The Devil’s dictionary, April 20, 2018

more entries in the Devil’s Dictionary: today including altruism, heterochrony, etc.

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

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all entries in the Devil’s Dictionary copyright 2017 by Russ Hodge

age  is a short suffix that can be added to most nouns and a few other speciages of wordages if you can get them to hold still long enough to attach it. Its original usage stemmed from attaching the word “itch” to something that caused one. “I wouldn’t give you five cents for that beddage (bed-itch),” someone might say, implying that a mattress was full of lice. Other spellings were incorporated early on: “radish” comes from “red-itch,” as some who ate the vegetable developed a rash. Later British noblemen began to add “-age” to words under the mistaken impression it derived from a similar French suffix (“personne” becomes “personnage”), and that using it would suggest they spoke French, which would people think they were more intelligent, higher-class, and cooler than they actually were. They used the suffix to make simple things seem more complex and sophisticated than they actually were. A “dosage” was something a physician gave you; a “dose” was something acquired in a less respectable social setting, and the reason for your visit to the doctor in the first place. A nobleman referred to his social equals as his “peerage”, aiming to imply that they deserved respect; the unintentional irony was that more literally, you were saying he was “lousy” (full of lice). This use of “-age” to make things sound more intelligent or technical has persisted to modern times. “Usage” is often favored over “use”, although they mean the same thing. And you’d never listen to a relative go on and on about the amount he pays for gas, which is nothing more than griping and his own dumb fault for buying the car; “mileage” sounds more technical and scientific, and can start a discussion that lasts for hours.

altruism  a disputed term used by some psychologists to describe a temporary, dissociative cognitive state marked by mental confusion and unnatural behavior. The most distinctive symptom is that a person suffering from altruism places the well-being of others above his own, even when this involves risky and even self-destructive behavior. This extends to individuals beyond his or her own children in what has sometimes been described as “an overgeneralization of the mothering instinct.”

Altruism seems so contradictory to evolutionary principles that some refuse to believe it exists and try to explain every altruistic act as ultimately selfish. The problem troubled Darwin to the point that he put off publishing the theory of evolution for more than two decades, spending more than half of that time in a painstaking study of barnacles. This aquatic creature is commonly used as an animal model of human altruism because in some sub-species, males have given up their bodies altogether in service of females, now existing as little more than a sac of sperm, a sort of parasite inside the female body. Darwin finally resolved the conflict by realizing that short-term altruistic behavior might have a function like bird plumage, by attracting potential mates. It might fool someone into thinking you were “nice”, at least long enough to invite home for a few rounds of reproductive exercise. Most bouts of altruism wear off quickly, within a few hours, but the original performance might have been so impressive it could years for a mate to realize it was a temporary aberration, and the victim is normally just as selfish as everyone else.

Diagnosis is tricky and altruism can only be definitively detected through EEG recordings and a brain scan. These measurements reveal a depressed activity in areas of the brain related to basic instincts of self-preservation and higher cognitive functions, akin to the brain’s response to canniboids. The longest duration for a uninterrupted altruistic state recorded in medical history is four hours, although the patient was sedated for most of that time.

heterochrony  the inability toremember whether to set your clock ahead or back at the beginning and end of Daylight Savings’ Time, and then to draw the proper conclusion about whether you have gained or lost an hour. As for what happens at the International Date Line… Forget it. Severe cases of heterochrony are often accompanied by a conspiracy theory mentality which holds that the hour isn’t really gone you lose an hour no matter which way you turn the clock, the result of a governmental conspiracy to steal an hour from citizens twice a year, during which it has unique access to your bank account and has an hour to invest your savings in highly speculative stocks, or work the slots at an on-line casino. There is little risk because it will just add any losses to the amount due in calculating your income tax. You never notice that anything has happened because the extra hour never officially existed – they keep shuffling it back and forth across time zones – and although your money is gone, this does not appear on your bank balance. And why should it? There was never actually any physical money in the account anyway. They keep it stored in ATMs.

