The 6 Most Ridiculous F***-Ups In The History Of Science
There's no doubt that science has made all of our lives much better, as evidenced by the fact that we wrote this article entirely from the men's room of our neighborhood Chipotle. (We'll be living here for the rest of the week, if you need us.)
But that's science, dude -- scientists, on the other hand, are just normal people who get up every morning, drive to work, and occasionally fuck up in excruciatingly highfalutin' ways. What are we talking about?
Scientists Love Leaving Dumbass Notes In Their Papers
When you're a little kid writing a school assignment, there's no greater thrill than typing a sentiment like "Mrs. Johnson farts butt-balls from her butt-booby. PS: 420 Dole/Kemp '98" and then quickly deleting it, as your body surges with adrenaline and the secret knowledge that you've created poetry.
Well, a group of grown adults recently did something similar in their scientific paper, only without the "quickly deleting it" part. The very serious paper in question was about whether some gal fish prefer to bang dude fish with particular pigmentations. Tucked neatly in the paragraphs about the sexual proclivities and median racism of female fish was this comment about the quality of a colleague's work:
See, Jeff Goldblum? Sometimes scientists do stop to think if they should.
Setting aside the apparent social hierarchy among racist fish sex researchers, this thoughtless comment managed to sneak its way past the authors and their dozens of drafts, the other scientists who reviewed the paper, and the editors of the journal. The authors and journal quickly acted to remove it and apologize, but not before it was picked up by dozens of news websites. And hey, that's not the first time this happened!
2011 saw another science paper slip-up. A group of biologists published a paper with the supremely helpful citation "insert statistical method here" -- revealing that the actual sciencing in their science paper was only an afterthought. At least they worded that better than this genius:
"Oh, and delete this while you're at it. It would be horribly embarrassing if you didn't."
The lesson is clear: Always remember to pay your proofreaders, for they have the power to expose you as a lazy slob in front of the whole world.
Sloppy Lab Work Accidentally Creates A Nonexistent Serial Killer
In 2007, German police had a real humdinger on their hands: A woman was tear-assing around the southern town of Heilbronn like a sophomore on spring break -- only instead of flashing her boobs and getting hammered, she was robbing shit, breaking into places, and murdering people. The case of the "Phantom of Heilbronn" had DNA linking her to over 40 different crimes; some from as far back as 1993. But other than her admirable work ethic, officials didn't know much about her.
"If you connect the dots between the crimes, it reveals her supervillain theme: random lines."
The police put a half-million dollar reward on her head, brought in criminal profilers from all over Europe and TNT, and even consulted psychics, which is good way of saying "we don't know what the fuck to do now." Due to the lack of evidence, all of them were at a loss to figure out how this woman was spraying bodily fluids all over her crime scenes like an ejaculatory calling card and getting away with it (except for the psychics; they were at a loss because they're useless sacks of crap). But then, right when all hope seemed lost, the culprit was finally found:
"You're getting the chair for this, you monster."
Yep, it turns out that the DNA belonged to a woman in Austria who worked at a factory that made swabs. The swabs were sterilized before packaging, which killed bacteria, viruses, and fungi ... but not DNA, which is why the company that made them had not certified them for taking DNA samples. It took two years for someone to double-check whether the samples were contaminated and realize this. Perhaps the cops should have seen this coming a bit earlier, though, since the witness descriptions they were getting seemed to indicate that the mysterious Phantom was several ages, heights, and genders at the same time.
The German government has issued a public apology to Mystique from X-Men.
The authorities at Heilbronn probably shared a hearty laugh about this comical mix-up, then realized they had 40 freaking criminals on the loose and went back to work.
Scientists Are Surprisingly Clumsy With Deadly Diseases
Medical professionals are trained to treat every used needle as though it's contaminated with Ebola or something. It's part of the protocol to always be super careful around the pointy little bastards, even when you know they're not dangerous. Therefore, it logically follows that when a needle does have Ebola in it, you should fuck around with it until you get stung.
Or at least, that's the impression we get from the recent case of a virologist in Germany (seriously, what is the deal with that country?) who was working in the lab when she "accidentally jabbed herself" with a needle contaminated with Ebola. Scientific American doesn't specify how it happened, but we have some theories.
Getting Ebola always puts a damper on your day, but this was a particularly nasty strain with a fatality rate crowding near 90 percent, so the virologist was immediately put into quarantine and given a prognosis of "royally fucked." With few options left to her, she decided to try a wildly experimental vaccine that, thus far, had only been tested on primates. Whether she survived because the vaccine gave her super-ape powers or because she hadn't been infected in the first place, the moral of this story is the same: Don't jab yourself with friggin' Ebola.
They eat all your chips, drink all your beer, destroy your insides as you slowly and painfully bleed to death -- just shitty party guests all around.
But while Frau Butterfinger at least gave her co-workers the courtesy of an "I might have been infected with a contagious and deadly disease" memo, a CDC official last year wasn't so polite. It all started when a researcher working with two different bird flu strains (a not-deadly one and a very-deadly one) decided to cut a few corners in order to bring the procedure time down from 90 minutes to 51. The reason? He was late for an important noon meeting.
