The Devil’s dictionary, June 26th update

See the complete Devil’s Dictionary of Scientific Words and Phrases here.

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Fourier transform  a mathematical formula which compresses something long and tedious so that it all happens at once.  Using the Fourier transform, you could hear Richard Wagner’s four-opera cycle Der Ring des Niebelungen, which take anywhere between 15 hours and 15 days to perform, depending on at what point the conductor dies, in a single moment in which all the notes would be played simultaneously. This saves a lot of time and probably resembles the listening experience one would have while on LSD. How does the Fourier transform work? First, you need a microphone. This should be plugged directly into an envelope function that shapes the continuous sinusoid (a structure in the nose) into a short pulse shaped like a Gaussian function. I haven’t the slightest idea what that means, or what precisely goes in your nose, but the main thing is it appears to work. You can try it yourself, just be warned: the end result is really loud. Theoretically you can undo it again, by reversing or inverting or decongesting the transform, or maybe just sneezing really hard, but I don’t know if this has ever been successful. The last time they tried, what came out wasn’t Der Ring des Niebelungen, but the song, “I wish I had an Oscar Meyer wiener.” But I think they left out the ^ over the f in the following formula:

 fourier

intellectual property   the first step in a lawsuit.

median  the invisible line in a lab separating your work space from that of your immediate neighbor in any direction. Nothing should cross the median. Not even a shadow. On a highway, crossing the median will likely lead to a fiery collision and death. The consequences for crossing the median in a lab are unimaginably worse, and cannot be reprinted here. You must obtain a visa and give notice of your travel intentions several months in advance. Vaccinations are not obligatory, although it’s always wise to keep your tetanus booster up-to-date. Note that airspace belongs to the bench directly below it, up to the ventilation hood, and any violation will result in a drone strike.

 

The Devil’s dictionary, June 26th update

See the complete Devil’s Dictionary of Scientific Words and Phrases here.

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dosage compensation  a formula which calculates the proper number of cups of coffee needed to make up for each hour of missed sleep; a logarithmic scale should be used to plot the results. In genetics, dosage compensation refers to the activities undertaken by a chromosome to control the behavior of its crazy twin.

European Union  Not to be confused with the “European Onion,” a common mistake in the UK, because “Onion” sounds like it begins with “un-“. It is unclear how many voters in the recent referendum were aware they were voting about their country’s participation in a political entity. Apparently many believed that Great Britain was under attack by a large, aromatic vegetable bulb. Probably a CRISPR/Cas experiment that escaped from the lab. In those circumstances, you’d vote to exit the Onion, too.

holy grail  something that is being sought by everyone in a field, such as a four-leaf clover, or your group leader’s car keys. There are lots of holy grails; each discipline has one. The holy grail does for research what a treasure hunt accomplishes at a child’s birthday party: it keeps everyone busy, out of trouble, and far away. If by chance someone should actually find the holy grail, everyone comes in for a piece of cake, at which point an authority figure determines that no, a mistake has been made. This is not the holy grail; it is actually something else, and the scientists are sent back outside to look some more. The best way to ensure that the party runs smoothly is to find the holy grail, for example the Higgs boson, before the party ever begins. Then put it on your chair and sit on it the whole time so that there is no chance that it will be found.

regulation  In cells, a range of mechanisms whose function is to prevent everything from happening at the same time. In governmental affairs, a process involving bureaucrats whose function is to try to prevent anything from happening at all.

Friday’s updates in the Devil’s Dictionary

See the complete Devil’s Dictionary of Scientific Words and Phrases here.

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emeritus  a status in academia which is the functional equivalent of taxidermy or pickling, depending on whether the starting material was considered rather fauna or rather flora by departmental colleagues.

therefore  the answer to the question, “Wherefore?”

utter, utterly  an emphatic word, almost always negative, associated with the milk-producing glands of a cow. To say that a competitor’s hypothesis is “utter nonsense” is to imply that it should be chewed up, passed through a bovine digestive tract, and ejected from the scientific literature by squeezing firmly on a large teat. Not to be confused with “otter” or “otterly”.

If you like the Devil’s Dictionary, you will probably enjoy these older posts:

Searching for Oslo: a non-hypothesis-driven approach

Ontogeny recapitulates sobriety: from the Archaeal origins of life to the pinnacle of evolution: a PhD

Plus the other pieces in the categories “satire”, “science cabaret,” and “hilarious moments in science communication.” And there are, of course, many serious pieces on the site.

Feel free to pass along the link to your fellow science nerds! And, of course, quote the Devil’s Dictionary – just remember the reference! All material here is copyrighted Russ Hodge.

Today’s updates in the Devil’s Dictionary

See the complete Devil’s Dictionary of Scientific Words and Phrases here.

