The Devil’s dictionary, May 21 update

finally: New updates in the Devil’s dictionary!!!

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

proboscis   a tissue extending from the front of the face which evolved as a mechanism to probe the space ahead, a bit like a blind person’s cane, or the front bumper of a car. If an animal walked slowly enough and hit an obstacle, it would first detect the impact via the proboscis, which is composed of tissue soft enough to absorb the impact providing the animal is not traveling faster than about 10 cm per second. Upon encountering an obstacle, sensors in the proboscis trigger a reflex that instinctively brakes the rest of the body before it suffers so much damage that insurance companies need to get involved. In many mammalian species this function became redundant through the evolution of whiskers, which is why the species with the longest whiskers tend to have the smallest noses (felines), and vice versa (elephants, whose tiny whiskers are purely ornamental). Derivatives include proboscuity, a habitual and socially offensive behavior in which the proboscis is inserted into places, situations or affairs where it has no business being.

alignment  placing two things next to each other in a way that lines up their ends, at which point they will be determined to have equal length or not. If not, the problem generally needs to be corrected. If aligning one end causes the other not to align, the standard procedure is to chop off the longer one to achieve double-ended alignment. If you cut off too much then the other item will now be the longer one and you must now repeat the operation on the second item, being careful not to get them confused. It is considered aesthetic to align hair, for example, on opposing sides of a person’s head to achieve a symmetrical result, but the actual process of ensuring that each hair on the left side aligns with its partner hair on the right is so complex that it must generally be done by experts and costs about $400. Amateurs often misalign the two sides numerous times in succession, which is the major cause of baldness. This can be avoided by placing a bowl on the head of the person you are trying to align, checking to ensure that their spine and head are straight through the use of a leveling device, and then cropping the hair evenly around the rim of the bowl. The bowl itself, of course, must be perfectly symmetrical and balanced at the exact zenith of the head, preferably by fixing it into place with a small nail or powerful adhesive so that slippage does not occur.

In genetics the term refers to aligning the genomes of two species to determine which one has “the longer one.” Anything hanging over is probably responsible for features found in one species but not the other. It is a myth that females tend to choose mates with extra letters that extend the length of their genomes. Technique is just as important.

conditioning  any process of training which causes a biological entity, such as your hair, to behave the way you want it to rather than to follow its natural instincts.

diuretic  a substance produced by plants which, when ingested by an animal, causes it to release the water it has taken up from the environment more quickly, and closer to its source, rather than carrying it long distances away and depositing it in a foreign watershed. This phenomenon means that diuretic plants get more water and have an advantage in natural selection. A high number of non-diuretic plants in a particular environment usually triggers the rapid development of deserts: the water needed by the plants is carried too far away to do them any good. Upon the death of such plants, the organisms that eat them migrate away, further reducing the recycling of water. The effect is self-reinforcing, which ultimately causes animals to cluster along coastlines, resulting in a huge spike in real estate prices and making a species susceptible to extinction by tsunami. Over the long term this cycle leads to environmental conditions like those found on the moon and Mars, which could have been prevented by the evolution of a single plant with diuretic properties.

generation time  the period of time that a mother requires between giving birth to one child or litter and the next. Mathematically the generation time for a species can be calculated using the following formula:

gestation time + x

where gestation is the amount of time between conception and birth and x is the amount of time between giving birth and the resumption of sexual activity by the mother, usually due to the insistent behavior of her partner.

For humans this generally results in a generation time of 9 months + 20 minutes

habituation  the process by which the brain becomes desensitized to sounds, smells, advertising, well-meaning advice from family members, and various other annoying stimuli rather than responding in an instinctual way, for example by becoming an ax murderer.

mammary gland  what you say to your mother if it becomes necessary to refer to her boob.

