Egocentric and Eccentric–scientists and politicians

Scientists are well known for the eccentricity. Bill Bryson’s wonderful book “A Short History of Nearly Everything” gives some wonderful accounts of the scientists whose seminal findings these past 400 years are the basis of modern science. As one example, he describes the brilliance of Lord Cavendish, a man who was on the one hand so shy that he could not tolerate direct eye contact with other people. At the same time, he was so consumed with scientific curiosity, that to find out what would happen, he electrocuted himself gradually with higher and higher voltage until he passed out repeatedly.

To be honest, I have some stories of modern day scientists who could easily compete in the eccentricity olympics, but since I like my job, I had better keep them to myself.

Scientists are also well known for their egocentricity. No surprise there. Just like politicians. Which reminds me of a favorite joke about an extremely egocentric and puffed-up Israeli politician and former foreign minister whose name was David Levy. He was famous in his day for his righteous indignation and puffing up like a blowfish or Great Frigate bird when feeling belittled.

There were numerous jokes about the fact that this poor man never learned English, yet served as foreign minister and always had to have everything translated for him. Jokes surfaced rapidly, most of them silly little word plays: When he frowned, someone asked him, “What’s the matter?” The answer, “About 3 meters.” And so on, ad nauseum.

One joke that I did like went as follows:

One day David Levy walks into a bar and sits down. The man on the bar stool beside him leans over and says, “Hey, you want to hear a joke about David Levy?”

Levy puffs up his cheeks and points at his chest, “I’M DAVID LEVY!”

“That’s alright,” says his neighbor, “I’ll tell it to you slowly.”

About Steve Caplan

I am a Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, Nebraska where I mentor a group of about 10 students, postdoctoral fellows and researchers working on endocytic protein trafficking. My first lablit novel, "Matter Over Mind," is about a biomedical researcher seeking tenure and struggling to overcome the consequences of growing up with a parent suffering from bipolar disorder. Lablit novel #2, "Welcome Home, Sir," published by Anaphora Literary Press, deals with a hypochondriac principal investigator whose service in the army and post-traumatic stress disorder actually prepare him well for academic, but not personal success. Novel #3, "A Degree of Betrayal," is an academic murder mystery that is now in press! All views expressed are my own, of course--after all, I hate advertising. http://www.stevecaplan.net
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2 Responses to Egocentric and Eccentric–scientists and politicians

  1. ricardipus says:

    My favourite aspect of Bryson’s book is how he’s put the effort in to finding out the truth behind a lot of discoveries, and debunking them. He makes no bones about pointing out who *really* discovered this or that, as opposed to who’s widely credited with it.

    I’ve enjoyed all the Bryson books I’ve read, but this one is astonishing in the sheer amount of research that must have gone into it.

    • Steve Caplan says:

      I loved the story about how the alchemists tried to transmute urine into gold, and collected buckets of urine from soldiers and left them in a cellar–only to identify phosphorus when the dried out urine bagan to spontaneously ignite!

      Another really great one is the one about “English- the mother tongue”!

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