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competitor  a scientist who, for some reason, has taken a wrong turn on the Path to Enlightenment, accepts false doctrine, and despite your best efforts, refuses to admit the error of his or her ways.

collaborator  a competitor with whom a temporary cease-fire has been negotiated.

regulation  a process in cells involving many molecules whose function is to prevent everything from happening at the same time; in governmental affairs, a process involving bureaucrats whose function is to try to prevent anything from happening at all.

If you like the Devil’s Dictionary, you will probably enjoy these older posts:

Searching for Oslo: a non-hypothesis-driven approach

Ontogeny recapitulates sobriety: from the Archaeal origins of life to the pinnacle of evolution: a PhD

Plus the other pieces in the categories “satire”, “science cabaret,” and “hilarious moments in science communication.” And there are, of course, many serious pieces on the site.

Feel free to pass along the link to your fellow science nerds! And, of course, quote the Devil’s Dictionary – just remember the reference! All material here is copyrighted Russ Hodge.

The Devil’s Dictionary: today featuring the letter “P”

Today’s entries in the Devil’s Dictionary of Scientific Words and Phrases all start with the letter P:

pipeline  the sequential application of many technologies to a scientific problem, forming a sort of artificial digestive tract in which raw materials enter one end and a Wurst-like object emerges at the other. A pipeline is usually constructed by lining up every instrument in the lab in a long row, end to end, in any order you please, so that what emerges from one passes directly into the opening of the next, preferably without human handling. Any technology may be included in the pipeline, including automated X-ray crystallography devices, musical instruments, mousetraps, the lab sprinkler system, and devices people use to alter the three-dimensional structure of their hair. For models of pipelines see the work of Rube Goldberg.

placebo  a treatment or action that has no value whatsoever, since it lacks an active substance that might have some positive effect on an organism’s well-being – a diploma is a good example of a placebo.

postdoc  a person in the lab who, after many years of training, is able to understand the odd mumbling sounds made by a group leader and translate them into occupational therapy activities for predocs, technicians, and other lower forms of life, using equipment on hand in the laboratory. The qualifications needed by a postdoc include: dexterity with a bullwhip; the ability to build a gin distillery using laboratory equipment; basic first aid skills, including the ability to reattach limbs on the proper person and correct side of the body; Black Ops training for carrying out sorties against competitors; and the ability to write sentences of at least four words using proper punctuation, then enhance them with 80 or 90 superfluous words to demonstrate a profound, impenetrable intellect. Candidates with any of the additional skills or experience will be given preference: an internship in a circus (involving the handling of large, aggressive animals); computer hacking (scientific journals), and ventriloquism (when the group leader loses his/her voice or train of thought). (requested by Fatimunnisa Qadri, MDC)

If you like the Devil’s Dictionary, you will probably enjoy these older posts:

Searching for Oslo: a non-hypothesis-driven approach

Ontogeny recapitulates sobriety: from the Archaeal origins of life to the pinnacle of evolution: a PhD

Plus the other pieces in the categories “satire”, “science cabaret,” and “hilarious moments in science communication.” And there are, of course, many serious pieces on the site.

Feel free to pass along the link to your fellow science nerds! And, of course, quote the Devil’s Dictionary – just remember the reference! All material here is copyrighted Russ Hodge.

More terms for the Devil’s dictionary

And the words of the day… See the complete Devil’s Dictionary for more!

double-blind study  a type of study requiring an amazing amount of record-keeping to hide the fact that a scientist has forgotten which group is affected and which is the control. This leads to a situation where no one has the slightest idea what is going on, including why experiments are being performed, when they will be finished, or whose brilliant idea they were in the first place (usually someone who left the lab years ago). Most laboratory experiments fall in the category of double-blind studies.

latency  a measurement of time that begins when your alarm clock rings and ends when you actually get out of bed.  Or, the period of time between turning in your thesis and a sign of life from your doctoral committee.

reproducibility  the likelihood that something which happened in a certain way in one place will occur again in another: for example, if you are playing golf and hit a hole in one, and then are struck by lightning. This is reproducible if you are struck by lightning a second time, after hitting another hole in one, on a later date, on another course. In science, reproducibility is achieved about this often.

More entries in “The Devil’s Dictionary of Scientific Words and Phrases”

Here are the new terms of the day. I’ll be updating the dictionary every day or two, so be sure to check back. I’ll post the new ones at the top, and they’ll also be added to the complete version of The Devil’s Dictionary.

automation  the activity that takes place inside the coffee machine in the hallway, on the rare occasions when, after the insertion of a coin, it produces both a cup and some sort of fluid. Alternatively, the mental state of a graduate student during the writing of a dissertation.

cohort  a large herd of mammals which is rounded up at regular intervals and corralled into the waiting room of a hospital or clinic.

control group  in experimental animals, the lucky ones; in human trials, the group that suffers all the poking and prodding of clinicians, gets a placebo, and is paid in Monopoly money.