Another quick game

Is it biological or physical? It’s a little unfair, you ought to be able to just click “physics” for everything and get a perfect score, but I managed to get 12 out of 12 by the simple strategy of calling anything interesting biological.


  1. Max Fagin says

    Just remember all you lowly biologists: All science is physics or stamp collecting.

  2. says


    They’ve got it wrong; if those Martian sand dunes look like life, then the simplest explanation is that they are life.

  3. BobbyEarle says

    8/12…I am bringing up the rear this morning.

    Maybe I should stick to rollerderby.

  4. says

    My strategy: since there must be pitfalls everywhere, I clicked on “physics” when I thought it was “biology” and vice-versa.

    Result: 8/12. Not convincing…

  5. Pablo says

    I will grant bioluminescence could be called bio, but why isn’t it physics? Actually, I was looking for the chemistry option…

    Luminescence is great physics.

  6. says

    The first 12/12 (with the exception of PZ?)! Woot!

    Maybe I’m a generalist or something, but I found just about all of ’em interesting…

  7. Sili says

    Heh – I got the Helix Nebula wrong too. Though I thought it was sperm or summat. Does it show that I never paid attention in biology? (Before coming here of course.)

  8. says

    Twelve of twelve. By the simple expedient of using the inverse of PZ’s formula. (I.e. anything interesting is physics. :-)

  9. RamblinDude says

    Hey, how do they know that those dust knots in the Helix Nebula aren’t sentient? Have they been there? Huh?

    I mean, just look at this thing staring back at you. Nothing biological going on there? Hmph!

  10. Santiago says

    12/12, and I’m sorry PZ, but for me biology shines most in the processes and macroscopic end results, and less in the actual, “this smudge right here are collagen fibres” bit, especially when compared with, ahem, beautiful nebulae light years across.

    My opinion, obviously.

  11. Bob Munck says

    10/12. Phobos? That’s Phobos? It’s all … shiny.

    And I have to echo BigT: “C’mon PZ, the Cat’s Eye Nebula not interesting???” My god, it’s full of stars!

  12. A. Rice says

    12/12. Easy, but for an out-of-focus rock that kind of looked like limestone but which turned out to be an out-of-focus mars rock.

  13. Nancy says

    LOL, I should’ve read the comments before taking the quiz. I got the Cat’s Eye Nebula and dust knots of the Helix Nebula wrong – 10/12.

  14. trast says

    You scored 12/12.

    You mislabeled 0 biology things and 0 physics things.

    Yay? ;> I took your tip PZ and it worked. xD

  15. Carlie says

    Physical science =/= physics, so those were really stupid labels. (10/12)

  16. SteveN says

    Yahoo! 12/12. The really sad thing is that I actually knew what eight or so of the pictures were showing.

  17. BaldApe says

    Hmph! 10/12. That cat’s eye nebula certainly looks like a foram, and Phoebos looks a lot like part of a polyp.

  18. says

    11/12, thought Phobos was a coelenterate. Oh well. That’ll learn me when I get smacked by it on my ill-advised tour of the inner solar system in a home-made ship.

    The pretty blue things:
    This is an In-Situ Hybridisation of chromosomal RNA in mouse embryonic stem cells, and therefore biological.

    Bah. Fluorescent In-Situ Hybridization is equal parts mad-physicist-playing-with-horrid-chemicals and mad-physiologist-tormenting-cute-critters. It’s both.

    aren’t they all physical?

    Yes, yes they are. Even at the trivial level of considering the fact we are looking at photographs, taken using principles of optics, the study of which is firmly within the Physics department.

  19. Tony Popple says

    I got 10/12.

    I gambled and guessed wrong on the guy with the beaker.

  20. MPG says

    10/12 there. I thought Phobos was the bell of some sort of jellyfish, and I was getting punchy at the end with the trichrome stained cells and thinking “that looks biological, but it must be a trick”.