A woman with the condition is called a heterochrone; the male form is heterochronus, their offspring are labeled heterochromognomes. Compare with homochrony, which has nothing to do with Daylight Savings Time.

homochrony  the ability to march or clap, although not necessarily simultaneously, at a regular pace coordinated with the rhythm of any marching or clapping going on around you. Animals either do this instinctively or don’t care; in humans early training helps. The technical term for people who never acquire this skill (famous case: Ronald Reagan) is “ain’t got no rhythm.” Those who do got rhythm can refine it to the point of being able to march in formation while twirling a baton or playing a musical instrument, despite wearing a bizarre band costume that resembles the attire of the British colonial forces that occupied India.

to proportionate (verb)  an aggressive social behavior in which a person proactively volunteers to cut the pie, or the chicken, or divide the loot, in a thinly disguised move to get the most. After things have been divvied up, the distribution is said to be “proportionate” (adjective) if the portions people receive correspond to the amounts they deserve, calculated through a complex formula that takes a person’s body mass index into account and variables such as whether your spouse feels that your BMI falls into an acceptable range, whether he or she is presently at the table, and the H (holiday) factor, where the normal physiological regulators of eating are repressed. If a proportionatee disagrees with the amount he has been proportioned, he may petition a civil court, at which point he has the opportunity to present evidence that his piece of pie was too small. The court may order the plaintiff and defendant to enter a binding process to decide on “reproportionation,” to whose terms both parties must agree. If they are unable to come to terms, the case is heard again and decided by the judge.

book lice  a parasite created through genetic engineering techniques by introducing termite genes into head lice. Originally developed for their potential as a form of organic recycling, librarians got their hands on the bugs and began cultivating them in S1 laboratories in the library basement. Staff harvest the colonies for their eggs, which are spotted onto the pages of books before they are loaned out. The eggs are timed to hatch precisely one day after the date due, at which point the lice crawl out of the book and take up residence in nearby volumes on the patron’s shelf or any available textile, which is why you should never read a library book in bed and should always return it on time. The eggs are highly sensitive to changes in the environment of the book; improper handling, such as dog-earring a page, often triggers early hatching. Book lice are to library patrons what the dye packs they hide in currency are to would-be bank robbers.

host  has two distinct meanings in science. The first is a deragatory term by which unicellular organisms refer to multicellular life. For bacteria, “host” has about the connotation of a motel whose rooms have no bath, no cable service, and whose swimming pool is exactly the size of a Jeep, namely one that missed the exit ramp on the Interstate, flew over the guardrail, and plopped into the pool, where it was such a tight fit that it could no longer be extracted. A pathogen goes off on a trip for a while and takes copious notes, so that when it comes back it can compare its holiday experience with those of the neighbors. Bacteria can’t access the Internet, so they distribute their reports biochemically, sometimes at the level of genes. Over time individual human bodies are ranked in terms of comfort and the level of services they provide. Very few people are awarded a five-star rating, and when it happens the pleasure is short-lived. They become vacation hotspots that are overrun by all sorts of pathogens, inevitably killing the host, but by that time a trendier new place has usually been found.

The second usage of hostin scientific contexts is positive: as a term of respect that one scientist may bestow on another after being invited to give a talk at the colleague’s institute. “Host” is reserved for someone who covers all of your travel expenses, naturally first-class, takes the visitor to excellent restaurants, where the prices on the wine list are explicitly ignored, and puts you up in a four-room suite at a hotel with all the amenities, such as an all-night bar well stocked with attractive, lonely conversation partners. Upon request a host will assign you a bodyguard to escort you to the bar, stay discretely on hand to jump into any fights that may arise, and then get you get back to your room in one piece, unless you indicate otherwise using a secret sign agreed upon in advance, possibly but not necessarily indicating that you have managed to hook up in the bar. If the hosting scientist fails to meet any one of these criteria, you return home and insert a reference to the trip whenever possible in casual conversations, and write an exhaustive account of the visit on websites such as LinkedIn, but conspicuosly neglecting to refer to your colleague as the host. Being at least as smart as pathogens, other scientists get the idea, and will make up wild excuses to avoid having to give talks at institutes rated with four stars or below.

