What’s So Funny about Science?

by |January 30, 2017

A few people seemingly qualified to investigate the potential for humor in science will be on a stage together on Sunday, Feb. 5 at the 92nd Street Y: Eric L. Kaplan, executive producer of the long-running CBS television series, “The Big Bang Theory”; Harvard astrophysicist Robert Wilson, co-recipient of a Nobel Prize for finding signs of the real Big Bang; and Marc Abrahams, creator of the Ig Nobel Prize ceremony and author of a Big Bang opera.

Robert Wilson

Robert Wilson

The trio will join New York Times science writer Claudia Dreifus for a chat about humor and science. The discussion is the first of three panels on science to be moderated at the Y by Dreifus, who’s on the faculty at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs and teaches writing for the Earth Institute’s Master of Science in Sustainability Management program.

Wilson is the co-discoverer of the cosmic microwave background radiation, a space echo of the real Big Bang. Kaplan, a former writer for “The Simpsons” and “Futurama,” is also the author of “Does Santa Exist: A Philosophical Investigation.”

cow nose graphicThe annual Ig Nobel Prizes honor “improbable research”: unusual, unusually funny, scientific studies that deal with such thought provoking questions as: Can consumers recognize the taste of their favorite beer?; What happens, medically, to people who swallow lots of chewing gum?; Recognizing cows from their nose prints; and Second-hand smoking in James Bond movies. Find out more about the Ig Nobels here. Watch the video of 2016 prize ceremony here.

The Y talk begins at 8 p.m. More on the event here.

Also coming up:

On April 9, Dreifus will interview Neil Shubin, a paleontologist, explorer and evolutionary biologist who wrote the bestselling book, “Your Inner Fish.” The book details Shubin’s career-long search for the fossilized remains of tiktaalik, a prehistoric creature who emerged from the sea to walk on land and become the ancestor of all mammals. The book was turned into a three-part documentary on PBS television.

For more on that event, look here.

On April 13, Dreifus will chat with Rebecca Skloot, whose award-winning book “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” recounted how the cells of a 1950s African-American cancer patient, Henrietta Lacks, were harvested without her knowledge and were used to create the first immortal human cell line. The story raises questions about race, class and bioethics in America. They will be joined by members of the Lacks family for the talk.

For more on the event, look here.

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