Ridiculing ridiculous science commentary

Sometimes it’s pointless to debate rationally with critics. When their approach and arguments are ridiculous it may be better to ridicule them rather than treat them seriosuly.

Simon Jenkins, Guardian columnist

It seems some British scientists have decided to do this with one of The Guardian’s columnists, Simon Jenkins. The last straw was a silly article of his Martin Rees makes a religion out of science so his bishops can gather their tithe. In this he made childish attacks on The Royal Society and its President Lord Martin Rees, the Large Hadron Collider, the BBC for running science programmes, the UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation, investment in science education, science advise on the H1N1 flu virus, nuclear power and “mad cow” disease, and so on.

This is how Jennifer Rohn describes Jenkins:

Those of you not immersed in the UK science media scene are missing out on a national treasure. I mean, of course, none other than the Guardian columnist Simon Jenkins who, although he claims no special expertise or experience in science, feels free to denounce it on a regular basis. No area seems exempt from his scorn: whether scientists are involved in analyzing climate change, ash clouds, BSE or swine ‘flu, they are probably up to no good.

All this was just not rational – it was ridiculous and ripe for ridicule.

So some British scientists have started to produce satirical articles parodying Jenkins style. In fact last Monday became the official “Spoof Jenks Day” when people were encouraged to produce articles and blog posts spoofing Jenkins.  This was kicked off by physicist Jon Butterworth (see A Mammoth of Research). Others soon followed and UCL cell biologist Jennifer Rohn has been aggregating them in her blog post In which evil boffins seek revenge at  Mind the Gap.

Here are a couple of intriguing titles – with short extracts:

Get over it, scientists: your cushy days are numbered by cell biologist Jennifer Rohn

People often point to journalists as being fallible, and I’d be the first to hold up my hands and admit, yes, what I write isn’t half bollocks. But ever catch a scientist criticizing one of his peer’s talks at a conference or – God forbid – recommending the rejection of one of his manuscripts in a scientific journal?

Simon Jenkins collects his tithe by science writer Brian Clegg

All over London there are “mammoths of tripe.” Costing hundreds of millions of pounds, these are “newspaper offices” whose editors pay large sums of money to “interesting” and “cutting edge” columnists. Ask not the value of the tripe these individuals pour out. The columnists jeers at the idea of value. These are outpourings of bile that are justified by the writer’s faith rather than any appeal to reason.

Urgent new priority for UK science by Imperial College structural biologist Stephen Curry

In a dramatic move today, the Government responded to an unprovoked attack on scientists from Guardian writer Simon Jenkins by announcing radical new priorities for UK science.

Revealing the policy shift, science minister David Willets said*, “We have to re-purpose the scientific effort of the country to address the urgent problem of recovering the missing half of Simon Jenkins’ arse.”

Bloody scientists think they know everything by blogger Rantarama

Y’know, someone had to come out and say it. Everyone else was too scared. But not Simon Jenkins. Oh no. He’s standing up to those bloody uppity scientists, driving around in their posh cars, wearing silk lab coats, and looking at atoms or whatever through their solid gold microscopes. No more! he cries. No more of your telling people how things work, using only facts and evidence to back up your ridiculous claims.”

Please help Simon by blogger Telescoper

Simon was quite bright as a small child, but things started to go wrong for him  early on in life. He was bullied at Public School by a vicious gang of “nerds” who forced him to look at their calculations. Later, a terrifying incident with a pipette in a chemistry lesson left him emotionally scarred. He started to have paranoid delusions and  nightmares about Men in White Coats and, more recently, Mammoths. He began to suspect all scientists were after his money. His behaviour became obsessive. Now, every gadget fills him with terror.  His actions are bizarre and unpredictable. He is no longer able to cope with everyday life and needs constant supervision.

Dictatorial scientists want us to marvel at their “magic” by post-doctoral astronomer Niall Deacon

This weekend scientists were again attempting to “engage with society” by encouraging us to see a dark smudge on the moon. This shameless attempt to co-opt the populace at large is yet the latest shallow, empty publicity stunt from the “scientific community”.

Journalists, you are fallible. Get off the pedestal and join the common herd by statistician and Nature Network blogger Bob O’Hara

So journalists are human after all. They are no different from bankers, politicians, lawyers, estate agents and perhaps even scientists. They cheat. They make mistakes. They suppress truth and suggest falsity, especially when a cheque or a plane ticket is on offer. As for self-criticism, that is for you, not me.

There’s currently over 20 articles on the list.

An unexpected result has been activity on twitter – short, sharp parodies written in the Jenkins style. Have  search for the #spoofjenks tag.

I’m off to read more of these parodies.


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One response to “Ridiculing ridiculous science commentary

  1. It’s like every climate denier “har har” moment every uttered has been blended together, purified, compacted and then served up on fine bone china with a sprig of parsley.

    No more! he cries. No more of your telling people how things work, using only facts and evidence to back up your ridiculous claims.”

    It should be framed and hung around the neck of every mouth breather that denies science.


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