Humor in Science (Episode 3: surname-sharing in co-authored publications)

Humor in Science, Posts

My friend Engin pointed me to this very instructive paper by A Few Goodmen (2014) about the phenomenon of surname-sharing in co-authored publications. Absolutely frontier-pushing, as these few Goodmen explain:

Our contribution to this literature is twofold. First, we believe this paper is the first written by four economists who share a surname…Our second, and related, contribution is that the four coauthors of this paper are unrelated by marriage, blood or current campus.


Humor in Science (Episode 2: storks vs. sex)

Humor in Science

By Claude Covo-Farchi from Paris, France (Une étoile est née) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

As we all know,

Two different theories exist concerning the origin of children: the Theory of Sexual Reproduction (ThoSR) and the Theory of the Stork (ThoS).


[…n]owadays, many people believe in the theory of reproduction, simply because they have been taught this theory in school, although it is a scientific theory, not a truth (Leisti T, personal communication via, 2001),

Höfer, Przyrembel, and Verleger (Paediatric and Perinatal Epidemiology 2004, 18(1):88–92) finally provide fresh evidence for ThoS and against ThoSR. The latter is implausible, the authors argue convincingly, inter alia because:

According to the theory of sexual reproduction, children are a result of sexual intercourse. There are however, well-documented cases where sexual intercourse has not led to the birth of a child. To the contrary, in the fundamental Christian work The Bible a case of delivery without sexual inter- course is documented. […] Therefore, this aspect should be amended to read: ‘No scientifically proven absolute cause-effect relationship exists between intercourse and delivery’.

In support of ThoS, the authors present a statistical significant correlation between the stork population in Brandenburg and out-of-hospital deliveries in Berlin between 1990 and 2000. However, they do not find a significant correlation between the stork population in Brandenburg and clinical deliveries in Berlin in the same period. Consequently, they conclude

that ThoS has to be restricted to out-of-hospital deliveries [and that the] ThoS should be further substantiated by rigorous scientific methods.

Höfer et al. must surely be applauded for bringing ThoS back on the table. But their version of ThoS may be flawed. Most likely an artifact of their methodological approach, the authors too easily rule out the possibility that in reality a combination of ThoS and ThoSR could hold. In fact, a recent 1-n ethnographic study by F.G. suggests strong evidence for cases of rapist storks:

Humor in Science (Episode 1: Writer’s Block)

Humor in Science, Posts

The stereotypical scientist is a highly intelligent, socially awkward, and humorless person, obsessed with unearthing “the truth.” Scientists seem to be always on the verge of becoming crazy. They tend to develop aspirations to either save or overtake the world. And when scientists speak to us they inform us about the facts. They tell us what has been measured. They read us from the book of nature.

(Did you expected to see a man on this picture? If so, what does this tell us about the stereotypes of scientists? Do you see a woman on this picture? How can you know? Anyway, this is not the topic of this post – Image: surya91)

Humor is less often attributed to scientists. Humor seems to have no place in science, other than as an object of research. Yes, of course, there is a science of humor! There are theories of humor which attempt to explain what humor is, what social functions it serves, and what would be considered humorous. There even is The International Society for Humor Studies, publisher of the quarterly journal, Humor: International Journal of Humor Research. Among the journal’s top 20 most downloaded articles are:

But luckily (and funnily) the science of humor is not the only way in which humor is in science. Often unnoticed, we find humor in science itself. After all, scientists are also only apes – like all of us! And as such, they must have humor, too (Gamble, Jennifer. 2001. “Humor in Apes.Humor – International Journal of Humor Research 14(2).).

Being a (social) scientists and ape myself, I can confirm that this is “true”! In this new series of mine I will prove that scientists are a funny tribe by showcasing humorous scientific publications. Apart from funny remarks in scientific publications, of which there are plenty (certainly more than anyone expects), there are truly humorous scientific publications which as publications function like good jokes. Why do these get published then? Because they are funny and because good jokes can educate.

Episode 1 introduces a pathbreaking article by Dennis Upper, published in 1974 in the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis on the “The Unsuccessful Self-Treatment of a Case of ‘writer’s Block”:


Note that

[p]ortions of this paper were not presented at the 81st Annual American Psychological Association Convention, Montreal, Canada, August 30, 1973 (my emphasis).

Given the severeness of Upper’s findings, his article has inspired some important follow-up research. In 1983, Geoffrey Molloy successfully (or unsuccessfully?) replicated Upper’s original study in Perceptual and Motor Skills. Two years later, Skinner et al., also in Perceptual and Motor Skills, suggested a group modification of these self-treatment procedures. Finally, in 1996, Skinner and Perlini reported that

[w]eekly one-hour administration of these group protocols has continued to be ineffective over a 10-yr. follow-up period.

…too bad!