hatch  As a verb, hatch refers to the process by which an organism emerges from the receptacle in which it has undergone the stages of embryogenesis, whether an egg or a womb, often freeing itself by pecking an opening with its beak. So birds hatch from eggs and children hatch from the womb, unless the child is an amphibian or a reptile.

As a noun, hatch refers to a flap-like tissue that covers the throat which remains closed until it is stimulated by a liquid of high alcoholic content. This triggers a reflex by a hinge-like muscle at the back of the flap, causing it to open and permitting the alcohol to go “down the hatch”. From there it is routed to special cavities throughout the body that are dedicated to the processing of alcohol. There are several of these tubular structures, located in regions such as in the legs, where gave rise to the expression, “He has a hollow leg.” (The technical term is overflow lumen.) When alcohol enters such a lumen, it causes a sensation that the drinker reports as, “That really hit the spot.”

hindgut  a region of the intestine which lies below the hindbrain, when the body is in an upright position, and is connected to it via a large bundle of nerves that bypass the spine. This conduit permits the gut to monitor brain activity and take over some of its functions, such as communication, in an emegency. When a person is incapacitated, for example through the excessive consumption of alcohol, or decapitated entirely, the hindgut steps in and sends unequivocal signals of distress to those nearby. It has two modes of doing so – generally trying one and waiting for a response before trying the other. If neither on its own provokes other people in the bar to take caregiving measures – such as calling an Ueber driver – the hindgut activates both signaling systems simultaneously.

In type 1 signaling, the hindgut jerks swiftly upwards and delivers a focused “punch” to the stomach, which forces its contents upwards in the form of projectile vomiting. In type 2 it presses downwards, clenching the lower intestines in a vise-like grip that forces any pockets of noxious gas to seek the nearest exit, generally accompanied by a loud acoustic signal. Such noxious gases are usually plentiful because the body naturally produces them as it metabolizes fermented substances.

flocculate  the process by which a floc is produced from a microfloc. What happens before that, no one knows, but microflocs can’t just arise from nothing, so it is reasonable to infer the existence of nanoflocs. Anyone who cares about what comprises nanoflocs – there’s something wrong with you.

ooopossum  the oocyte of a possum.

If you liked the Devil’s Dictionary, you’ll probably also enjoy:

Searching for Oslo: a non-hypothesis-driven approach

On the publication of “Remote sensing” by the magazine Occulto

 

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The Devil’s dictionary, March 22, 2018

Finally more entries in the Devil’s Dictionary! Today’s words:  fixing, biomass, drift, and skeletal muscle

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

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all entries in the Devil’s Dictionary copyright 2018 by Russ Hodge

fixing  In basic research this term generally refers to chemical methods of preparing a living creature or one of its parts, such as a cell or a tissue, but also a complete organism such as a group leader, so that all of its biological processes are immobilized at the moment of fixation. This is useful if you want to examine the mechanisms that underlie a behavior you do not understand, such as the organism’s refusal to give you feedback on your latest paper. It has the slight disadvantage of killing the object of research. In clinical science, “fixing” usually refers to methods of removing the reproductive organs of an animal so that it won’t engage in uncontrolled, promiscuous acts that would lead to lots of offspring. Given a choice between the experimental and clinical types, most organisms would probably prefer the first.