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

Some little-known facts about Kansas

 

 

Even God’s first paper got rejected

All images and texts on this site copyright 2017 by Russ Hodge

 

Editor-in-Chief   

The BIBLE

 

Prof. God
Paradise Avenue
Heavenly Realm

 

Dear Prof. God,

 

Thank you for submitting your paper, “Genesis: A method of generating matter,
space, time, and living species from Nothingness,” for our consideration. We agree
that the creation of the universe might be of interest to our general readership.
However, after considering the reviewers’ comments, we regret that we are unable
to publish the manuscript in its current form. If you feel that you can satisfy their
concerns with further experiments, you are welcome to resubmit a revised version
of your manuscript at a later date.

The following represent only a small selection of the most significant issues,
in our view, but for a resubmission you should address all the reviewers’ comments,
which are in the 5000 GByte attachment appended to this file.

 

Reviewer #1:

Hasn’t this author ever heard of controls? The author should have started
with two samples of Nothingness, applied the method of creation to one
while observing the other to ensure that the various reactions did not occur
spontaneously over time. He provides no quantitative description of this
Nothingness, gives no account of the conditions under which it was produced,
and no proof that Nothing was actually there.   

There are no references to previous literature, so we have no way to judge
the author’s qualifications in the field or the extent to which this work is
innovative vis-a-vis that of other groups.

The indirect, third-person style of the text is old-fashioned and should be
updated. Phrases such as, “In the Beginning God created” should be modernized
to a form like, “In a first step, we produced…” Another example:
“And God found that it was good” should be replaced with,
“The results confirmed our initial hypothesis.”

 

Reviewer #2:

From what I can tell, the physical and biological systems described in the
paper seem to have gone from a very low state of order to high complexity
within a remarkably short period of time. This hints at the use of extremely
powerful catalysts, which are not described anywhere in the text. Are they
commercially available? If so, were the manufacturer’s protocols rigorously
followed?

In fact, the author has failed to offer any model or hypothesis that could
mechanistically explain the results, or justify the claim that His efforts
somehow caused them. The implication is that things happened just because
He willed them to. This is the reason we have double-blind experiments, people!

 

Reviewer #3:

The human cloning experiment was not described in nearly enough detail.
What types of cells were extracted from the male’s rib, and what method was
used to generate induced Pluripotent Stem Cells and then the female? More
significantly, since the cell was derived from a male, where did they get the
second X chromosome? Was it simply a clonal copy of the first? Theoretically
it is possible, I suppose, that the female was actually genetically male but
suffering from some sort of defect in her SRY gene. If that were the case, half
of her gametes would be chromosomally Y. This would lead a quarter of her
offspring to be entirely X-less, i.e., Y-Y, which might explain the violent behavior
of some of her children. Or perhaps radical genetic engineering technologies
were used to create the female, such as CRISPR/Cas9, although I hope not,
because the fight over the patent was already a mess, and getting God
involved certainly wouldn’t make things go any smoother.

In any case, the type of genetic modifications needed to make a female from
a male would have been in direct violation of every ethical standard and
numerous international laws. Not to mention the horrendous, ensuing inbreeding
effects that could be expected in a population descended entirely from a couple
who were not only closely related, but actual clones.

Please note that I did not receive any paperwork indicating that the project
had been submitted to ethical review. Apparently the Author considers
Himself superior to any sort of moral authority; either that, or he paid
someone off. If I am wrong, and an Ethics Commission did in fact approve
the project, please let me know the country. I would consider moving
my laboratory there.

