Dave Barry's Column of 7/8/95 (Corrected attributions)
James W. Sandoz
sandoz at umbc.edu
Thu Jul 13 00:10:50 EST 1995
In article <3tvnal$aqc at news.ccit.arizona.edu>,
Stephen Matheson <sfm at manduca.neurobio.arizona.edu> wrote:
>> In article <1995Jul11.173721.15818 at alw.nih.gov>,
<original post, flame, and most of flame-of-flame deleted>
>That's an unjustified attack on someone (Mr. Cabot) who is, at worst,
You're right. I've corresponded with Mr. Cabot and we actually
agree on more than I would've thought. I hereby apologize to him in
>Your sarcasm suggests that you are unaware of the way in which humor
>is routinely used to trivialize other people and their ideas.
Not at all. Barry didn't trivialize, he carried the idea to
an extreme. Something like: Why do we need flies with 4 or 5 eyes?
They're already hard enough to swat. (The premise being that the
purpose of the research was to improve the fly; believe me, I haven't
done justice to Barry). I thought it was pretty funny. About as funny
as his (I think, it was years ago) column about preventing the
maturation of cockroaches so they won't reproduce. He imagined foot-
long immature cockroaches raiding his pantry.
>..But the subtle impact of a
>joke about scientific experiments is simply not the same as a
>joke about incinerating a toaster. That, I think, should be
>obvious to people who are not -- your word -- idiots.
But the absurdity of Barry is evident in both. He lampooned
the research. He didn't lambast it.
>Your obnoxious attitude is not appropriate in this forum. I invite
>you to get lost.
>BTW, how exactly did Mr. Cabot "waste your time"?
>How exactly was he able to force you to read his post? Some kind
>of special software?
I initially found Mr. Cabot's post as obnoxious as you found
mine. If he has special software he didn't use it. My filters are
unable to distinguish types of articles. I have to read them to find
out what they are about.
>That's YOUR idea, and NOT his. He made NO allusion to censorship
>of this kind, and your "suggestion" is idiotic, utterly crass, and
You're correct. I read more into the post than was there. I
do, however, take issue with "utterly crass".
>You sound like a fool who should think more and type less.
I've sounded more foolish than that. You should hear me when
I'm really steamed.
Now to wax philosophical: How many of you remember Proxmire's
"Golden Fleece" awards? Now they were lambasting. But even those
served a purpose. Sometimes we get a bit arrogant about our work.
Should the general public approve of basic research which is sometimes
so esoteric that other scientists don't understand it? After all, it
_is_ public money paying for it. There are some that will always dis-
approve of it, some who will want to spend more, and most who are
content to leave such decisions to the experts at NIH and NSF. Trouble
is that the experts are keenly aware of political pressures. Had Dave
Barry's absurd extrapolations been expressed by a politician or a
political columnist, I too would have been alarmed. The subtle impact
of widely-read jokes about scientific research is impossible to
determine. That doesn't mean that scientists can't, or shouldn't,
laugh along with the crowd; or at least see the humor. It is your job
and mine to explain the merits of basic research. When Kornberg was
visiting, he pointed out that _all_ the research on DNA was basic, with
little foreseen application. The fruit of that research has
been enormous (I don't have to list here the applications of DNA
technology). Other projects that have appear "dead-end" may yet prove
useful to taxpayers. We have to convey that message. Dave Barry
can't be expected to.
If I've bored any of you with my ramblings, feel free to flame
Steve Matheson (sfm at neurobio.arizona.edu). He made me do it.
Mr. James W. Sandoz, UMBC Dept of Biol Sciences, Catonsville, MD 21228-5398
voice: (410) 455-3497; fax 455-3875; net sandoz at umbc.edu
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