The 5 Most Epic Acts of Trolling in the History of Science

#2. A Nuclear Physicist Pranked His Minders During the Manhattan Project

Department of Energy

For some of us, our greatest achievement in college had something to do with drinking alcohol while suspended upside down. For the genius science student Richard Feynman, however, the greatest achievement of his school career was getting invited to participate in the Manhattan Project, the secret research undertaking that resulted in the atom bomb. But he was still a college kid at heart.

Scott MacGregor
For example, he also developed the atom bomb cocktail. While suspended upside down.

See, unfortunately for Feynman, getting holed up in a hidden enclave in New Mexico was bad news, not just because he was helping with the development of a weapon that would eventually result in hundreds of thousands of deaths, but because he was separated from the love of his life. His young wife was sick and dying just a few towns over, but the project overlords weren't keen on their scientists communicating with the outside world for some weird reason.

So Mr. and Mrs. Feynman decided to start fucking with the powers that be by sending each other letters in code. This tomfoolery got Feynman reprimanded, so the next time he wrote a coded letter to his wife, he included a cipher for the censor's benefit. In another instance, Mrs. Feynman sent her husband an ad for a blank jigsaw puzzle, implying that her next letter would come in a thousand pieces that he (and the censors) could put together. When Feynman got the ad, he also received a note from his superiors requesting that his wife find better ways to spend her time. But other than the wrist slaps, there wasn't a whole lot Feynman's minders could do -- he was, after all, one of their most important scientists on one of the most profoundly world-changing projects in history.

Los Alamos National Laboratory
"We would yell at him, sir, but that's just what Hitler wants."

And so Feynman didn't just limit himself to messing with his censors. He also used his math skills to crack safes and "steal" atomic secrets, which he just left lying around out in the open so his colleagues would get paranoid. Eventually, Feynman's reputation as a safecracker got so good that everyone at one Manhattan Project location was instructed to change their safe combinations before Dr. Goofs-a-lot got on site.

Then he topped it all off by unleashing a technological horror unlike anything the world had ever seen.

#1. A Scientist Got Screwed Out of Credit for the Big Bang Theory ... for a Stupid Pun


In 1948, Ralph Alpher, a student of Professor George Gamow, was working on his doctoral dissertation. This wasn't some insignificant little bullshit research paper, either: It was a revolutionary concept that paved the way for a thing you might have heard of called the Big Bang theory (the cosmological model of the universe, not the TV show, which incidentally also has a history of trolling the science community). After years of toil, his results were finally ready for publication, to be credited to himself and Gamow, a formality given to doctoral advisers. Just before sending off the announcement to The Physical Review, however, Gamow noticed something that gave him a chuckle.

"Tee hee, he said 'bang'"?

Gamow was friends with another renowned physicist named Hans Bethe, and he realized that by giving Bethe a co-author credit, their names would create a pun on the Greek alphabet: Alpher, Bethe, Gamow (the first three letters of the Greek alphabet being alpha, beta, and gamma, in case you liked to nap in Greek alphabet class). After determining that he was, indeed, that much of a fucking nerd, Gamow couldn't resist the addition, presumably while snorting and pushing up the bridge of his glasses.

As a result, Ralph Alpher (who, if you say it out loud, you'll realize was probably pretty goddamn sick of name jokes by this point in his life) found out what happens when you share a byline with two much more celebrated veteran scientists: He was completely forgotten.

Tim Bakke
It wasn't even the first time he'd been humiliated at college thanks to Greek letters.

Yep, most physicists today remember only Bethe and Gamow as the minds behind the theory. The theory that, again, Alpher pretty much single-handedly developed. All because his professor thought their names looked funnier on the byline.

You can troll Steve on his blog. If you don't check out more from Amanda at Mannafesto and follow her on Twitter, you're probably not a very nice person. They would like to thank David Reidy for pointing out Feynman's safe-cracking exploits.

There's a good chance your grandparents hate your guts, but why? Don't they know your generation might actually turn things around? In our latest podcast, David Wong joins Jack O'Brien to discuss millennials and the bum rap they get. You can download it here and subscribe to it on iTunes here.

Related Reading: Science hoaxes get worse, this crazy Nigerian proved gay marriage wrong via magnets. And if you believe diamonds come from coal, you've fallen for the oldest science hoax in the book. Learn some more science myths with the help of our forum members.

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