There was a magazine I read back in the 80s that I enjoyed: The Journal of Irreproducible Results, or JIR. A lot of the nerdy folks at NASA liked it (and there are a lot of nerdy folks at NASA!): it is, according to its tagline, “The Science Humor Magazine”.
Jawn, the same guy mentioned in the previous blog post, first introduced me to JIR when we were both at JPL.
I thought the magazine, which “amuses scientists and doctors (and the occasional truck driver) with scientific satire, wordplay, and the foibles of academia,” was long gone — I hadn’t heard about it since leaving NASA in 1996.
But here’s irrefutable proof that it’s still in business: this afternoon, its publisher stopped by my office (which isn’t really proof) and gave me a copy of the latest issue (which is!) And that’s unlikely to ever happen again!
Of course (duh!) the mag has a web site, which I would have found had I simply thought of looking.
JIR isn’t so much of a periodical as it is a “sporadical” — it doesn’t have a set publishing schedule, but it comes out about three times a year. So naturally, subscriptions are sold as a number of issues, not a year at a time. The web site still shows it as “yearly” but it’s not: the subscription term is six issues. More on that in a second.
Norm Sperling has been running the magazine since 2004 (it’s been publishing since 1955), and he’s working to bring it back to its former glory. Norm teaches astronomy at the University of California at Berkeley (so he’s an actual scientist).
The idea of the Journal isn’t to make fun of science, but rather have fun with science. He gave me a copy of the latest edition: I’m looking forward to reading it, with articles like “The Unintended Discovery of the Half-life of a Twinkie”, “Using Our Braaains: Elucidating the Trajectory of the Coming Zombie Apocalypse”, and “Music Perception and the Spontaneous Development of Resentment and Paranoia in Rats: The Insane Clown Posse Effect”.
Articles tend to be written by real scientists, but he invited me to submit a collection of science-based stories from True for a future edition, and I’ll probably take him up on that. That’s a nice credit for my repertoire: there’s still a lot of glory in JIR!
It Goes Way Back
One hilarious story about JIR: after the 2001 terrorist attacks, the CIA found copies of a 1979 JIR article on how to build a nuclear weapon in an al Queda safe house in Afghanistan. The spoof article described a bomb that “is a great ice-breaker at parties, and in a pinch, can be used for national defense.” Apparently, the Taliban thought it was real info on how to build a nuke. (Source: London Telegraph)
About a third of the JIR subscribers are working scientists, about a third are medical doctors, and the third third is everyone else, including the occasional truck driver. I’d guess the Taliban guy, if not droned to death, was killed by one of his own men.
Why the guys on Big Bang Theory aren’t shown holding a copy now and then I don’t know, but I suggested Norm send the producers copies.
Norm wanted help, and had a proposal. The help: he needs a new webmaster (see “outdated web site,” above). He’ll pay, but the budget isn’t very big (see “bringing it back to its former glory,” above). Contact Norm directly via the web site if you’d like to volunteer; science background a big plus.
His proposal was interesting. He really likes True’s tagline, “Thought-Provoking Entertainment”. That’s a big part of his mission too. There are a lot of entertaining sites and newsletters and such that appeal to the particularly smart crowd (see “nerdy folks,” above, plus anyone who actually understands some portion of the jokes in Big Bang Theory — which is redundant).
So: Norm would like to start some sort of consortium or networking group of people who produce such entertainment. Drop me a line if that’s you, and you’d like to be a part of it; I know a lot of you are True fans too.
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As I update this page in 2018, I notice there wasn’t interest: not one reader stepped forward for such a networking group.