‘Suppose a little green man…’
Stephen Hawking once wrote this sentence in a scientific paper.
The playful formulation didn’t make it to the final draft. An editor forced him to change it into ‘Suppose an observer…’.
I came across this anecdote while researching for an article on academic writing. I couldn’t find out if it’s true.
In my research I stumbled upon more little jokes from scientists.
At the time, I didn’t include them in my article. But today I’d like to share a few with you.
Scientists find, for example, room for humor in the titles of their papers:
An In-Depth Analysis of a Piece of Shit: Distribution of Schistosoma mansoni and Hookworm Eggs in Human Stool
Both have really been published.
The names of new animal or plant species sometimes contain a joke as well.
For example, there’s a mite that’s called Darthvaderum. And a mushroom with the name Spongiforma squarepantsii. Both because of their shape.
The names of the species come from an article by biologist Stephen B. Heard. Heard also wrote a Scientist’s Guide to Writing.
He argues that we should include ‘touches of whimsy, humanity, humour, and beauty’ in papers more often. Obviously, as long as it doesn’t get in the way of clarity.