■ Two theoretical physicists are lost at the top of a mountain. Theoretical physicist No 1 pulls out a map and peruses it for a while. Then he turns to theoretical physicist No 2 and says: “Hey, I’ve figured it out. I know where we are.” ”Where are we then?” ”Do you see that mountain over there?” ”Yes.” ”Well… THAT’S where we are.”
I heard this joke at a physics conference in Les Arcs (I was at the top of a mountain skiing at the time, so it was quite apt). It was explained to me that it was first told by a Nobel prize-winning experimental physicist by way of indicating how out-of-touch with the real world theoretical physicists can sometimes be. Jeff Forshaw, professor of physics and astronomy, University of Manchester
■ An electron and a positron go into a bar.Positron: “You’re round.”Electron: “Are you sure?”Positron: “I’m positive.”I think I heard this on Radio 4 after the publication of a record (small) measurement of the electron electric dipole moment – often explained as the roundness of the electron – by Jony Hudson et al in Nature 2011. Joanna Haigh, professor of atmospheric physics, Imperial College, London
■ A group of wealthy investors wanted to be able to predict the outcome of a horse race. So they hired a group of biologists, a group of statisticians, and a group of physicists. Each group was given a year to research the issue. After one year, the groups all reported to the investors. The biologists said that they could genetically engineer an unbeatable racehorse, but it would take 200 years and $100bn. The statisticians reported next. They said that they could predict the outcome of any race, at a cost of $100m per race, and they would only be right 10% of the time. Finally, the physicists reported that they could also predict the outcome of any race, and that their process was cheap and simple. The investors listened eagerly to this proposal. The head physicist reported, “We have made several simplifying assumptions: first, let each horse be a perfect rolling sphere… ”
This is really the joke form of “all models are wrong, some models are useful” and also sums up the sort of physics confidence that they can solve problems (ie, by making the model solvable). Ewan Birney, associate director, European Bioinformatics Institute
■ What is a physicist’s favourite food? Fission chips. Callum Roberts, professor in marine conservation, University of York
■ Why did Erwin Schrödinger, Paul Dirac and Wolfgang Pauli work in very small garages? Because they were quantum mechanics. Lloyd Peck, professor, British Antarctic Survey
■ A friend who’s in liquor production,Has a still of astounding construction,The alcohol boils,Through old magnet coils,He says that it’s proof by induction.
I knew this limerick when I was at school. I’ve always loved comic poetry and I like the pun in it. And it is pretty geeky …Helen Czerski, Institute of Sound and Vibration Research, Southampton
■ What does DNA stand for? National Dyslexia Association.
I first read this joke when I was an undergraduate as a mature student in 1990. I’d just come to terms with my own severe reading difficulties and neurophysiology was full of acronyms, which I always got mixed up. For example, the first time I heard about Adenosine Triphosphate it was abbreviated by the lecturer to ATP, which I heard as 80p. I had no clue what she was talking about every time she mentioned 80p. And another thing, how does Adenosine Triphosphate reduce to ATP? Where’s the P? Peter Lovatt, lecturer in psychology of dance, University of Hertfordshire
■ A new monk shows up at a monastery where the monks spend their time making copies of ancient books. The new monk goes to the basement of the monastery saying he wants to make copies of the originals rather than of others’ copies so as to avoid duplicating errors they might have made. Several hours later the monks, wondering where their new friend is, find him crying in the basement. They ask him what is wrong and he says “the word is CELEBRATE, not CELIBATE!”
I first heard this maybe more than 10 years ago in conjunction with the general theme of “copying errors” or mutations in biology. Mark Pagel, professor of biological sciences, University of Reading
■ A blowfly goes into a bar and asks: “Is that stool taken?”
No idea where I got this from! Amoret Whitaker, entomologist, Natural History Museum
■ They have just found the gene for shyness. They would have found it earlier, but it was hiding behind two other genes. Stuart Peirson, senior research scientist, Nuffield Laboratory of Ophthalmology