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.

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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.

EVEN MORE updates in the Devil’s Dictionary

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

3707_001

hither  the opposite of thither.

thither  the opposite of hither; almost but not quite yon.

yon  an abbreviation of the word yonder, which is where you’ll end up if you don’t complete your thesis.

reductionism  to repair a piece of equipment that has already been repaired once using duct tape by applying another layer of duct tape.

 

in the same fashion  today this means “in the same way.” Until around the 1970s, however, it meant that everyone in a lab had to wear the same clothes. The group leader had full authority over the dress code, including underwear (or not). The practice began after a paper in a psychology journal suggested that giving group leaders this power would improve their mood, the morale of their labs, and thus the impact of their papers. Most groups adopted the generic lab coat (underwear optional), but others took a more creative approach. Popular themes for laboratory wear included: monogrammed shirts with the logo of the lab bowling team (membership obligatory), black tuxedos, white tuxedos, Vikings, woolen sweaters knitted by the group leader’s mother, Disco, Star Trek, penguin costumes, the Village People, hockey uniforms, Octoberfest, pimps & hookers, Elvis impersonators, the Court of Versailles, the band KISS, characters from the Godfather films, etc. (The “cowboy” theme was forbidden after the first few shootouts.)

last but not least  a phrase commonly used in talks that functions like an alarm clock, or a defibrillator, rousing members of the audience who have entered comas, raising hopes that they may live to hear the end. Speakers who are unable to hold the audience’s attention in any other way use the expression about once every five minutes, even several times in the same paragraph. Officially, this is considered a foul, and any speaker who is caught doing it gets an automatic yellow card and a one-year suspension from the conference circuit.

 

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

Fundamentalist math: another outtake from the science cabaret

Some little-known facts about Kansas

 

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.

Updates to the Devil’s dictionary AND a special new cartoon series!

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

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Today’s topic: PERSPIRATION and its many derivatives.

perspire  etymology: from the Latin per, which means with or through, and spire, which is the pointy thing on top of a church; the compound perspire is probably derived from the fact that a spire is awfully darned heavy and whoever has to carry it up all those stairs to mount the thing on the roof is bound to emit some sweat. Perspiration is an involuntary process in which anywhere from 1 to 1 billion pores of the skin open and release a fluid that covers the skin. The precise composition of this liquid is a mystery, at least to me, unless you have eaten garlic recently. Perspiration is found in many living species, and a few nonliving ones, although I’m not sure about fish. They probably perspire, but measurements are technically challenging, and it’s hard to see the point. Whatever, this wide pattern of evolutionary conservation suggests that perspiration has some vital function, including some, all, or none of the following, respectively: 1) it provides an outlet for fluids so that an organism won’t explode if something goes wrong with its bladder; 2) it has antiseptic properties, which is why mothers use it to wash your face, although you’d rather they didn’t in public places; 3) under certain lighting conditions it diffracts light in a manner that renders a person invisible, which is helpful in evading predators, such as your boss, an unpleasant relative, or a loan shark; 4) some of it slews off a person (the perspirer) and hits anyone following him (the perspiree), for example during the Tour de France, who undoubtedly find this bit of precipitation refreshing, unless the perspirer’s perspiration contains trace amounts of banned substances that might later appear in the urine of the perspiree (One defense tactic attempted by Lance Armstrong, which fell through because there was rarely anyone in front of him, and he was unable to come up with a convincing mechanism by which perspiration could overcome the laws of physics); 5) it contains pheromones that attract a member of the opposite sex, but only briefly; later your partner becomes habituated to it, which comprises the middle period of a marriage, and finally develops an allergy to it, which can be quickly cured by divorce, murder, or some other method of separating spouses. It should be noted that there is a weak correlation between perspiring and doing work. Perspiration is also correlated with lying. Therefore signs of perspiration may mean you were working, you were not working but are lying about it, you were working and lie about it, or some fourth alternative, such as a rare condition not yet recognised by medical science but will be named for your doctor if it kills you.

Perspiration has been spun off into many derivatives, including:

  • aspire  to intend or plan to perspire
  • respire  to perspire again if it didn’t have the desired effects the first time
  • inspire  to motivate others to perspire
  • conspire  to perspire with at least one other person, usually while participating in a free-time activity such as reproduction, or a plot to overthrow the government
  • expire  to perspire to an excessive degree with fatal consequences
  • transpire to perspire across traditional boundaries between disciplines or genders; another meaning is the brief state of spiritual enlightenment that sometimes follows  heavy perspiration, but prior to the onset of the heart attack.
  • expire  to perspire to an excessive degree with fatal consequences
  • despire an existential Angst related to anxiety about perspiration performance, or a feeling that perspiration has lost its spiritual significance; this can also mean to physically remove the tower and spire of a church, usually as a college prank, then relocate it to somewhere unexpected: the back seat of the convertible that belongs to the head of your department, the breakfast cereal aisle of a grocery store, or the International Space Station.
  • perspiritus  an alcoholic beverage made from fermented perspiration
  • prospire  to perspire professionally
  • perspirosome  the cellular compartment that synthesizes perspiration
  • panperspirum hypothesis  the theory that life on Earth arrived in the form of extraterrestrial perspiration borne by comets, spaceships, or shed by aliens during the Tour de France.
  • Perspi-cola  a soft drink that was marketed very briefly in the 1980s. Stories that the drink contained naturally-produced perspiration is probably an urban legend; over a period of about 20 years, Perpsi-cola chemists had developed a synthetic version that was virtually indistinguishable from the real thing. The drink was removed from the market after three days due to its failure to attract a loyal customer base, probably because it tasted disgusting.

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

Letting science communication (and a cat) out of a box

Some little-known facts about Kansas

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.