  21. NoXion says

    I only got the guy holding the beaker of bioluminescent dinoflagellates wrong, thinking it was a beaker of cold plasma or something like that. I also recognised three of the physics pictures, so you can probably guess that physics is my preferred area :P

  22. brightmoon says

    phobos looks like a cnidarian

    the helix nebula and the cats eye nebula i recognized having seen them sooo many times that part of it was easy to trying to learn basic astronomy…. i got tired of creationists finding that i have a bio degree and then asking me something about particle physics or cosmology ….actually that stuffs pretty interesting ..time really IS variable! ..but not how YECs think of it

  23. craig says

    Is it cheating if you’re such a space nut that you recognized all those photos from having seen them before?

    And its the physics stuff that’s the coolest.
    In physics, craters are cool. In biology, craters are at best regrettable.

  24. Nicole says

    Note that all, if I’m not mistaken, of the physical ones are astronomical or planetary. Score! Although some bubble chamber tracks would have looked cool.


  25. co says

    Re: #34,

    Unfortunately, there are flying objects which remain (or once were) unidentified. Yes, I believe that. However, just to be a *rational* person, I’ll answer “no”, since I very much doubt they were any sort of alien-inspired craft.

  26. Togusa says

    12/12. The photo of the chap holding the large flask was the only one where I essentially took a coin flip.

  27. anonymouse says

    dang it! got one wrong:

    These are liver cells stained with florescent antigens, and therefore biological.”

    i coulda sworn those were nebulae

  28. -R says


    I didn’t even suspect the picture of the guy with the beaker would be about bioluminescent dinoflagellates :P.

  29. anonymouse says

    i wanna put in my 2 cent to the “aren’t they all physics” discussion:

    Sure, yes – but there also exists a subset of the images which exhibit emergent properties of biology, which are in turn emergent properties of chemistry, which are in turn emergent properties of physics. So if we choose to define biology as something two orders of complexity magnitude above physics, then it’s clear how the choices are quite distinct.

    Though i agree with a previous poster that the phenomena pictured which are primarily chemical make it hard to pick a camp. however, going down that road gets you into an epistemological discussion regarding the labeling of reality, and then we get all french post-modern, and then all hell breaks loose.

  30. anonymouse says

    Hey, Togusa, is that a pseudonym? i wanna share with somebody that I just finished S.A.C 2nd Gig. Brilliant!

  31. Olaf Davis says

    Hope you people enjoyed it.

    Those of you feeling bad about only getting 9 or 10: I can assure you that plenty of people did much worse but declined to comment here.

    Thanks for the link PZ!

  32. Samantha Vimes says

    10/12. I thought the liver cells might be astronomy– but I also thought they did look like cells, so even though I guessed wrong, I feel content.
    Phobos I got wrong because I used PZ’s formula. Dammit, I *saw* it had craters, but decided that if interesting = biological, I must be wrong about the craters and they were really pores or summat.
    I think when it comes down to it, I actually find physics more interesting.

  33. chuckgoecke says

    Seem like I remember one of PZ’s co-professors, Van Gooch, use to(still does?) work on bioluminescent dinoflagellates, specifically their circadian rhythms, as I recall. I missed the damn stained liver cells, errg. Fun eye candy puzzle, but I find the cosmological just as interesting as the biological.

  34. says

    10/12. I suppose that’s not bad for a math guy. I recognized the astronomical objects and the bioluminescence. Should have caught the stained cells, too, but I was overly suspicious.

  35. Randall says

    11/12, because I somehow misclicked the Encedalus image. Seriously, how’d I screw that one up? I almost got the Martian dunes wrong, but figured I had too many biology things and switched it before submitting. I was expecting harder images, frankly.

  36. Knight of L-sama says


    Mistook the glowimng beaker for ordinary chemical flouresence and the RNA thingy for something like a dark matter distribution map on the biology side.

    The physics side I’ve got better excuses. I mistook the erosion grooves in the mars rock for a fossil and I blame the dunes mis-identification on the fact that it’s a false colour image.

  37. Fifi says

    Yeah, 10/12 !

    I mislabeled the liver cells with florescent antigens – thought it was some nebula – and dust knots in the Helix Nebula – mistook for a a lake colonized by algae.

  38. says

    Thanks for posting this PZ :-)

    For people going through these comments, seeing all the high scores that commenters have got, and thus feeling like a failure: Of the people who have taken the test so far, the median score was 9, and the most common score was 8.

