists. Each group was given a year to research the issue. After one year, the groups all reported to the investors. The biologists said that they could genetically engineer an unbeatable racehorse, but it would take 200 years and $100bn. The statisticians reported next. They said that they could predict the outcome of any race, at a cost of $100m per race, and they would only be right 10% of the time. Finally, the physicists reported that they could also predict the outcome of any race, and that their process was cheap and simple. The investors listened eagerly to this proposal. The head physicist reported, "We have made several simplifying assumptions: first, let each horse be a perfect rolling sphere… "
This is really the joke form of "all models are wrong, some models are useful" and also sums up the sort of physics confidence that they can solve problems (ie, by making the model solvable).
Ewan Birney, associate director, European Bioinformatics Institute

 ■ What is a physicist's favourite food? Fission chips.
Callum Roberts, professor in marine conservation, University of York
...MANY MORE, some even worse than the above.