The most difficult part about being a fake scientist is telling people what you do for a living. It’s hard enough with friends, family members, and Internal Revenue Service auditors, but small talk is even rockier terrain. One summer on a flight from Chicago to San Francisco, I found myself stammering in my airplane seat when the subject of occupations came up. Five-hour flights can create some awkward situations, but this one seemed particularly perilous. I had to admit I was a fake scientist. And I was sitting next to a real one.
Though actual science has remained opaque to me during my tenure as a fake scientist, I have learned a bit about real scientists. When I started encountering them, I took an anthropological pleasure in analyzing their quirks and humor. (I’m so nonscientific that even when I’m pretending to be a scientist, it’s a social scientist.) I should note that my data on this group isn’t statistically significant or peer reviewed—I am, after all, the type of scholar who spends most of his time Photoshopping babies drinking from beakers. Still, I’ve gleaned a bit about scientists from having conversations, responding to Facebook comments, and reading enthusiastic tweets.
I learned quickly that real scientists—the people I’d satirized with crisp lab coats and serious lab-goggle-covered faces—could be incredibly silly. I should have known that from my friends in scientific fields, but it remained shocking to see lauded pros act gleefully absurd. When I created a fake gossip magazine about scientists, I never anticipated that Mike Brown would tweet back. (He’s an astronomer whose Twitter name, @plutokiller, should give you an idea how he feels about his role in declassifying Pluto as a planet.) That silliness drew scientists to my site, and their intelligence only enhanced it.
The Amazon book reviews are particularly good:
“This book is so good, I almost don’t mind that I died penniless!”–Nikola Tesla
“For the last time, I am not the physicist Stephen Hawking. I’m Steve Hawking and I’m a business administrator in Ohio. I will not read your book.”–Stephen Hawking, Says He’s Not The Physicist, But Who Knows?
“Thank you for contacting the offices of Neil Armstrong. The office cannot respond to all letters, but thank you for your interest. Please enjoy the enclosed color photograph.”–Neil Armstrong, First Man On the Moon
Click to read the rest of the confession, in which Phil Edwards discovers something new about bears going on knife hunts.