    So either people who do well are more likely to comment, or people who post comments are better than non-commenters.

    Take your pick.


  39. natural cynic says

    11/12. I first thought the cat’s eye nebula actually was a nebula, but it looked too symmetrical to be nebular. I then guessed it was some kind of spiral cleavage. Tsk, tsk

  40. Bride of Shrek says

    I got 6/12. I think that officially gives me the “Dumbest Pharyngulite” award. I thought the guy holding the beaker was mixing up some weird type of margerita and I really should get extra points for the originality of thinking the Mars sand dunes were a close up of some raspy type thing like a cat’s tongue.

    Aaah, looks like, based on those results, academic success has yet again eluded me and I’ll just have to get on in life with only my witty and sparkling personality.

  41. Grep Agni says

    I’m not sure about the scoring system on this one. Copied and pasted:


    You scored 9/12.

    You mislabeled 0 biology things and 2 physics things.

    12-2=9 now?

  42. John Emerson says


    Some of my successes came from psyching out the testers: “Is this a biological thing that seems physical, or a physical thing that seems biological?” For example, luminescence can be either physical or biological, but bioluminescence is less typical.

  43. Coffeeassured says

    12/12 Quite worryingly I have already seen many of those images and I knew what they were.

  44. John Emerson says

    I was also going to say, only four of the slides were basically familiar to me (martian geology and stained cells). Someone who had worked in biology would have visually recognized certain kinds of test reports (liver cells and RNA).

  45. says

    As a friend of mine once said: if it moves it’s biology, if it stinks it’s chemistry, and if it just sits there doing nothing it’s physics.

    This explains a lot about me.

  46. Torbjörn Larsson, OM says

    12/12 – Phobos and Enceladus set the astronomical theme, but I recognized the nebula dust knots (if not the Helix nebula) anyway. Too much widely spread photos perhaps. That colony animal is also stock photo, I believe.

  47. Don Smith, FCD says

    12/12. though it really ought to be called “Biology or Astronomy?” since all of the physics pix were on APOD at some point. And, yes, they were all physics.

    Only the fellow with the beaker was a bit of a puzzler until I remembered physicists almost never work with flasks full of stuff you can actually hold in your hands without dying!

  48. douglas clark says

    Thank you Don Smith. As a non scientist who got 10 / 12, I simply guessed wrong at the beaker picture. I was wondering what amazing insight you chaps had. Now I know.

  49. Richbank says

    9/12 here. Screwed up on the dinoflagellates, Phobos, and the dunes. I just took a guess on the dinoflagellates, but Phobos looked like a 3D rendering of a cell pore. I have no excuse for the dunes, although I convinced myself afterward that I thought they were guard cell on plant stomata. Btw, did anybody else think the stained Hela cells looked like they had little alien heads floating around inside them?

    Masks of Eris, that was brilliant. I especially liked the part where the lyrics went something like “Nyner Nyner” :)

  50. says

    Hey, hey, now…. several of the physical shots were “interesting” as well, at least to me. In fact, two of my more popular yarn colorways are derived from that picture of the thawing dunes on Mars and a variation of a different picture of the Cat’s Paw Nebula, so I already knew those pictures. :-)

  51. Patricia C. says

    50 years of nice church lady kicks back in…I’m not going to go look at a picture of anyone doing something naughty with a fossil. Humpff! Dinoflagellates, shame on the whole lot of you perverts.

  52. John Scanlon, FCD says

    11/12; I considered whether that was bio- or some other kind of luminescence, but figured the guy swirling the flask looked more like a physicist. And though I’m a biologist I’d seen most of the space pics before.

  53. says

    11/12. I missed Phobos, which looks awfully biological to me: it must be an artist’s impression rather than a real image of the satellite.

  54. mona says

    Has anyone else noticed that the sixth photo is the same one from this post, about someone looking for trilobites in Martian rocks?

  55. philosophia says

    10/12. Not bad for a philosophy major :) For some reason, the Colony of Siphonophora looked like a starscape to me, so I got that one wrong. And I was totally flummoxed by those liver cells.

  56. Cappy says

    Environmental Science is applied Biology.
    Biology is applied Chemistry.
    Chemistry is applied Physics.