 

Today’s updates in the Devil’s Dictionary

Dear friends, finally some updates in the Devil’s Dictionary… Today’s words include archaea, gold standard, planarium, and the null hypothesis! Enjoy…

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

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all entries in the Devil’s Dictionary of Scientific Words and Phrases are
copyrighted 2017 by Russ Hodge

archaea  a unicellular organism known as an extremophile, generally meaning that it thrives in places the rest of us would find uncomfortable, such as hot thermal vents on the ocean floor, where they are thought to have evolved about 3.5 billion years ago, or in the tanks of Jacuzzis in hotels, the cloud palaces of Venus, or the belly button of a man who refused, for reasons that are unclear, to take a shower or otherwise bathe for many years. It is also unclear how the Archaea got into the belly button, although 3.5 billion years is probably enough time to crawl there from the ocean floor if you have a clear destination in mind and don’t make a lot of pit stops along the way. Some scientists believe that archeae invaded primitive bacteria and established a symbiotic relationship, leading to the evolution of the modern eukaryotes, although it is hard to see what they got out of the deal, unless they regarded the bacteria as hotel resorts where they could get cheap Jacuzzis.

Regarding the belly button, I cite from the original article: “Of special note are three phylotypes of Archaea [we found in the belly button], a domain of life often found in extreme environments and not previously reported from human skin [1], [27], multiple phylotypes of which we isolated from two independent samples (see online Supporting Information S1). Two of these three phylotypes were from an individual who self-reported not having showered or bathed for several years.” Reference: Jiri Hulcr, Andrew M. Latimer, Jessica B. Henley, Nina R. Rountree, Noah Fierer, Andrea Lucky, Margaret D. Lowman, Robert R. Dunn. A Jungle in There: Bacteria in Belly Buttons are Highly Diverse, but Predictable. Plos One: Nov. 7, 2012. http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0047712

gold standard  an amount of pure gold equivalent to the value of an impact point. In ancient times, alchemists were actually awarded gold for their achievements (i.e., the degree to which their strange experiments came close to making it). In modern times, the gold standard was replaced with paper currency (journal articles), and is basically worthless in objective terms.

planarium  a strange model organism that never dies, but simply shrivels up for a while when food is scarce and then fattens again, and sometimes reproduces, when food is plentiful, resembling the way humans attempt to control their phenotype through various diets. When you attack a planarium with a knife and cut it into up to 256 pieces, each subunit is capable of reproducing an entire organism. The 257th piece is used as food. It is unclear why this hasn’t left the Earth piled in heaps upon heaps of planaria. The best explanation is that there are lots of planaria shriveled up in various locations, waiting for their chance to puff up and achieve world domination.

null hypothesis  a theory claiming that everything is nothing, or nothing is anything, or that nothingness pervades the universe, or would do so if the universe existed, but according to the null hypothesis it doesn’t, so what would there be to be filled with an infinite amount of nothingness? And does a system containing only nothingness obey the Second Law of Thermodynamics? Can the same volume hold different degrees of nothingness, which differ only in the density of nothingness against a background of nothingness, and if so can the nothingness in a system increase over time, or decrease, depending on how you see these things, to the point that eventually all the nothingness will be gone, and there will be nothing left at all, not even any nothingness?

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.

New updates in the Devil’s Dictionary!!!

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

3707_001

 

in situ  an experiment that can be done sitting down, preferably in the comfort of your own home, without having to get up, allowing you to do science while remaining within reach of the TV remote and alcoholic beverages, although it is permissible to have other people bring you things. An example of an in situ experiment is to extract organic material from your belly button for use in a metagenomics experiment. Another is to stare fixedly at a computer screen for as long as possible without blinking, repeating this several times, and then taking an on-line eyesight test to determine the degree to which your eyesight has worsened. At that point you can order new glasses via the Internet and have them delivered to your door.

fontanelle  a gap in the skull of newborn humans that was originally used for whistling and snorkeling. It could also be used to add or remove parts of the brain as a means of enhancing the learning process. Nowadays the fontanelle has changed dimensions to the point that it is almost exactly the size of a USB port, in anticipation of the day in the near future when knowledge will be transferred via flash drives.

proboscis   a tissue extending from the front of the face which probably evolved as a mechanism to probe the space ahead, a bit like a blind person’s cane, or the front bumper on your car. If you walked slowly enough and hit an obstacle, you would first detect the impact via the proboscis, which was soft enough to absorb an impact providing you weren’t traveling faster than about 10 cm per second, which would trigger a reflex that instinctively brakes the rest of the body before it suffered so much damage that insurance companies needed to get involved.

