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- Jokes in science
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Head of Department, and
Professor of History and Philosophy of Biology
Prof Cain's research interests include the history of evolutionary studies (especially the synthesis period in evolutionary studies), Darwin and Darwinism, history of science in London, and history of natural history.
Publications via UCL's IRIS service (link)
0207 679 3041 (UK)
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You must be joking
This page provides supporting materials for Cain's presentation on jokes and humour in science.
“You must be joking!” Pranks, Jokes and other Silliness in Science
by Dr Joe Cain
Every scientific discipline has inside jokes. Why? Dr Joe Cain, historian of biology at UCL, will bridge the gap between science and comedy to tell the amusing story behind one of biology’s most favourite practical jokes, the 'snouters'. He will then consider some of the social functions these pranks have in our communities. Following the talk the audience is invited for a glass of wine at a private view of the Museum. This talk is suitable for adults.
Classic jokes in biology
Classic jokes in biology
Snouters by Harald Stumpke
1961. Bau und Leben der Rhinogradentia.
Fotheringham, Augustus C. 1928. Eoörnis pterovelox gobiensis.
2007 facsimile is available from Euston Grove Press.
Papers by Robert Sokal (1983-1984) in Systematic Zoology. 4 parts.
1983. Phylogenetic Analysis of the Caminalcules. I. The Data Base. Systematic Zoology 32(2): 159-184.
1983. Phylogenetic Analysis of the Caminalcules. II. Estimating the True Cladogram. Systematic Zoology 32(2): 185-201.
1983. Phylogenetic Analysis of the Caminalcules. III. Fossils and Classification. Systematic Zoology 32(3): 248-258.
1983. A Phylogenetic Analysis of the Caminalcules. IV. Congruence and Character Stability. Systematic Zoology 32(3): 259-275.
A. M. King, L. Cromarty, C. Paterson, J. S. Boyd. 2007. Applications of ultrasonography in the reproductive management of Dux magnus gentis venteris saginati. The Veterinary Record160: 94-96. (download)
Related articles on humour in science
[I've had an extremely thoughtful e-mail from Wendi Wilkerson, who has taken the time to assemble some relevant literature from folklore studies. I am most appreciative and post it here with her permission.
I attended, and greatly enjoyed, the talk you gave at UCL about
humor in the scientific community. Here follows the list of works discussing
the social aspects of jokes and joke cycles that I said I would send you. I
would have done so sooner, but I only recently returned to Louisiana, and
have been swamped with jetlag and paperwork.
The Jensen is a good foundational text that introduces the discussion
jokes as inter-and intra-cultural negotiation. Among other things, he
recognizes the role that "getting" the joke plays as a marker of belonging
and inclusion for a particular group. The Basso foregrounds the role jokes
play in establishing and individual's cultural identity. The Oring is some
of the most recent work done on the subject. The Dundes works are the meat-
and-potatoes of the study of jokelore- "Foolproof: A Sampling of
Mathematical Folk Humor," “The J. A. P. and the J. A. M. in American
Jokelore,” and "Cracking Jokes: Studies of Sick Humor Cycles and
Stereotypes," should be particularly useful in your research.
Hope this helps!
Renteln, Paul and Alan Dundes. “Foolproof: A Sampling of
Humor” Notices of the American Mathematical Society Vol. 52, No.1 (January
Can be found online at: www.ams.org/notices/200501/fea-dundes.pdf
Basso, Keith H. Portraits of the Whiteman: Linguistic Play and
Symbols Among the Western Apache. Cambridge:Cambridge University
Drawing on current theory in symbolic anthropology and
sociolinguistics, this interpretive essay investigates a complex form of
joking based on material collected in a Western Apache community wherein
Apaches stage carefully crafted imitations of Anglo-Americans.
Dundes, Alan and Carl Patger. When You're Up To Your Ass In Alligators:
Urban Folklore from the Paperwork Empire. Detroit: Wayne State
University Press, 1987.
Office copier folklore—those tattered sheets of cartoons, mottoes,
zany poems, defiant sayings, parodies, and crude jokes that regularly
circulate in office buildings everywhere—is the subject of this
innovative study. this type of folklore represents a major form of tradition
in modern America, and the authors have compiled this raw data for
Dundes, Alan. “The J. A. P. and the J. A. M. in American
Journal of American Folklore Vol. 98, No. 390. (Oct. - Dec., 1985), pp.
Dundes, Alan. “The Dead Baby Joke Cycle” Western Folklore
Vol. 38, No. 3.
(Jul., 1979), pp. 145-157.
Dundes, Alan and Uli Linke. “More on Auschwitz Jokes”
Folklore Vol. 99, No.
1. (1988), pp. 3-10.
Dundes, Alan. Cracking Jokes: Studies of Sick Humor Cycles and
Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, 1987.
Jansen, William Hugh. “The Esoteric-Exoteric Factor in Folklore.”
of Folklore.” ed. Alan Dundes. Prentice Hall, 1965.
Foundational essay discussing inter and intra cultural humor and
Oring, Elliot. Engaging Humor. Chicago: University of Illinois,
In Engaging Humor, Elliott Oring asks essential questions concerning
humorous expression in contemporary society, examining how humor works, why
it is employed, and what its messages might be. This provocative book is
filled with examples of jokes and riddles that reveal humor to be a
meaningful--even significant--form of expression.
Wendi D. Wilkerson,
UL Department of English/Folklore
Page last modified on 21 oct 10 11:15 by Joe Cain
Professor Joe Cain
UCL Department of Science and Technology Studies