A sense of the nerd

A sense of the nerd

A sense of the nerd

Bad Astronomy
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June 6 2008 9:25 AM

A sense of the nerd

Scalzi coined the term nerdgassing, which is what happens when a nerd sees something that goes against scifi canon, and can't help but exclaim about it (I am guilty of this myself, of course).

When I read his post, I remembered that I myself have coined a term. It came about while standing around an airport waiting to catch a flight to an American Astronomical Society years ago. Basically, it became fun for the few of us traveling together to try to spot other astronomers in the airport. They couldn't be astronomers we knew, of course, since that's no fun. And it was no fair to point out someone who was carrying a poster tube, since that's a dead giveaway -- at scientific meetings there are "poster sessions" where scientists can present their work on a poster, with hundreds of such posters displayed in the exhibit hall. Seeing someone carrying a poster tube in an airport is therefore an unfair giveaway.

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  


No, you need to spot the subtle and the gross: the posture (semi-slouched), the haircut (home cut or possibly not recently washed), the clothes (yikes, just yikes)*. After a while we got pretty good at it. You just learn to spot them, sometimes from well across the airport.

If you can do this, you see, you have nerdar. It's like gaydar, but for, well, nerds.

A potential demonstration of nerdar in the field.

Interestingly, my wife has excellent nerdar. I'm not sure why. Maybe being in such close proximity to one has honed her senses.


So having been immersed in the procedure, I wound up coining the term. A google search reveals many hits for the word, and even some using it the way I intended it. However, since I have some limited ability to function in society, I figure if anyone fights me for the rights I can intimidate them by making some reference to pop culture with which they are unaware, thus discombobulating them and allowing me to claim victory.

Haha! <Stewie voice>Victory (nerdar) is mine!</Stewie voice>

May I add, nerdar comes in handy. At scientific conferences it can be used to find people to split cab fare with, or to find other folks heading off to dinner at meetings. And who knows? Evolutionary pressures can easily magnify this skill, and it could possibly be passed down to the next generation. Obviously, nerdar has potential as a preliminary way -- an icebreaker, if you will -- for scientists to meet and eventually mate with one another. If it can be transcribed into our genetic pattern, then it becomes self-fulfilling.

Can mating calls be far behind? Bright plumage, ritual moves, pecking orders, stimulus-and-response vocal patterns...

Oh, right. We do that now. Well OK, I called it. I guess I have nerdar nerdar.

*Not to imply that this applies to all astronomers. There is a growing and, for me, hope-inducing crop of young astronomers who are cool, trendy, and attractive. I might even have photos posted soon to prove it. The last night of the AAS is the traditional dance party, and much fun was had by all...