The path to academic success can be paved with humour, according to Michael J. I. Brown from Monash University. While published on 1 April last week, the article is not meant to be misleading, unlike the various spoof news stories that media take upon themselves to create on this day.
Instead, it is a collection of anecdotes about academia, stories in which the perpetrators of an academic joke or “silly science” end up achieving success in their scientific careers – not least due to the publicity of their humorous antics.
Receiving an Ig Nobel for research that “first makes people laugh, then makes them think” is not necessarily an embarrassment. In fact, it turns out that one recipient of the prize, physicist Sir Andre Geim, even went on to share an actual Nobel ten years after his spoof prize. For the Ig he magnetically levitated a live frog together with a colleague; the Nobel was awarded for “groundbreaking experiments regarding the two-dimensional material graphene,” again shared with a colleague. After all, levitating a frog requires knowing your physics spectacularly well.
The publicity garnered by an Ig Nobel, or by a prank pulled on predatory journal publishers, or even by simply writing an engaging, humorous research article can be a method for getting the word on your work out there, although it doesn’t mean researchers should adopt the practice of making their work quirky. However, jokes can most certainly widen the horizon.
Humour broadens the audience for scientific research, and can show how science is relevant to our world. It also reminds scientists and their audience how fun science can be.
Check out the comments on the original article to find additional examples of humour in science.