Once in a while, I get hold of a Reader’s Digest magazine which, although it usually is kind of sappy, does have new words and funny stories.
In the issue I’m going to be quoting, there are several stories about smart people being dumb, or doing dumb things, or saying dumb stuff.
First comes some classically dumb messages from bosses. For example: “It has come to my attention that the e-mail was down yesterday. Next time this happens, I’m instructing the computer guys to send out a group message warning everyone.”
Another one: “After several strong sales months, we are printing Employee Appreciation T-shirts. They go on sale next Monday.”
And yet one more: “We are having a Morale Builder picnic next week. It will feature all-you-can-eat hot dogs and beans. A menu of steak and lobster is available for executives.”
Now we have a section on politicians and bureaucrats, focused first on the National Institutes of Health (NIH), who okayed $230,000 to study whether the color red made female monkeys amorous.
Or $5,000,000 to Brown University researchers for a study that studied whether or not sororities or fraternities drank more liquor than the average undergraduate enrolled there. (Yes.)
And last, $250,000 that went to the National Science Foundation to investigate why we’re so stressed out by politics. (Most of us could answer that for free, or at least ten bucks.)
Now we have questions that have been asked by lawyers in court. First on the list: “How many times have you committed suicide?”
“Without saying anything, tell the jury what you did next.”
“Was it you or your brother who was killed?”
“Were you alone or by yourself?”
“Now, Doctor, isn’t it true that when a person dies in his sleep, he doesn’t know about it until the next morning?”
Finally, there is it turns out an Ig Nobel Prize for research that is incredibly trivial. First prize should go to researchers in the U.S., Germany, and several other countries for asking a thousand liars in each country how often they lie. And then for deciding whether or not to believe those answers.
The Economics Prize would go to the Bangkok police for offering to pay police officers extra cash if they refused to take bribes.
The Diagnostic Medicine Prize (if there was one) would go to academics from 11 countries who determined that acute appendicitis could be accurately diagnosed by the amount of pain suffered when the patient is driven over speed bumps.
Finally, let’s look at some rocket scientist’s better blunders. A scientist, David Atkinson, devoted years of his life to designing an experiment to measure winds on Titan, a moon of Saturn. It was launched successfully, and everyone waited anxiously. When nothing came back, it was found that someone hadn’t turned on the equipment.
In 2004, a NASA probe was returning to Earth after collecting solar particles. As it reentered the atmosphere, a gadget measuring the rapid deceleration caused by the atmosphere was supposed to trigger parachutes. Which it didn’t. It was found that the deceleration sensor was mounted upside down.
Finally, astronomers using an Australian radio telescope believed that they might have received proof of alien life when they picked up a distinctive signal at the same time every day. Seventeen years later, in 2015, they learned that the signal had been coming from a microwave oven used by staff members to heat up their lunches.
Finally, a job applicant wrote the following: “I want a career that will allocate dexterity from preceding experiences to perform a job to superiority. In addendum, a facile and ardent task force will alleviate the work environment of unethical work habits.”
In fact, this is what I do every week.