Irreproducible

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.

It Lives

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

Randy Cassingham and JIR publisher Norm Sperling. Yep, he pretty much looks like a mad^H^H^H scientist, doesn’t he?

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.

Intriguing Idea

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.

– – –

As I update this page in 2018, I notice there wasn’t interest: not one reader stepped forward for such a networking group.

11 Comments on “Irreproducible

  1. Huh. I’ve always had this confused with Annals of Improbable Research, the folks that do the IgNobel prizes. ‘parantly I was mistaken.

    Yeah, one of the editors of JIR left to start the rival AIR in 1995. JIR is the original, started 40 years before. -rc

  2. I was an avid reader of JIR back when it was published in Chicago Heights, Illinois. At the time, I lived in the next town to the west, and one could stop in to get past issues if your subscription expired and you missed an issue. It was seriously funny. Thanks for bringing it back to my attention!

    I wish I could get some of those early issues again! Waxing nostalgic now….

  3. I remember getting my girlfriend (at the time) a subscription to this for her birthday one year. She was a science major at college and read a lot of the boring dull stuff. This helped to liven things up.

  4. I have had a subscription to JIR off and on for several decades. I’m off now. I should get back on. Will try the website.

  5. AIR wasn’t started by just one of the JIR editors, but by the entire staff. Their web site used to have some information about that, but a quick look didn’t find it again.

    AIR also puts on the igNobel Prizes every year.

  6. I thought JIR folded in ’94, when Abrahams left (taking all the other staff with him — wasn’t that the story?). Certainly I stopped getting JIR and subscribed to AIR instead (for a few years then realised I wasn’t having time to read it). Whatever the truth, I would be surprised if there is really a market for both in today’s magazine publishing world. I would say AIR has the stronger brand nowadays (particularly with the Ig Nobels).

  7. Apparently, I’m in the same league as “Leo”, regarding the IgNobel prize and “AIR” vs “JIR”. Oh well.

    As for the picture of Norm Sperling, I think he looks more like the professor from “Felix the Cat”. (Which, thanks to Netflix, my kids enjoy mocking.)

    Righty-O! -rc

  8. I just love a man with a 3-color pen in his pocket. Scientists, the most fun people of all. I am not kidding. They seem to have a built in sense of fun that a lot of other equally as brainy professions do not.

    Very observant. I did notice his 3-color pen, but then, I was right there! -rc

  9. When I was an undergraduate student in chemistry, one of my fellow students actually cited the Journal of Irreproducible Results in one of his papers. We all laughed, but I always wondered if his professor just missed it, or was so tickled he got a good laugh out of it himself!

  10. Umm, isn’t that the BIC 4-Color Retractable Ballpoint Pen?

    My dad always used them. Don’t recall having much use for the green ink myself.

    I didn’t look carefully, but probably the Bic, yes. Isn’t it interesting how minutiae grabs attention?! -rc

  11. Just happened across this, and realized that I carry a pen fit for a self-respecting scientist. A nice compact way to carry four colours of ink — though I like a somewhat non-standard set — currently black, turquoise, pink, and green (I swapped blue for green because I scarcely used the former — and now fairly seldom use the latter). Not only that, it has a mechanical pencil crammed into it, and an eraser under the cap. The only potential mark against it is that it carefully hides evidence of being anything more than a nice looking pen with a somewhat large barrel — but that provides opportunity for playing tricks on people, if you dare to let them borrow it (Warning: Danger, danger 🙂 ).

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