Spoof Positive?

Only time for a brief post today, as I’m shortly off to London for some external examining in the East End.

It’s interesting that yesterday’s #SpoofJenks day generated so many contributions that the Guardian decided to get the main instigator, particle physicist Jon Butterworth, to write about it on their Science Blog.  My own contribution of yesterday gets a mention there too.

I have to say I found the whole thing very amusing and wholeheartedly agree with Jon Butterworth (whose original spoof started it all off) when he explained that his primary aim was more to let off steam and less to try to persuade Simon Jenkins of the error of his ways. I felt the same way. Better to poke fun back than allow him to get to you.

I didn’t feel parody was necessary in Simon Jenkins’ case because his arguments are full of factual errors and non sequitur. In fact, it did occur to me that his piece might be deliberately ironic. Could one of the prime movers behind the Millennium Dome really be serious when he talks about the wastefulness of CERN? Perhaps he’s spoofed us all. But even that wouldn’t excuse his snide personal attack on Martin Rees.

Anyway, as you will have noticed, I  just went for straight mockery and had a good half-an-hour of lunchtime fun writing it.  A few people seem to have liked my piece, but at least one blogger found it “unpleasant”. You can’t win ’em all. For what it’s worth, I still think he deserved it.

In fact, I posted a considerably less vitriolic reaction to Jenkins article on Saturday, but trying to respond in rational terms was something I found very frustrating. Only a few hundred people read this blog so it’s pretty futile to try to take on a columnist from a national newspaper that’s read by hundreds of thousands. I’m not sure he’s listening anyway, as he’s written similar drivel countless times before. Far better, in my view, to join the collective piss-taking. At least it got the Guardian interested.

Maybe after all this Jenkins will actually engage in a dialogue with scientists instead of merely insulting them? Perhaps. But I’m not holding my breath.


15 Responses to “Spoof Positive?”

  1. Pure science -> internet -> declining newspaper readership -> pissed off journalist.

    Don’t know if that’s the reason but I wouldn’t discount it.


  2. Bryn Jones Says:

    An informant has passed some scraps of paper on to me, found in a bin bag in a posh street in London. Work is continuing to decipher the writing, but investigations have already found “S. Jenkins” written on some scraps. My informant suggested that the papers could be from a first draft of Simon Jenkins’s Guardian article attacking science, but instead I suspect that they are from a different, and much less successful, journalist called Smonach Jenkins.

    Here are some extracts from the transcriptions made so far.

    Scientists claimed that the ash from the Icelandic volcano could cause the engines of airplanes to fail. But how many aircraft actually crashed during the flight ban?

    What good has ever come out of CERN? What really matters to people today is that they can find information relevant to their daily lives using the web.

    As a society we should not be wasting money subsidising science education for our young people. In the early 19th century it was good enough for young people to work up chimneys at no cost to the taxpayer.

    The science lobby argues implausibly that we need to train people in science, technology and engineering so that British industry can compete in the modern world. In contrast, what this country really needs is more accountants, lawyers and estate agents. We can survive as a nation selling houses to the Chinese.

    Climate scientists warn of an increase in temperature of 1 to 3 degrees above the long-term average within the next fifty years. But the temperature in London today is 15 degrees above its long-term average. What do they know?

    These days the BBC ignores the requirement for impartiality in its charter by pushing pro-science propaganda to the masses in each programme. Only last week I think I detected concealed references to recombinant DNA in Eastenders and numerical solutions to partial differential equations in Total Wipeout. Disgraceful.

    Lord Rees and his colleagues have installed themselves as today’s new religious establishment, just like priests but without an interest in choirboys.

    The BBC fills the airways with programmes about science. When, for balance, did you last see a programme that supported the work of estate agents or chefs?

    I share Rees’s glory in the wonder of science. That is what science needs – the wonder that comes from mystery, and mystery comes from ignorance. So we should stop teaching science so that people can appreciate properly the world around them.

  3. Bryn Jones Says:

    Further analysis has uncovered the following extra discarded text, almost certainly from a draft of an article by Smonach Jenkins, MBE, and not by Sir Simon Jenkins.

    Scientists are motivated only by money. Postdoctoral researchers, for example, receive 50% more than the national minimum wage for a full three years of largess off the state before they are made redundant and have to retrain as plumbers or care assistants.

    Thousands of scientists are buried under a Swiss mountain. Why can’t they use cemeteries like everyone else?

    Universities received twice as much grant for a science place as for an arts one and science lecturers even insisted students turned up for their lectures instead of going to the bar to peruse the prescribed reading list.

    During the 1980s, Lord Baker and others dictated that maths and science filled two-thirds of the core curriculum, with English making up the other half.

    Science grants are like arts grants except they do not fill the end of the high street with an iron monstrosity that nobody likes.

