Meta Stuff

An interlude about last night . . .

. . . in which I take an evening off from science and skepticism only to hang out with scientist skeptics and talk about science and skepticism.

I’ve heard I’m not the only one who feels April is the most vicious stretch of weeks. Pity poor T.S. Eliot, as he probably had no access to the surest cure for a terrible April: sushi, wine, and trivia. I don’t get out much these days, making last night that much sweeter; the first stop after work was good old Trader Joe’s, where I talked my companion out of the fabled two-buck-Chuck in favor of the slightly pricier but miles better four-buck-La Boca. While paying, our Adorable Cashier (AC) took a moment to read over the label and commented, “Ah, La Boca!”

“I heard ‘yesterday’ was a good year for the cab,” I flirted. AC smiled.

“Good choice — most people make the mistake of going straight for the two-buck-Chuck.”

I grinned with triumph at my companion, and then attempted in vain to convey to AC that though I was with my friend, I was not with my friend. Difficult to do as you’re grabbing your $4 wine and heading for the door. Ah,well.

After the drinking of the La Boca, accompanied by the always delicious eating of the sushi, we hit the pub for trivia night. Maybe it was the wine, maybe it was our team of just three people (most teams had at least five), or maybe it was the rustiness from not having played in nearly a year, but we weren’t doing so well. The top three teams at the end of the night get prizes (usually a sizable chunk removed from your bar bill), and back in the good old days of last year, our team rarely had to pay for a drink. But this night, despite the fact that I had two Harvard scientists on my team and multiple questions had been in the category of “science,” we were hovering at the middle of the pack.

My drunken researchers pouted that the questions weren’t really about science. The questions, they whined, were “historical”: what was the first weapon to surpass the speed of sound (a question I know I’ve heard before and should’ve got off the bat but still somehow missed) and what did Aleksei Leonov do that no one else had ever done before (we were close, but no cigar). They also complained that if it doesn’t have to do with biology, it’s not “real science.” They pointed out that rarely does a scientist actually stick his nose into any area other than his own, meaning that they would be most helpful at a pub trivia event wherein every question had something to do with the genetic make-up of yeast.

I asked them what they would do for a living if they had to drop out at that very moment, and they admitted they had absolutely no skills to do anything but their current research. They thought about it a bit, tossing out various possibilities like “burger flipper,” before inspiration struck and they happily agreed that there was a chance they could get very good jobs — as brewmeisters. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you . . . the men leading the human race toward enlightenment.

The final question of trivia night is always the biggest, as you can bet a large amount of points to pull into the lead. The category was science. We bet it all.

“What color represents the hottest of stars in the universe?”

Astronomy. Not real (yeasty) science.

“Blue,” I said.

“White?” guessed my friend. “Blue-white?”

“I have this under control,” I said. “If you gentlemen will excuse me for a moment . . .” I hopped off my stool to go into a back room near the bathrooms.

“No, Rebecca, no cheating,” whined the scientists. I pointed out that we only had three teammates, we were way behind first place, we were very inebriated, and I wanted to talk to my friend anyway because I miss him. They let me go.

“Blue-white,” said my favorite astronomer.

“Are you sure,” I yelled into my cell phone.

“Where the hell are you?” he asked, as a drunken sorority sister stumbled into me while making her way around the foosball table.

“Pub trivia,” I said. “Are you sure?”

“Well, technically it would be white. So I’d go with white, and if they say something else then they’re just wrong.”

I walked back to my table and my teammates showed me their slip of paper on which they had written, “white.”

“Yep,” I said, and turned it in to the trivia hosts.

A few minutes later, the host took the mic.

“Blue,” he said, and cheers went up from various tables as he went on to announce the winners. The right answer would’ve put us in 2nd.

I walked up to the host and sweetly smiled. “It’s white, you know.”

“White?”

“Yep, white, and if you want I can call an astronomer friend to prove it.”

“No need.”

I thought about it a second. “A NASA astronomer.”

“Look, I run trivia in Cambridge. Everybody has a NASA astronomer they can call.”

I pouted. “He wrote a book.”

Few are immune to the powers of the sad eyes/pouty lower lip of doom.

“Tell you what,” he said. “Come next week and I’ll buy you a beer.”

So at the end of the night, scientific accuracy may have been lost, but it was in favor of a free pint. I call it a draw.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

Related Articles

9 Comments

  1. [delurking — btw, I love the montly Skepchick e-zines]

    …Not to nitpick or anything (and I'm a big fan of the Bad Astronomer, btw), but… the hottest stars *are* blue… Temperature decreases with spectral type (OBAFGKM), and O stars are the hottest, and these emit their peak radiation in the UV, so they would look blue to us. Stars that look blue-white would be B-types Stars that look white are usually A-types. Yes, they are hot — but the blue stars are hotter still… Now, some white dwarfs are hotter than main sequence stars, but WDs are stellar remnants and so I wouldn't consider them "proper" stars.

    I don't know many O-type stars (I know at least that they exist), but some of the hottest stars that have been observed (example: Bellatrix, ~25 000 K or so) tend to look blue-white, so maybe thats what he meant…

    (http://www.bramboroson.com/astro/images/hrdiagram.jpg)

    (btw, I'm a just lowly grad student in the astronomy food-chain, so obviously BA knows more about stuff than I do, but this is one of the things that I'm pretty certain I really learned thoroughly)

    [back to lurking]

  2. I didn't have time (or access to PowerPoint) to go into it, but color in stars gets pretty complicated. Vega is blue, for example, and it's only about twice as hot as the Sun. Rigel is technically a blue-white supergiant, but it looks pure white to my eye. The hottest star known is a white dwarf in the center of the planetary nebula NGC 2440 (I studied it) at about 200,000 Kelvin. And it's a *white* dwarf.

    Anyway, the Sun is, technically, white. Like I said, this gets complicated. In reality, the question itself is meaningless. There is no One True Color for the hottest stars.

  3. I was told of this stie recently and was following along on the blog. I was holding my tounge for a while but I think that this is going to come across as really ranty and rude; in the end, I think it just has to be said.

    This entry really got me thinking that perhaps the person on the podcast who made the off-the-cuff 'that's bogus' comment isn't the best to be writing anything about skepticism at all – unless they bother to actually do some real reading instead of just linking to websites all the time. I'd probably have made the suggestion earlier that a blog-a-day isn't much of an accomplishment if it's this surface-skimming of important issues. I've been uncertain for the most part exactly what was trying to be achieved with this blog, too. A lot of it seems sneering and debunking the obvious. Where's the depth? And now I see why there's so little depth. You don't actually have a science background, do you?

    No, it's not MANDATORY to be a scientist to be a skeptic. [rolleyes] But at least show some respect for it, more than your recent blog has illustrated about your underlying attitude towards scientists. Was it just the drink, perhaps? You have to be more than their eye-candy or their nude-babe-holding-their-book if you're going to hold your own. And this entry showed you don't, I fear.

    I'm sorry, I'm not going to subscribe or read this blog any longer. Because this recent entry really offends me on several levels – as a scientist and a woman:

    From Douglas Adams' The Salmon Of Doubt:

    '… "These scientists, eh? They're so stupid! You know those black-box flight recorders they put on aeroplanes? And you know they're meant to be indestructible? It's always the think that doesn't get smashed? So why don't they make planes out of the same stuff?"

    The audience roared with laughter at how stupid scientists were, couldn't think their way out of a paper bag, but I sat feeling uncomfortable. Was I just being pedantic to feel that the joke didn't really work because flight recorders are made of of titanium and that if you made planes out of titanium rather than aluminium, they'd be far too heavy to get off the ground in the first place?

    …There was no way of deconstructing the joke… that didn't rely on the teller and the audience complacently conspiring togetther to jeer at someone who knew more than they did. …I also began to wonder how many of the jokes I was making were just, well, ignorant.'

    In jeering at the scientists who were forced to say that they'd be nothing more than burger-flippers, you really insult scientists. Sure, ha ha ha. It's a pub, you're drunk, they're drunk and yet the biggest contribution you've made all night was to choose better wine to get drunk with and cheat on a quiz to score a free drink, by flashing the host with less brains and more… breasts? Where's the role model with those fries, please?

    I'd like some perspective, please:

    It takes a hell of a lot more to get into college for a thesis at the end of it than just the ability to hold a spatula. And as usual, it's a non-scientist who leads the conversation to 'admit that you're nothing more than paper-pushers and research-geeks'. Sure, they were 'making a funny'.

    And the joke is on them, as it always is with the complacent. Easy target, the geeky scientist. Good for phoning up when you can't be bothered to figure out the answer for yourself, of course… good for flashing their info for the ol' feminine hardly-mystique to score a drink, of course. Perhaps less drinking and more reading might make this a little less sad. And me a little less mad about what exactly are you saying here.

    Do some research yourself and see just how hard and 'joke-friendly' a science degree is. Until then – here's some simple research – that the BA was probably too enamoured to point out… must be the 'mystique' again…

    The Bad Astronomer: 'Just a point: I'm not a NASA astronomer. I have never been employed by NASA.'
    http://forums.randi.org/showthread.php?postid=146

    I'd really prefer to see someone who didn't have to cheat on a pub-quiz, as innane as it was, and actually read the vaunted book that gives the answers instead of scoring free drinks on someone else's research efforts.

    As I said before – this really disappointed me and I'm being rude and will probably get flamed back for it. Seriously? I think I'll just read the other blogs by real female scientists from now on as this turned me off like all the other off-the-cuff, lighthearted and ultimately vapid blogs that are out there.

    Just what is your point? If this is communicating skepticism, you're doing a poor job as a role model. Because this is so science-unfriendly and pub-crawl-bimbo-stereotypical that you've turned me off. Has to be said. :(

  4. Hi Kiless.

    First, there's no need to hide behind pseudonyms here (why is your URL "mit.edu" when you live in Australia?). See, when you post here I can see the location from which you're posting, in this case, Perth Australia. I'd prefer that if you post here, you do not write silly lies like you were just "told about this stie (sic) recently." I'm especially confused by your assertion that you are "a scientist and a woman." Woman, yes, but scientist? You're a grade school English teacher. At least this illustrates that you really don't feel someone deserves an opinion without a degree in science — an opinion I don't share. That fact that you're not a scientist doesn't make your opinion any less valid. The fact that you'd lie about who you are and purposely distort truths, well, that might make your opinion less valid.

    I saw that you posted nearly the same thing on the JREF forum, notably this post and others in that same thread. I'm sorry you don't feel my credentials are up to snuff, but luckily it doesn't take much to be able to write a blog and they no longer make blog-reading mandatory for all persons on the Internet.

    I'm also sorry you missed all the humor of this entry, like the tongue in cheek grasping of straws as I tried to convey the authority of my astronomy source. But, like Sam likes to say, if you have to explain them, they don't go in the act.

    In direct response to some of the things you've said, I'm not even sure where to begin. I don't recall ever dismissing something as "bogus" as I'm not sure I even use that word on more than a semi-annual basis, and usually then only in a Bill and Ted ironic sense. A lot of your other implications are just baffling. I used my breasts to get a free beer? Pay attention, please, I used the sad eyes of doom! Sheesh. And this lack of reading comprehension on your part appears to be the norm for you if you think I don't show respect to science (or the doers of science) in this blog.

    All that is really beside the point, though. The main point I want to get to is that I'd like to once again state my wish that you seek professional help to get over whatever issues you have, because I remember when you used to be happy and fun (and of course held the exact opposite view of everything you've posted recently).

    Seriously, with the lies and the pseudonyms? This is just getting weird.

  5. And Emily: NEVER apologize for nitpicking! It's an important part of primate bonding. I figured it would come down to a judgment call, which is why I didn't throw a fit with the trivia guy (technically we lost out on a $50 bar tab, I think). I can't tell you how many times I've been on a team that got marked down because we knew too much — "Yeah, but TECHNICALLY the first president of the US was etc. etc.," instead of just saying Washington and being done with it.

    Oh, the highs and lows of a trivia junkie!

    And on that note, while I'm commenting in my own blog, if anyone out there wants to join the team, let me know. As it stands, we have all questions about yeast covered, as well as the completely random things I store in my brain (I like to get at least one "how the hell did you know that" a week). If any of you can fill in those gaps of knowledge, there might be a free beer in it for you.

  6. Rochelle,

    I do not know if you have been around Rebecca enough. If you read most of her posts you will see that on a pretty good head there hangs a tongue of sharp wit. I, for instance, never take what she says seriously. Like her threat to break my knees if I don't pay her back the money I loaned last time we saw each other. What a kidder.

    I think skepticism and science should have a big tent. "Pure" scientists, and magicians, and journalists and everyone who is interested enough to learn more and participate. What science degree does Randi have? Shermer's PhD is in the History of Science. Penn I think never went to college. Bill Nye the science guy has an Engineering Bachelors.

    Just because someone is an accomplished researcher does not mean they are a good communicator. Just because someone is a great scientist does not mean they are a skeptic.

    Rebecca is doing something about which hundreds of people moaned about for years. Why aren't women more represented in skepticism? Why do people think science is dry? Why do people claim we are in ivory towers? Why are skeptics old white men? Why are we considered elitist and humorless?

    Rebecca is doing a difficult and effective job. She also is providing a platform for skeptics of all educational levels and interests to discuss any issues: pure scientists, housewives, teachers, etc.

    So I think not only were your comments unfortunately quite rude, I think you are quite mistaken via the direction of your ire. You are also making a hell of a lot of assumptions that say more about you than about Rebecca. And please link to the blogs of real female scientists, we could always use more cross pollination.

    PS. In case it helps, I have a science (real yeasty science) degree from an ivy league university. My father is a physics professor, my mother a physician, my brother a computer scientist. Are my credentials OK?

  7. Hmmm…

    The only ones I can remember rebecca making fun of are woos and other nut jobs.

    As for science degrees. Perhaps actually listening to people like James Randi and Michael Shermer when they're doing their lecture would help in driving home the point that a science degree doesn't actually protect you from falling for nonsense. And for a skeptic, it's important to realise your own shortcomings.

    I'm sure rebecca is well aware of her own shortcomings. And so were the scientists she was with. What about our mystery RochelleN … ?

  8. Well, I don't trust scientists at all! Those conniving schmucks! JUST because we cannot perceive all of reality at once, they ASSUME that things like "time" and "cause and effect" exist!

    It's a cult, I tell you! A CULT!!

Leave a Reply

You May Also Enjoy

Close
Close