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Archive for October 2nd, 2012

The Abominable Dr. Stupid

Posted by Dirck on 2 October, 2012

A Facebook associate of mine recently posted something which points out that the vast majority of mad scientists one is aware of are actually nothing of the sort.  They may be well-founded in the outcome of various scientific investigations, but they do not pursue scientific method.  There is generally no hypothesis being examined.  There is generally a want of control groups, who should not be included in statements like, “I’ll show them!  I’ll show them all!”  The sad fact, as suggested by the friend, is that the vast majority of mad “scientists” are, as is made clear by their focus on application rather than the new understanding resulting from that application, best thought of as mad engineers.

The spirit of contradiction arises in me.  I would suggest that, while that may well be true in some cases, there is an aspect of mad science which that approach overlooks.  A mad scientist who, let us say, invents a species of huge hyperintelligent carnivorous bats, may dodge this accusation of mere tinkering by observing that the madness is not specifically in the meddling in God’s domain, but in the general failure to follow rigorous scientific method.  He’s not mad because of the kind of science getting done, but because of his whole approach to doing science.

I should mention, that while I’ve been saying this, I’ve been donning the white coat and latex gloves necessary of science, and to complete my point, I will pause a moment to tape a live chicken to my head.


There.  Now, those who have read through this entire pile of nonsense that I add to most work days will have seen reference to various experiments I’ve conducted, usually with myself as the test subject (which in itself is an important clue to mad science, although not always conclusive).  I have, for some weeks, been conducting another experiment of this sort, in which I have paired for the week two pens which are both roughly contemporary to each other and of roughly the same price point.  Because I have been doing this consciously, I declare it an experiment, and thus it is science!

{convenient roll of distant thunder}

The mad part lies in the utter lack of any hypothesis.  When I decided upon this course back in late August (with a Vacumatic/Balance week), I had no other notion of what intelligence might be had out of the process other than to see what arose.  This is definitely carefree if not outright mad science, but since likely consequences are less than one gets out of the same approach to “Sodium + Water = ?” or “What can I build with several blocks of refined uranium?” it’s not dangerously psychotic science.

…and, alas, it’s the dangerously psychotic science the provides the best entertainment.  The conclusions I draw, if one can call them such in the absence of foundational hypotheses, are hardly earth-shaking:

  1. Pens made before 1925 are really not for everyone;
  2. Pens made between 1940 and 1960 are at least marginally better than those outside that period;
  3. I tend to neglect Asian pen-makers;
  4. I really like pens.

I might add to that, thanks to this week’s final pairing, that Sheaffer seems to have done a rather better job than Parker of attending to the entry-level market in the past decade, but then I ponder the relative merits of the REALLY entry-level Reflex and School… and even the mad scientist recoils from some aberrations in his sphere.

Finally, before I go to try to work up robot made entirely of Wearever Pennants and powered by the brain of a gorilla, or perhaps tinker together a patchwork dinosaur that spits gallons of Bay State Blue on its foes, I think I can offer one more insight into mad science: one dares not attend the Nobel ceremonies with chicken doings all down the back of the tux– that’s why you don’t see mad scientists in the news more.

Today’s unwilling subject: Parker IM (the initials preserve anonymity)
…injected with: Quink Blue

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