icthyology  the study of the religions and belief systems of fish.

fluke  a case in which the tail of a whale appears spontaneously, unexpectedly, and inexplicably in the middle of any laboratory experiment or procedure or some other place where you do not typically expect to find one, for example in a test tube full of ribosomes,  or in a yeast culture, or on a highway in Kansas, or in your sock drawer.

flagellum  a whip-like structure that arose in early prokaryotes as a mechanism by which they could express displeasure by beating on their neighbors. Because early microbes had not yet discovered the principles of Newtonian physics, they were perplexed when this activity caused an equal and opposite reaction: beating your neighbors also pushed you away from them, which was usually desirable, at least until they learned to behave, and had the added benefit of bringing you into contact with more types of organisms that you could beat. In the long term this caused the environment to adjust to your basic desires, rather than the other way around.

The advent of multicellular organisms had two major effects on the structure and functions of flagella: 1) it meant that neighboring cells began to exclusively beat each other, because they were stuck together, leading to a relationship resembling marriage, and 2) flagella initially caused problems of orientation, because in essence the organism had lots of rowers, each of whom rowed in whatever direction he or she pleased. The development of mechanisms that coordinated the beating behavior of flagella in multiple cells had a survival advantage: if rowing carried you away from a source of food, you could steer back toward it. This led to the evolution of social hierarchies, such as dictatorships, in populations of cells, giving one cell the decision-making power over other cells in determining the direction that they should row. From that point it was just a hop, skip, and a jump to the modern human brain.

funghi  a foodstuff that originally evolved as an organelle of Pizza Rustica, but then underwent a sort of metastatic process through which fungi wandered off the plate, into the forest, and adapted in ways that permitted growth in moist soil. This had health benefits for pizza eaters, because to get the best tasting funghi they had to get off the sofa and go for walks outside.

parsimony  a basic principle in science which involves trying to keep things simple. This can only be achieved in a scientist’s early years, before life gets cluttered by events such as matrimony. At that point parsimony becomes very difficult, and in the alimony phase it is completely impossible.

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.

3707_001

 

enantiomer  a form of asymmetry which becomes obvious when a glove is put on the wrong hand, a shoe on the wrong foot, or an arm or leg is surgically reattached to the wrong side of the body, which happens more often than you would think, but which at least puts the glove or shoe back on the correct foot. In this case the gloves and shoes are still called enantiomers, but at least they’re the matching enantiomers. Most molecules are enantiomers, which gives them the same sort of problem with gloves. Human beings are not enantiomers, at least not in this dimension, unless you count your evil twin who lives in the mirror. This raises the fascinating philosophical question: if you could choose someone to be your enantiomer, whom would you pick?

 null hypothesis  a theory claiming that everything is nothing, or nothing is anything, or that nothingness pervades the universe, or would do so if the universe existed, but according to the null hypothesis it doesn’t, so what would there be to be filled with an infinite amount of nothingness? And does a system containing only nothingness obey the Second Law of Thermodynamics? Can the same volume hold different degrees of nothingness, which differ only in the density of nothingness against a background of nothingness, and if so can the nothingness in a system increase over time, or decrease, depending on how you see these things, to the point that eventually all the nothingness will be gone, and there will be nothing left at all, not even any nothingness?

potential drug target  something in a biological system that is not affected by any known drug and probably never will be.

sally forth  a more elegant way to say “go”, which should be used as often as possible in scientific papers.

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.