As a result, the CDC accidentally sent out contaminated samples to a lab in Atlanta. Fortunately, they were detected there. Unfortunately, the CDC team leader decided not to tell anyone about it for months. It wasn't until another lab got the samples too that the guy went "Oh, right. That." At this point, someone presumably had to call the people at the third lab and tell them that, hey, don't freak out or anything, but they should euthanize every animal that had been exposed to the samples and incinerate the bodies.
"As they burn, get 20 virgin monks to chant 'WE BANISH YOU, SH'TAARE!' But, you know, no biggie."
So basically, the CDC is like that one zombie survivor who won't talk to anyone and always wears long sleeves. Good to know!
Scientists Accidentally Killed The World's Oldest Tree And Animal
In 1964, treeology grad student Don Currey was wandering through the forest when he happened upon a Great Basin bristlecone pine tree. He decided to take some samples of the tree, but was thwarted when his borer (essentially a bigass corkscrew) got stuck in the trunk. Possibly worried about what his adviser would say about losing the instrument ("You're a loose cannon, Currey!"), he tattled on the tree to a park ranger. They both decided that since the tree wouldn't give up the borer, they'd simply cut the fucker down and get it out that way.
The tree thus slaughtered, Currey went back to determining how old it was. It was only then that he realized that he'd made a historic discovery: He had come across Prometheus -- at 5,000 years of age, the oldest tree ever recorded! And he'd killed it.
Now it's a wonderful natural toilet.
Thanks in part to Currey's own future efforts, it's harder for something like that to happen today ... to trees, that is. Old animals should still be very afraid of clumsy scientists. In 2013, we told you about a 405-year-old clam found in Iceland, but we mentioned that there could be even older ones. We were right and wrong: Via a complicated process called "counting the rings outside its shell" (clams are the trees of the sea), scientists later determined that the clam was in fact 507 years old, making it the oldest non-spongey animal ever recorded. It was born just after Columbus set sail for America, but before Henry VIII started lopping off heads.
The problem? They'd already opened (and thus killed) the old timer.
They should have known something was up when lightning bolts shot out and "Princes Of The Universe" started playing.
Ironically, the only reason they opened it was to count the rings inside, which ended up not being necessary. If they had started with the outer rings, Ming the Clam (so named for the Chinese dynasty that was in power when he was born) would still be alive, and Abe Vigoda wouldn't feel so lonely.
Primatologist Gets Lost In The Jungle, Is Rescued By An Orangutan
Even though GPS hasn't been able to completely snuff out that one asshole friend who always insists they know a faster route, it has made various forms of travel a much safer endeavor. Twenty years ago, driving involved giant atlases, and going on a long hike was like waggling your dick in death's face -- and that's when you're wandering around good old North American forests with nothing scarier than bears and Gary Busey.
Don't bother playing dead to protect yourself. He knows.
If you happen to get lost in a rainforest in New Bumblefuck, Indonesia, then naturally, your situation is somewhat direr. Primatologist Agustin Fuentes was doing research in the dense forest at Tanjung Puting when he decided to go off-trail in pursuit of a monkey so that he could primatologist-ize the shit out of it (we have no idea how primatology works). Not only did Fuentes not find the monkey, but he also managed to lose himself in the process.
File photo of Fuentes primatologizasing.
With light rapidly fading, Fuentes was getting nervous. He stopped by a river to try to get his bearings and heard a rustling behind him. Fuentes spun around, ready to deliver his best Panicked Arm Flail of Death, but instead of an encroaching he-scorpion or an antlered screamling or a long-toothed sky eel, it was an orangutan.
Even more surprisingly, it was an orangutan Fuentes recognized. The research center where he worked also helped rehabilitate orangutans that had been injured, and he had stumbled upon one of its residents. Taking pity on the poor, stupid, helpless ape, which would surely die without assistance, the orangutan took Fuentes by the hand and led him back to camp. It's the second-coolest thing an orangutan has ever done, after that time one saved Clint Eastwood from some bikers.
Journal Accepts Computer-Generated Nonsense
Peer-reviewed papers are the lifeblood of scientific advancement, selflessly keeping the wheels of progress in motion ... for a modest publishing fee. After getting dozens of spam emails requesting submissions for these allegedly peer-reviewed journals, grad student Philip Davis decided to see how good their editorial process was. He had a computer randomly generate a research paper (and you can, too!) so that the sentences would appear coherent when read but were, in reality, absolute nonsense. And just to drive his point home, he attributed his findings for the Center for Research in Applied Phrenology, or C.R.A.P. for short.
As if "phrenology" alone wasn't stupid-sounding enough.
How did the publication react? By going, "Great! Now give us $800." Davis called them out on it, and the journal's editor resigned in disgrace (well, he resigned; we assumed the disgrace part). Even then, the company still claims that they knew it was a hoax all along, and that they only pretended to accept the paper in order to flush out the culprits from behind their pseudonyms. We're sure they would have also "pretended" to accept the $800, in the interest of science.
But it's not just these bullshit publications that are flooding the market with shoddy research. Several legitimate organizations have fallen prey to the random paper generator. Like IEEE and Springer, which had to remove 120 papers after someone pointed out that they were accepting garbage like this:
One automatically-generated paper was even accepted at a conference, and the authors were invited to speak about their findings. That is, the gibberish-making software. We've come across the dumbest possible robot apocalypse origin story ever.
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