Today Dan answers your questions about scientists.
Question: Dan, what's the difference between a journalist and a scientist?
Dan: A journalist will DO anything for money whereas a scientist will STUDY anything for money.
Question: Er, can you give us an example?
Dan: Sure. For $10, a journalist would dress up as a clown -- complete with floppy shoes, a frizzy red wig, and a tear painted under the corner of his eye to let you know that he's a sad clown -- and then let pre-schoolers hit him with a piñata stick at a birthday party. A scientist has far more dignity. They would never do anything like that, although they WOULD be willing to study journalists getting hit by piñata sticks if there was a big, fat research grant involved.
Question: What kind of crazy things have scientists studied?
Dan: Recently, scientists from the University of Granada in Spain have been studying cannibalistic Mexican pitvipers.
Question: And they got paid to do it?
Dan: It's not the kind of thing someone would do for free.
The scientists monitored approximately 190 pregnant Mexican pitvipers and watched their behavior after childbirth (or, to be more accurate "snakelet-birth"). When some of the baby snakes died shortly after birth, the scientists found that the mother snakes would eat them. The scientists coined the phrase "postpartum cannibalism" to describe the behavior.
Question: That's disgusting! Is this for real?
Dan: As far as we know. We have to take the scientists' word for it because no one would be willing to check up on something like that except other scientists -- and then only if we paid them -- so it's a losing proposition.
Anyway, the scientists said that those particular pitvipers were scavengers and so they were used to eating dead things. But not that simply. The actual words the scientists used were, "Viperids in general are prepared to eat carrion, and for this reason it is not so strange that they consume the non-viable sections of their clutches."
Question: At least the snakes didn't eat any of the live babies, right?
Dan: Actually, one of the snakes did. The scientists claim that behavior was highly unusual though, and was probably due to the stress of being under constant observation by the research team.
Question: Oh my God! That means...
Dan: Yes, what with all the paparazzi constantly around her, Britney's babies aren't safe.
And neither are the Mexican pitvipers, apparently. The scientists were concerned that the snakes' habitat was being destroyed and that their numbers were dwindling.
Question: The number of cannibalistic Mexican pitvipers is decreasing... And that would be... bad?
Dan: Sure, if your research grant depended on them.
Question: Are there any other poisonous snakes that scientists are worried about?
Dan: Why, yes! There's the venomous broad-headed snake that's found near Sydney, Australia. A completely different set of scientists have recently discovered that the broad-headed snake is disappearing due to an increased number of trees.
Dan: The Australian scientists say that shade trees threaten the habitat of the broad-headed snake which spends much of its life on sandstone rocks basking in the sunshine. "They will spend several weeks curled up, moving very little," said Rick Shine, a professor at the University of Sydney.
Question: Oh my God!
Dan: Yes, it's uncanny, isn't it? "Spending several weeks curled up, moving very little" also describes Britney to a 'T'.
Question: No, no. The professor's name was "Rick Shine". Wouldn't that be a great name for a super-hero?
Dan: Absolutely. Especially if he had illumination powers, like spotlight eyebeams.
Question: Do you think Prof. Shine IS a superhero?
Dan: It's quite possible. As you pointed out, he's got a name with good super-hero potential, he's a scientist, and he works with animals that bite. If one of his snakes became radioactive or got struck by lightning or fell into a vat of experimental chemicals and then bit him, Professor Shine would undoubtedly gain slither powers, the proportional strength of a snake, the ability to spit poison into his enemies' eyes.
Question: Which he would use to fight crime, right?
Dan: Well, since he's a scientist, it's more likely that he would use his powers on the review board to make sure his research grant proposals got accepted. A research proposal, for example, to study whether or not journalists would be willing to let themselves get whacked on the head with a cannibalistic pitviper for $10.
Dan writes a weekly humor column called Tomfoolery & Codswallop. You can visit Dan's website where he welcomes your comments and suggestions for future columns.
Article © Dan H. Woods. All rights reserved.
Published on 2009-04-20