Nerdy cartoons

We talked a little about nerdy cartoons in my class this morning. The topic came up in the context of a couple of quotes:

  • George Box: “Essentially, all models are wrong, but some are useful.” [This quote came up naturally in the context of the discussion on some of the (bad) implications of the underlying assumptions in a model that we were talking about].
  • Stephen Robbins: “God gave all the easy problems to the physicists.”. [This quote came up in the context of the need for simple models to study complex phenomena (such as those that we study in materials science); and nothing gets more complex than human behaviour studied by social scientists!] Here’s the context in which this quote appears (from the 15th edition of his textbook on Organizational Behaviour):

    Laws in the physical sciences —- chemistry, astronomy, physics—are consistent and apply in a wide range of situations. They allow scientists to generalize about the pull of gravity or to be confident about sending astronauts into space to repair satellites. But as a noted behavioral researcher observed, “God gave all the easy problems to the physicists.” Human beings are complex, and few, if any, simple and universal principles explain organizational behavior. Because we are not alike, our ability to make simple, accurate, and sweeping generalizations is limited. Two people often act very differently in the same situation, and the same person’s behavior changes in different situations. Not everyone is motivated by money, and people may behave differently at a religious service than they do at a party. [Bold emphasis added]

Which led immediately to a comment about every self-respecting academic has a healthy disdain for what others do. This disdain is expressed using some metric by which one’s profession can be “proven” to be better than the others; one such metric is purity (or, fundamental-ness) of one’s field, as in this absolutely great xkcd cartoon. Here’s a version of it in Abstruse Goose. This SMBC strip about a mathematician’s fantasy fight with a physicist is also a classic.

Elsewhere, I have a post on academic put-downs; and there’s a separate category on Interdisciplinary Wars right here on this blog.

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About Abi

My name is T. A. Abinandanan, and I am a professor of Materials Engineering at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore.
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