Science and Humor

I have attended scientific talks, symposia, and conferences for well over a decade and have seen some incredible presentations. Incredible is a double edged adjective though, as some were incredibly good…and some were incredibly bad. My favorite talks and often times, the favorite talks of my colleagues, were presentations that had two things: 1) an exciting story/data and 2) the right amount of humor.

Scientists love to see new data, contemplate the implications of a novel result, and have it presented in a nice, logical flow. However, an hour long PowerPoint presentation of bar graphs and pie charts, is not usually associated with humor. This is extremely unfortunate as I have yet to meet a single person who does not enjoy a good joke. Never in the course of a conversation has a friend or stranger told me “Walter, I really do not enjoy laughing”. It’s a basic human emotion and it is one of our sincerest expressions of joy and happiness. Thus, finding a way to help integrate appropriate humor into the course of a scientific presentation seems like a very worthwhile endeavor.

When I look back over my career in science, I now realize that I have consciously (and probably even unconsciously) been finding creative ways to combine the seemingly opposing themes of science and humor. I have also recently realized that the very technique of making science jokes, particularly in presentations, is something that people want to do, but also something they find difficult.

In my previous post I discussed how the key to having writing consistently was to create a blog of value. A blog series on how to help people make science jokes in presentations certainly seems to fill a present need and will be viewed as something of value. And because I have been making many (possibly too many) jokes in scientific presentations for the past decade, I have ample experience to help guide others on their way. Shall we begin?