The grim tale of Grimcrack and other grim tales
Links and updates for Fall 2023
(1) Peter Gainsford tallies up Aristotle's claims about teeth and gives him an A-. “Camels have no teeth in the upper jaw -- FALSE. Males have more teeth than females in humans, sheep, goats, and pigs -- FALSE. Elephants have teeth at birth -- TRUE.”
(2) This paper finds that flipped coins land on the same side they started slightly more than 50% of the time. (Thanks forfor this one.)
(3) While doing some very important research, I discovered that Honey Bunches of Oats with Almonds only gets a 3.7/5 on its own website. As of this writing, if you scroll down, one of the top reviews is about finding a cockroach in the box. I, for one, think Honey Bunches of Oats with Almonds deserves better than this.
(4) Uri Bram's Chimp-Pig Hypothesis is the modest proposal that perhaps, just maybe, there's a teeny tiny chance that humans are hybrids of chimps and pigs. “To me, the most interesting interaction you can have with the Chimp-Pig hypothesis is to let yourself believe it, at least briefly, and then observe what it feels like to have your world overturned,” Uri writes. This is a good example of what I was talking about in On the importance of staring directly into the sun.
(5) Halloween costumes in 1929, courtesy of Paul Fairie.
Paul's twitter threads are so good that I have preordered his book.
(6) If you think college kids today are outrageous, check out what Harvard students were doing in the late 60s:
One older male official and a young female secretary resisted our claim that we were “liberating” their building. Both got punched and pushed down the stairs, suffering minor injuries. The sight and sound of us forcing twenty or so staffers out of the building quickly drew a midday crowd; we knew the police would soon follow. So we spray-painted such slogans as “Fuck U.S. Imperialism” on the walls, broke a few windows with rocks, and fled. [...] Eric Mann and another member of the collective ended up serving a few years in prison for assault.
(7) Speaking of which, sometimes I think about how airplane hijackings used to happen all the time and how they basically don't happen anymore:
Most of those hijackers were destined for Cuba, where they expected to be greeted as “revolutionary heroes.” Unfortunately for them, as much as Fidel Castro loved embarrassing the US by receiving the hijacked planes and ransoming them back, he despised the hijackers themselves and had them interrogated, imprisoned, forced into labor, and occasionally executed.
(8) Roger Babson predicted the 1929 stock market crash, created the precursor to the MBA degree, kind of invented the parking meter, ran for president on the Prohibition ticket (and lost), founded three colleges (two still survive), and started the Gravity Research Foundation in the hopes of developing a “shield” against gravity, which he blamed for killing his sister, who drowned. Oh, and he put up the first inspirational billboards, which were made out of big rocks:
DISPATCHES FROM THE LITTLE SHIPS
This is your periodic reminder that I host a Discord for folks interested in pursuing independent scientific projects. (See Let’s build a fleet and change the world.) If you’d like to join, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with a short description of what you’re into.
Here are a few updates from folks in the Independent Sciencesphere:
The Homebrew Biology Club is offering a $10k prize for the coolest “open lab notebook.” Deadline is Dec. 1, so go quick!
- is starting a Science House for Weird Biology. I think the coolest stuff in science is going to come from things like this.
- wrote a great piece on Slime Mold Time Mold's quest to cure obesity. (I have a lil cameo.)
SUBSTACK WRITING I'VE LIKED RECENTLY on living through the conflict in Sudan by escaping to a remote village:
5 days of no water. They decide to dig up the long buried water-well.
You mastered the art of kicking any animal out of the house.
The Communication with Animals Dictionary:
Chickens: Ishhhh krrrrr
Turns out the water well is haunted. No further questions asked.
You might think to make things more convenient for Marl, perhaps add a little “see less like this” button below a piece of content. Oh boy, are you ever wrong. This absolutely infuriates Marl. [...] Insufficiently stimulated, Marl throws a fit and swipes over to TikTok, never to return to your app. Your feature decreases DAUs [Daily Active Users] in the A/B test. In the launch committee meeting, you mumble something about “user agency” as your VP looks at you with pity and scorn. Your button doesn’t get deployed. You don’t get your promotion. Your wife leaves you. Probably for Marl.
It was getting darker, and soon the candles were lighted. Macak [Tesla's cat] took a few steps through the room. He shook his paws as though he were treading on wet ground. I looked at him attentively. Did I see something or was it an illusion? I strained my eyes and perceived distinctly that his body was surrounded by a halo like the aureola of a saint!
I cannot exaggerate the effect of this marvellous night on my childish imagination. Day after day I have asked myself “what is electricity?” and found no answer. Eighty years have gone by since that time and I still ask the same question, unable to answer it.
THE GRIM TALE OF GRIMCRACK
I just finished reading Adrian Tinniswood's The Royal Society and the Invention of Modern Science. Interesting tidbit: the Society is well-esteemed now, but it struggled to gain respect for a long time. For instance, shortly after its official recognition by the king in 1660, the Society was ridiculed in a popular play called The Virtuoso, which featured a nutty scientist named Sir Nicholas Gimcrack, clearly based on Royal Society members of the day. An excerpt from the plot summary:
To gain admittance to Sir Nicholas's house where they can see their beloveds, [Grimcrack's nephews] Bruce and Longvil feign an interest in Sir Nicholas's absurd experiments, which include learning to swim on dry land by imitating a frog, transfusing the blood of a sheep into a man (resulting in a sheep's tail growing out of the man's anus), and bottling air from various parts of the country to be stored in his cellar like wine.
Robert Hooke attended a performance and “humiliated, identified himself as the specific target” of the satire, as most of Grimcrack's experiments were based on reports either from Hooke himself or from the Society's publications. “Grimcrack” became shorthand for “attractive on the surface but of no real value.” Hooke, for his part, became a pioneer in optics, mechanics, microbiology, paleontology, architecture, etc., so I suppose he had the last laugh. You can read the whole play here.
Another tidbit from the book: for hundreds of years, Royal Society members were like, “We gotta get famous scientists in here so people will know our institution is cool.” This is the opposite of how scientific prestige works today: “I gotta got into a famous institution so people will know I am cool.”
UPDATES FROM EXPERIMENTAL HISTORY HQ
I wrote an article for The Atlantic about the only useful piece of advice. I wanted to call it “There Is Only One Useful Piece of Advice,” but alas, the A/B testing gods returned a far more annoying—but apparently more clickable—title. I am now two-thirds of the way through my accidental triptych of Atlantic pieces about how I have ruined important life events for myself or others (here's the first), and I shudder to imagine what the third might be.
As a reminder, Experimental History voiceovers are now available on Spotify and Apple Podcasts. I'm starting by re-releasing some older posts, and then everything I post here will be available there. This is mainly for folks who are like “I don't like to read, I only like to listen, and I want everything in one app.” If you like the way you're currently getting these posts, keep on doing that.
Speaking of podcasts, here are a few I've been on recently:
Big Brains, the University of Chicago podcast
And a few TV shows:
There was some good discussion around I'm so sorry for psychology's loss, whatever it is:
Paul Bloom wrote a reply: Psychology is ok
I replied to his reply: I sent Paul Bloom an email
And Ethan Ludwin-Peery wrote a reply as well: Alchemy is ok
My most recent MYSTERY POST for paid subscribers: How to get funnier, and why you shouldn't.
And those are all the links and updates fit to print! If you wanna talk about anything, I’ll be checking the comments for the next few days. Otherwise, see you soon.
Experimental History is a big rock in the woods that says “USE YOUR HEAD”