The summer heat must be affecting the brains of some science writers, if recent stories are any indication. Perhaps one of the little-noted consequences of global warming--if indeed it's partly responsible for this summer's drought and heat--is its effect on human neurons.
Case in point: Seth Borenstein and Alicia Chang of the AP, two stalwarts who can usually be counted on for solid reporting and clear writing, have turned in a piece on the new Mars rover, Curiosity, that says little about Mars but instead talks about Mohawk Guy, Elvis Guy, and "seven minutes of terror." See what I mean? When science writers start churning out copy on hair styles, you know something is wrong. They write:
Known to the Twitterverse and the president of the United States as "Mohawk Guy" of the Mars mission, Bobak Ferdowsi could be the changing public face of NASA and all of Geekdom.
Ferdowsi, whose shaved scalp also features star shapes, is a flight director for the Mars rover Curiosity--a mission that captured the nation's imagination with its odds-defying, acrobatic landing.
When President Obama called the Jet Propulsion Laboratory to congratulate the team on the rover's successful landing, he said, "You guys are a little cooler than you used to be," and, according to Borenstein and Chang, said he would consult with his team about changing his own hair style. That could be taken as a slight by Elvis Guy, aka Adam Steltzner, who sports a pompadour and sideburns.
This could be the end of the pocket protector, they warn.
With any luck, Borenstein and Chang will get over their affliction with the cool, restorative winds of September.
That was not, however, the only outbreak of humor in the past week's reporting. Over at the Wall Street Journal, which is supposed to be concerned with the market, not funny stuff, Robert Lee Hotz has likewise turned in a story that doesn't seem to have much to say about the future of the Dow.
"In the beginning, there was the genome," he writes. Sounds as if it were plagiarized from the book of Genesis, but, OK, so far, so good. Then Hotz writes: "Then came the foldome, the phenome and the connectoms, quickly followed by the secretome, the otherome, and the unknome." This is where I begin to wonder whether Hotz is trapped with Mad Max in the Thunderdome.
The story is about an epidemic of "-omes" and "-omics" being added to otherwise harmless words--an epidemic of "language parasites," as one scientist calls them.
Some researchers are proud of themselves for coining them, while others see this as a dark and dangerous development.
Hotz seems to think it's funny.
On the other hand, maybe the Journal and the AP are on to something. A little light reading, which in these cases happens to be most entertaining, might not be such a bad thing for August.