Undergraduates: xkcd is not a good source for career advising

I must object to the methodology and the conclusions of this comic.

The choice of prefixes to sample is arbitrary and shows a bias towards common physics terms. Why not use “evolutionary” or “genome” or “analytic” or “necro-” or “chrono-“, to name just a few more. The sample space has hardly been touched.

The idea that low Google scholar counts is an opportunity is ludicrous and confuses cause and effect. “Clown” is a prefix that doesn’t show up for either physics or biology or engineering (curiously, there are 3 entries for “clown chemistry”, 5 for “clown psychology”, 1 for “clown dentistry”, and 13 for “clown theology”). I don’t think this implies there is a hot market for clown physicists.

Although, I do think that high-energy clown physics might be a fun field.


  1. Matt G says

    Anyone who thinks there is nothing in the area of high energy theology has never been to a Billy Graham revival. Or a megachurch.

  2. says

    You’d think searching for “high-energy theology” would at least give you some references to Thor…

    And are you sure there aren’t any quacks doing “quantum dentistry?” I’d take that as a good sign.

  3. andersk3 says

    Randall’s background is physics and engineering. Gotta look at the source to find the bias. I still thought it was kind of funny.

  4. says

    Although, I do think that high-energy clown physics might be a fun field.

    Fully-loaded clown-cars colliding at high speeds? That might be a hit at the tractor-pull circuit…

  5. lotharloo says

    I was going to goof around with something related to my field + theology and I am floored. There’s apparently “Geometric Theology”, but there’s no “polynomial theology” or “polygonal theology”.

  6. Matt G says

    Where is a neutral theory of theology? Or a nearly neutral theory? We should get Larry Moran to weigh in.

  7. cartomancer says

    Come on, scientific prefixes really ought to be in Greek. Practitioners of archaeopedantry like myself decree it!

  8. blf says

    Astro-dentistry is a nickname for Alligator-dentistry. It acquired that nickname because if the patient gets annoyed, the dentist does a very high speed launch. To-date, there are no confirmed orbital launches, albeit there is circumstantial evidence some of the Moonquakes registered by the Apollo lunar seismometers were actually the launch screams of alligator-class propelled dentists. The obvious flaw in this hypothesis — that there is no medium to carry the sound waves from the Earth to the Moon — can probably be explained by High-Enegy Clown Physics, albeit there is disagreement and robust slapstick whether it’s the Honk-Honk Theory or the Theory of Overstuffed Car which is the explanation, the main problem being neither adequately explains Oscillating Trousers Conundrum.

  9. says

    “Astro-dentist” – There’s always Piers Anthony’s book Prostho Plus, about a dentist kidnapped to do dental work on a space whale who apparently has radios for communication growing in its teeth. Fix the radios and the cavities and the dentist gains a career as dentist to the stars. It was a fun story – really a collection of a dozen or so short stories buried in a character arc.

  10. robro says

    As a former semi-professional clown, I think almost any combination of these terms with “clown” will produce interesting research opportunities. However, “high-energy theology clown” is already a crowded field.

  11. John Morales says

    A similar conceit was used by Stanislaw Lem in, um, The Futurological Congress, I think.

  12. Nomad says

    If you read this cartoon and came away with the idea that the author is seriously suggesting that quantum dentistry is a fertile field for research, you’re doing it wrong.

  13. blf says

    @15, Perhaps — but having a toothache which is both potentially there and not-there until a box containing an evil cat is opened seems promising — for one thing, it should mean all cats are kept safely sealed inside escape-proof boxes. The dinosaurs, mice, and vomit- / hairball-cleaners will presumably all approve. The trick, however, is to prove the Evil Rethugicat Conjecture, which states evil cats and thugs (republicans) are different phases of the same uncontrolled feedback loopiness field, which — if true — would then be another overwhelming reason to seal the thugs, …, & cats away inside said boxes. High-Energy Clown Physics!

  14. says

    You’re missing the point!
    The aim is to produce original scientific results. