Scientists often specialize in producing baloney sandwiches

I hope I can handle this delicate topic tastefully. My scientific education included specialization in the study of parasites; intestinal parasites, to be specific. Such specialization places me at the absolute nadir of science, that place below which it is impossible to go lower. 

However, it has also made me somewhat of a specialist of biological waste. My knowledge has come in handy in growing my garden as I can usually find the highest quality steer manure for fertilization. “Steer manure” seems a preferable term to the more common designation of this material for use in a family paper.

You may be surprised to know that there is another verbal-form of steer manure. I call it “baloney sandwiches.” Being sensitive to the topic by training, I have discovered that scientists are often sources of baloney sandwiches. 

Let me give you an example. “Now whatever the origin of this apparently meaningless jumble of ideas may have been, it is really a perfect and very slightly allegorical expression of the actual present views we hold today.”

This was said by Frederick Soddy. Yes, the very same Frederick Soddy who discovered there were two isotopes of uranium. I quote him as a perfect example of a baloney sandwich! Like you, I have absolutely no idea whatsoever what the above quotation means. 

Now Soddy was a radiochemist, and radiochemists are of the upper echelons of the scientific enterprise. His is almost the opposite of my position as a parasitologist in the extreme. Given his position, what he says must be true. I just don’t know what he is saying. 

One need not be highly educated in obscure topics to become a specialist in producing baloney sandwiches. It’s just that scientists are not immune. People can make profound sounding, but meaningless, statements with little training whatsoever. What these gifted people say is believed because others are intimidated by their verbiage.

For example, my wife says I don’t pay attention to her sometimes. I tried to explain that “the temporal differential we call wakefulness is the cosmic interaction of subatomic particles operating in the quantum field, and the quantum leap represents a fundamental universal constant that we can only speculate upon in the macro scale of wave form frequencies.” I think she bought it because she just rolled her eyes and went in the other room. 

An interesting study was done by Gordon Pennycook of the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada. They showed a set of randomly generated, profound-sounding statements to a group of people and asked them to rank them as to profundity on a scale of one to five. A third of the respondents ranked the phrases as “profound” or “very profound.” They, then, repeated the experiment using random, computer-generated phrases mixed with “tweets” sent out by a popular spiritualist. The results were almost identical. 

This shows that computers have become almost as intelligent as new-age spiritualists. This is a tremendous leap forward for technology! It does raise questions about the separation of the church and science. Oh, wait, that’s church and government. I get those mixed up.

My wife has questioned the need for me to raise insects in the garage. I told her about the study that showed “The analysis of fecula egested from Styrofoam-feeding larvae, using gel permeation chromatography (GPC), solid-state 13C cross-polarization/magic angle spinning nuclear magnetic resonance (CP/MAS NMR) spectroscopy, and thermogravimetric Fourier transform infrared (TG−FTIR) spectroscopy, substantiated that cleavage/depolymerization of long-chain PS molecules and the formation of depolymerized metabolites occurred in the larval gut.”

Now this is clearly a counter-example of a “baloney sandwich” since it really means something significant: Some insects can digest Styrofoam. I don’t know if I can further this study in the garage without proper equipment and support. Modern science can be extremely expensive, especially if you calculate the cost of alimony. But tasteless subjects can only be handled tastefully if we remember that “to think means to practice brain chemistry.”

Gary McCallister, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), is a professor emeritus of biological sciences at Colorado Mesa University.


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