3707_001

press release  a shortened form of the expression “press and release:” a description of the activity of the intestines when trying to digest and then expell a piece of science that has been swallowed without chewing.

p value  a numerical value used in statistics to shows whether life is a random, meaningless sequence of events, or whether the universe really is out to get you. If an experiment doesn’t work out, the p value can help as you try to decide whether to repeat it, or give up science and become a sheep herder. The p value shows that no matter how bad things are, they can always get worse. Suppose, for example, when you redo an experiment you produce some antimatter. Even a very small amount might blow up the galaxy. This hasn’t happened before, as far as we know, which means the p value for antimatter is probably very low, less than one. But until we get some data, the number might jump up into the millions, with no warning whatsoever. It is easier to estimate the p value of other things, for example, the chance that your group leader will be struck on the head by a bowling ball that a passenger flushed down the toilet of an airplane. Here the p value will be higher than 0, since all group leaders die someday (100%), and in a few cases the cause will be a bowling ball. Start by calculating the maximum number of days your group leader might live under optimal circumstances (daystotalgroupleadermightlive). Skew the figures a little bit to account for the fact that Tuesday is the most popular day for dying. Throw in a few other numbers just for fun, and then start calculating. The result should be p = approximately 1 / daystotalgroupleadermightlive. If the bowling ball does not descend that day, you will have to recalculate the p value the next day, because every day that passes without a fatality reduces the total number of days before death is inevitable, (daystotalgroupleadermightlive – 1). Since p is inversely correlated with this number, p will get a little higher every day, just like the rising, anticipatory mood in the lab. The same approach can be used to figure out the p value of a zombie apocalypse (hint: 1 / daysmaximumuntilzombieapocalypse). Since no one knows the value that should be inserted for daysmaximumuntilzombieapocalypse, you can insert different numbers until you get a p value that pleases you. Note that these two formulae can be combined, somehow, to account for the possibility that your group leader will be one of the first victims of the zombie apocalypse.

simple  the quality of being simple. While scientists prefer that things be simple, they don’t like their descriptions of things to sound simple, because people might get the idea that science is simple, and then anyone could do it. So scientists have developed many alternative ways of describing simple things, including the following: “a gratifyingly low degree of complexity, bordering on null,” or “a state of not having achieved, evolved, or developed any apparent structural modularity,” or, “an entity or process which can be described without adding a lot of boring, unnecessary detail, particularly those features or properties that have no effect on the outcome of an experiment.” For those who prefer a single word, the base “simple” can be ornamented with some useless consonants: simplifical, simplificability, or simplificabilical. A word can also be built on some other base whose simple meaning can be deduced by anyone with a thorough knowledge of Latin and classical Greek: aheterocomplificatory, apolymorphological, nonmultifeaturologicistical, unquantiplurifiable, monouniformalogically integrated, etc.

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.

3707_001

manufacturer’s specifications  the way a sales rep describes how a machine or protocol should work, which usually does in fact work until the sales rep leaves, at which point it no longer works. A system of planned obsolescence which provides employment for the company’s technicians and consultants.

nonetheless  is an expression which means, “starting at this point you should ignore everything that I have said in the last 20 pages.”

nunc est bibendum  An expression commonly put at the end of papers, which basically means, “The End.”

patent  what a discovery is called after a lawyer finds out about it. Most scientists are unaware of the huge number of lawyers lurking around laboratories, because they are clever at disguising themselves as cadavers, or genetically modified rats. To get them to come out just shout the word “Eureka!” or “Aha!” and one will run up to you and hand you patent application forms.

simple  the quality of being simple. While scientists prefer that things be simple, they don’t like their descriptions of things to sound simple, because people might get the idea that science is simple, and that might make them wonder why scientists get the big bucks to do it. So they have come up with alternative ways of describing simple things, including the following: “a gratifyingly low degree of complexity, bordering on null,” or “a state of not having achieved, evolved, or developed any apparent structural modularity,” or, “an entity or process which can be described without a multiplication of features or properties, in a way that does not affect the predicted outcome.” For those who prefer a single word, the base “simple” can be ornamented with some useless consonants: simplifical, simplificalogical, simplificability, simplificabilicous; or a synonymous base can be used: apolymorphological, amultifeaturological, nonquantiplurifiable, etc.

 

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.