  4. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Stephen Curry and Stephen Curry, Peter Coles. Peter Coles said: Spoof Positive?: http://wp.me/pko9D-1DN […]

  5. John Peacock Says:

    Jenkins’s intemperate rant has been rightly pilloried, but there are some serious points lurking in there. The biggest one is whether science has its priorities and sense of collective responsibility correctly calibrated. There were a lot of interesting things going on in physics around 1940, which demanded investigation for all the cultural reasons that lead us to defend CERN today. And yet, when faced with great need, a generation of physicists put their personal research aims on hold in order to execute the Manhattan Project. Most of us are convinced by the evidence that the world faces a colossal crisis rather soon as oil declines, CO2 rises etc. The case for a new Manhattan devoted to sustainable energy seems good: it’s hard to argue that all the talents in the world physics community wouldn’t make a difference. I like working in cosmology, and I can defend it as something that millions of taxpayers are interested in seeing happen. But these same people are also keen to see SUVs built, so this is an imperfect defence. If an energy Manhattan was happening, should one join? And if the answer is “yes”, should we not be pressing to make it happen?

  6. telescoper Says:


    Agreed. I said in an earlier post that Jenkins does sometimes have a point and I think that’s one of them. I think more of us should be working on alternative energy, environmental physics, etc. The problem I find is that it’s difficult to find the time to become sufficiently expert to make a real impact. I definitely think physics education should be directed more in such directions too, and am trying hard to get environmental physics into our syllabus. One concrete example I can think of is that our astronomy instrumentation group in Cardiff is trying to develop interests in Earth observation and remote sensing.

    Behind the whole STFC debacle is the question how many astronomers and particle physicists the UK needs. I think I could make a good case that we need to do blue skies research, but how do we decide how many? Clearly someone somewhere for some reason has decided that there are too many, but what is the right level? That’s something we should and do have to have argue our case for in public.

    It’s here when I’m baffled by Jenkins’ logic. He seems to think we should have less science education in schools and universities. But isn’t it essential for a democracy that people should be able to make informed decisions on precisely the sorts of issues you mentioned? Unless we increase the level of scientific literacy, scientists will become even more like a priesthood.

    Another place where he does have a point is that I think the popular media don’t really know how to present science in an intelligent way. It’s either vacuously reverential gee-whizzery or it’s irrational pro-homeopathy and the rest. I wish we could find some way of raising the level. Don’t know how to do it, though. Answers on a postcard.


  7. Bryn Jones Says:

    The trouble with the Jenkins essay is that it is ill-informed and poorly thought out. Had Simon Jenkins bothered to develop a serious critique of modern science, and discussed his thoughts in detail with practising scientists, he might have produced a contribution of some value. Instead, his attempt was little more than trying to shoot down a B52 bomber with grapeshot: some of the shot goes in roughly the right direction, but most does not and it all fails hopelessly to hit the target.

    There are genuine questions to be asked about the priorities of science, technology and engineering in modern society. Simon Jenkins failed to ask most of them, and the few he did manage to ask were fumbled.

    Any of the contributors of comments here could have filled the Guardian’s column inches with a coherent, interesting essay on how science funding fails to meet the needs of society. Simon Jenkins failed to do that, producing little more than a clumsy rant. It was a wasted opportunity and Jenkins deserves mockery for handling the issue so clumsily. On a more positive note, at least the scientific community took Jenkins seriously enough to respond. I doubt anyone would have bothered to react to a similarly inept contribution from Melanie Phillips or Jan Moir: perhaps we expect something better of Simon Jenkins.

  8. Anton Garrett Says:

    Bryn: I don’t understand whgy you bracket Moir and Phillips together. I share what I infer is your view of Moir’s writing, but Phillips seems to me, in her principal contributions, to offer what is nowadays called an “inconvenient truth”. Of course I don’t know exactly which of her main themes you refer to.

  9. Bryn Jones Says:


    What I repect in newspaper columnists is an ability to construct a rational argument based on a careful study and deep understanding of the subject in question. Conversely, I have no respect for columnists who rush to forcefully expressed conclusions based on a superficial or trite understanding.

    I was referring to Phillips’s contributions in general, although her arguments in relation to climate change are particularly superficial.


  10. Anton Garrett Says:

    Bryn: I’ve never read her on climate change.

  11. telescoper Says:

    I’ve never heard of Melanie Phillips.

  12. Bryn Jones Says:


    Try looking at the Wikipedia article about her and you will agree with me instantly. I fact, having just looked at that article, I see that her particular bêtes noires are more extensive than I imagined, and may irritate you more than I had originally thought.


  13. telescoper Says:


    I refrained from looking at the wikipedia page. I’m irritable enough these days without such provocation, especially on a Monday morning.


  14. telescoper Says:

    Fame at last.

  15. Anton Garrett Says:

    I see from Wikipedia that Melanie Phillips has talked rot about more subjects than I had realised. But not all IMHO.

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