biomass  is used in two ways: 1) the “weight of life.” If you weigh a living organism such as a human being directly before and after its sacrifice, the biomass is the difference. The biomass is just that part of an organism’s weight contained in the Life Force. Some distinguish it from the soul, whose weight must then be subtracted from the Life Force total. If the death produces a ghost, its weight must be subtracted as well. This leaves a biomass that is usually very small, about .000001 grams, although some scientists maintain that this represents the weight of the last breath instead of the Life Force. Others believe that the Life Force and the last breath are the same thing, particularly if you have been eating garlic. If the weight after death is heavier than before, then you’ve waited too long to perform the measurement; the extra weight comes from bacteria and other decomposers which have settled into the organism for the feast and begun to reproduce. People who don’t believe in a Life Force, a soul, or a ghost are not only sort of boring, but they have a more boring definition of biomass: 2) the weight of every living thing in an environment, measured after you’ve stacked it in a big pile.

drift  a situation in which the younger generations of a species pack up and move away from the herd, taking their genes along with them. At some point youngsters get fed up with parental control, stuff a bunch of clothes in a backpack, and head off aimlessly on a railway pass, leaving its parents to wonder whether they have taken along a toothbrush. The young generations keep traveling until they have spent all their money, find an ashram that suits their nature, or both. When they reproduce their children go through the cycle all over again, leaving the ashram for other parts.

skeletal muscle  long fibers made of fused muscle cells that connect various regions of the brain to different points on the skeleton, turning the body into a sort of marionette and creating the illusion that we have conscious control over it, although some people obviously don’t, at least not their mouths. Skeletal muscle is the foundation of voluntary movement by animals. Before it evolved, animal movement was strictly involuntary – if a pet or child were in the way, you had to pick it up, throw or kick it to make it move. The arrival of skeletal muscle was highly practical because it permitted people to make the trip from the sofa to the refrigerator themselves; you no longer had to spend all your time fetching beer for them.

Skeletal muscle promoted the development of some further evolutionary adaptions while retarding others. Experts believe that it delayed the evolution of language because skeletal muscle allowed animals to use the digits of their forelimbs to point at things. Pointing served all the important functions of language that a species needed except for those that required head-butting or biting. But it also led to negative selection, because having control over your finger made it possible to poke someone else in the eye, and you could no longer blame such behavior on the absence of skeletal muscle. This often led to negative selection through the loss of the finger in question, as well as whatever functions it served in the survival and reproduction of an individual.

grey matter  another term for scientific publications.

 

If you liked the Devil’s Dictionary, you’ll probably also enjoy:

Searching for Oslo: a non-hypothesis-driven approach

On the publication of “Remote sensing” by the magazine Occulto

 

The Devil’s dictionary, Feb. 12, 2018

Today’s entries in the Devil’s Dictionary include quantifiction, argument by an algae, etc.

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

3707_001

all entries in the Devil’s Dictionary copyright 2018 by Russ Hodge

quantifiction  to introduce as many fictional devices as needed into a mathematical or statistical procedure to ensure that you get the result you desire – rather than an ugly truth that would force you to give up your lovely model or, God forbid, your behavior. After a long period of incarceration, quantifiction was recently granted a Presidential pardon. It has been restored to the exalted position it held in the Official Canon of Scientific Methods until two centuries ago, and is being widely implemented by the ruling theocracy in the natural sciences, economics, environmental studies, university mathematics departments, epidemiology, taxation, and all the other fields deemed to have been corroded through the corruptive influence of reason. A number of open source tools have been developed to run under the Open Quantifiction suite, including Fudge factor, Xagerate, disCriminate, overSimplify, Nflate, Denyify, reVersify, and JustLie. See the entry for exaggerate for more.

argument by an algae  For a long time, certainly more than a century, perhaps as much as a thousand years, maybe even millions for all I know, scientists have been engaged in a fierce debate on the topic of argument by an algae. Some researchers are for. Some are against. The rest are presumably riding the fence. If you make a career in science, be prepared for the day when someone pops the question, “Do you think arguments by an algae have a place in the way scientific conclusions are reached?” Tread carefully in composing your answer. Whatever the reason for interest in this bizarre topic, people tend to get quite worked up about it. To save you a lot of time, don’t try to find an answer on PubMed. I have been looking for years and have not only been unable to find any literature on the topic, but any reasonable etymological source for the term.

