2655: Asking Scientists Questions
|Asking Scientists Questions|
Title text: 'Does the substance feel weird to the touch?' is equally likely to get the answers 'Don't be ridiculous, you would never put your hand near a sample. We have safety protocols.' and 'Yeah, and it tastes AWFUL.'
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Answering the questions in Randall Munroe's What-If books (and the blag before it) requires a wide variety of scientific expertise, much of which he is unfamiliar with. To make up for this deficiency, Munroe (here represented by Cueball) has to ask other scientists for help.
People have certain expectations about scientists, as they would any group of people. In the case of scientists, they are often expected to be overly-serious, "measuring the marigolds" rather than enjoying the simpler or more subjective things in life. This is reflected in the first panel, where the scientist is annoyed by Cueball's "frivolous scenario" and wants to work on formulas instead.
In reality, scientists are people. In the second panel, the scientist is relieved that they have "something fun to think about" as part of their work, instead of just filling out grant applications. Grants are donations of money from private or government organizations specifically aimed to fund scientific experiments and projects; in many fields, they are the most common source of funding, and the vast majority of scientists not directly employed by private industry rely on grants to support their work. These organizations require applicants to provide detailed information on the goal of the project, the methodology, the expected results, the specific uses to which the money will be put, and more. Applying for a grant is thus a lengthy, painstaking process that more often than not results in disappointment, since most granting agencies have enough money to accept only a small percentage of all applications. It also has little to do directly with the actual science the scientists want to perform. Thus most scientists find it a necessary but time-consuming and unpleasant part of their job, and the one here expresses relief at having a break from this part of their work. She then asks if Cueball would like to fill out grant applications, trying to bribe him with coauthor credit, powerful magnets, and plutonium. Plutonium is used in making atomic bombs and is thus a tightly controlled substance, as well as being highly toxic due to both its radioactivity and its heavy metal poison effects.
The title text notes that not all responses were complaints about grant applications, noting two kinds of answers to the question "Does the substance feel weird to the touch?" which Munroe claims are equally common. The first is the sort of response you would expect from a stereotypical scientist—just noting the sorts of safety procedures that are common with such a substance and how they would impede attempts to determine how weird a substance feels. The second is "Yeah, and it tastes AWFUL," implying that the scientist in question has not only touched the weird substance, but also tasted it—carelessly, touching their mouth after handling it, or deliberately, licking it or even putting it completely in their mouth. They also casually volunteered the information about tasting it without being further prompted.
|This transcript is incomplete. Please help editing it! Thanks.|
- [Caption above the panels, in lighter gray:]
- For the last few years, I've been working on answering peoples' ridiculous questions for What If? 2, which sometimes meant asking scientists for help.
- [Left panel top caption:]
- How you'd expect scientists to respond to ridiculous questions:
- [Cueball stands holding pad and pencil in front of a desk. Hairbun is seated behind the desk, pointing at Cueball.]
- Hairbun: Why would you present me with this frivolous scenario?
- Hairbun: Such an absurd query can serve no practical purpose.
- Hairbun: Now go; you distract me from my formulas.
- [Right panel top caption:]
- How they actually respond:
- [Cueball stands holding pad and pencil in front of a desk. Hairbun is seated behind the desk while holding a stack of papers.]
- Hairbun: Oh thank God, something fun to think about that's not grant applications.
- Hairbun: Hey, do you want to fill out some grant applications? I'll give you literally anything. Coauthor credit. Powerful magnets. Do you want plutonium? I can get you plutonium.
- Hairbun: What was your name again?
- [Caption below the panel, in lighter gray:]
- To see the answers I found, preorder at xkcd.com/whatif2 (out 9/13)
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