No. 440: "Science Friction"

No. 440: "Science Friction"

No. 440: "Science Friction"

Testing your knowledge of what happened this week
June 9 2000 11:30 PM

No. 440: "Science Friction"

In his new book, Voodoo Science, Robert Park writes that Sens. Trent Lott and Thad Cochran once contemplated legislation to force the government to issue a patent on a new invention. What invention?


Send your answer by 9 p.m. ET Sunday to

Wednesday's Question (No. 439)—"To Die For":

This week the results of an Australian research project called 2dF will be presented to the American Astronomical Society. Of particular significance, 2dF confirms an assumption called the "end of greatness." Meaning?

"Australia's imperial ambitions in the Alpha quadrant have been dashed!"—Greg Diamond


"Citizens marching Survivor-style, with their torches, toward Gracie Mansion. Concerned about Giuliani's mental health, they've decided to vote him off the island."—Barbara Lippert

"Earth is about to be hit by a comet that only kills the talented people."—Francis Heaney

"Fucking Francis Fukuyama again?!? Doesn't this guy ever sleep?"—Alex Pascover

"Announced the same day as the Microsoft breakup. Coincidence? I don't think so."—Larry Schnur


Click for more answers.

Randy's Wrap-Up

To me, Australia means exile—prison ships in Irish harbors crammed to the gunn'ls (gunsils? gumbos?) with poor folks ripped from the arms of their loved ones and transported to Botany Bay where they were forced to write nostalgic songs about Irish harbors.

A cruel punishment, but was it worse than our current system? Prison offers much brutality and little chance of reform—and it is expensive brutality at that. Perhaps exile might be revived. We already have house arrest; this would be pretty much the same thing, only at someone else's house. (G.W.'s? He loves prison. He could put an execution chamber in his rec room.) While we don't have a vast and empty landscape on a remote continent, an Australia, we do have a Utah, and it's intellectually remote. Further, its congressional delegation is prone to vote against projects of benefit to New York. Maybe it's payback time.


True, there are pesky laws that ban barriers to interstate travel; we can't actually forbid someone from returning to New York City no matter how badly we let traffic back up at the bridges and tunnels. But we can offer alternative sentencing. If you move to Salt Lake City, a judge might say, I'll suspend your prison time, but return to New York and you're going up the river (where, if you survive the PCBs, you're going inside). We save money on prisons, the convicted felon gets a fresh start, and Utah gains a more diverse population. We already compete with other states to attract new industries; this is just another form of interstate rivalry.

On the face of it, exile is the opposite of emigration. In the latter, a poor country loses its most ambitious, boldest, hardest-working people. In the former, it loses its miscreants. But the two groups often have similar characteristics: They are the poor with the gumption to do something about it. Why not let them do something about it in Utah?

Astronomical Answer

2dF, the Two Degree Field Galaxy Red Shift Survey, confirms that cosmic structures have a maximum size, a limit called the "end of greatness."


Using a robotic telescope in Australia, the multinational project mapped 100,000 galaxies in the region of the Earth, including giant agglomerations of galaxies that might be thought of as "continents." Previous surveys were able to map only a few continents, leaving open the possibility that much larger structures might be found.

If the map had shown larger and larger continents, "[W]e would have to throw everything we know about the universe into the dustbin," said participant Dr. Carlos Frenk. "And if the Leno show had gotten involved, we'd have had to make jokes about Marlon Brando; he's grown quite large, you know," Frenk did not add.

Either/Or Extra

  • "We've eliminated some of the 'horizontal sprawl.' "—Either Salon editorDavid Talbot has rereredesigned his site's home page or Vladimir Putin made some pretty personal remarks about President Clinton.
  • "These are the backyard-type of situations you dream about when you're young."—Kobe Bryant either led the Lakers to a comeback victory over the Trail Blazers or captured a leprechaun and his pot of gold.
  • "I ain't signing that."—Patrick Ewing declines to autograph either a young boy's basketball or an old Southern senator's formerly segregationistass.
  • "There are a lot of things that cross my desk that I cannot understand."—Lisette Coly is discussing either her work as executive director of the Parapsychology Foundation or it's President Clinton's bewildering enthusiasm for an unworkable, expensive, destabilizing anti-missile system.
  • "They've taken something away from us that is the most valuable thing that our forefathers held dear."—Judge Roy Moore of Alabama district court, who insists on hanging the Ten Commandments in his courtroom, alludes either to imposing God's law on miscreants or enjoying some sort of sexual favor from Dolly Madison.
  • "Do you know what I can do to you? This isn't over between us."—Either John Rocker is again bullying a reporter or Ellen Barkin is once moreappearing in my dreams.

Common Denominator

Paul Hogan and Yahoo Serious—more reference than joke.