Scientifically, I find it difficult to conceive of any mechanism by which an algae (or the absence of an algae, depending on whether you hoped for a positive or a negtive correlation) could validate (or invalidate) a scientific argument that happened to be going on nearby. Unless, of course, the science concerned algae in the first place. Then there might be some sense in going down to the pond, scraping up a bit of the green stuff  (or not), and popping it into your magic-angle, solid state NMR machine. Otherwise, I am at a complete loss regarding what an algae is doing in scientific theory.

X-Y graphs and associated terms  X-Y graphs, also known as Cartesian coordinate graphs, refer to a type of plot or chart that was invented far back in prehistoric times by males, as the name implies. Some evolutionary psychologists claim that this system was invented because humans were restricted to two-dimensional thought; i.e., they were able to consider two features of an object at a time, but a third was too much to handle. So, for example, they could understand that a rock was black, or that it was heavy, but not that it was both black and heavy (which would have required adding a third dimension to the chart).

An example of an X-Y graph

Custom dictates that all data plotted onto an X-Y graph fall within a shape called a Bell curve. When this proves impossible, a number of terms have been invented to describe data that fail to adhere to the rule:

outliars (sometimes spelled outliers)  data points that should be clustered with a group but have wandered far astray, like sheep, to take up positions in very distant reaches of graphs. Their existence is an affront because they skew all of your results in an undesirable way, usually but not necessarily in the direction of the outlier. How much shift occurs depends on the number of dots properly gathered into the cluster. Even dots on paper are made of matter, which means they exert gravitational fields on each other, so if there are an awful lot of them, the outliar will tend to fall into an orbit around the cluster over time. Whether or not the orbit decays, drawing the errant point back to the fold, depends on the direction and velocity of the outliar at the time it was trapped on the paper. And whether there are other graphs lying nearby that might draw it into their gravitational fields instead.

outrightliars – outliers that are even farther away, always on the right side, providing information which simply cannot be true because it does not fit the lovely paradigm you developed; it never occurred to you to look that far away. There may be many even downrighterliars, so far away they are located on someone else’s chart.

dirtyliars – points plotted on a graph that got smudged somehow, perhaps because the dots are so small they fall prey to Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, or they are being chased by Schrödinger’s cat, so their exact positions cannot be determined.

altimeter  a measuring stick or large ruler, always a few inches longer than a yard, that has been stored in a high place, probably to keep the dog or the children from getting their teeth or paws on it. Contrast with antimeter – a measuring stick used exclusively to measure negative numbers, which is why 0 is found to the far right and the rest of the numbers run in reverse order. (Not to be confused with antimatter, but the reverse polarity of the stick would permit it to be used to measure that as well.)

ion – a particle that is charged, usually with VISA, but MasterCard is accepted in some places; be sure to save the receipt, what with all the identity theft going on these days. Used as the stem for the following additional terms:

anion – means simply “an ion”; the space was omitted through a misprint in a textbook long ago and now people think anion means something other than one ion, but just ignore them because they’re wrong.

cation – a cat that has been loaded with a powerful charge of static electricity by rubbing it against a carpet; the longer you rub, the higher the charge, as measured by the number of scratches on your arms. Released, the cat dashes off to deliver a powerful shock to whatever person or animal it encounters next. This may result in fatalities, depending on the age and overall health of the victim, whether they are wearing a pacemaker, if they have recently undergone an examination using MRI, etc.

If you liked the Devil’s Dictionary, you’ll probably also enjoy:

Searching for Oslo: a non-hypothesis-driven approach

On the publication of “Remote sensing” by the magazine Occulto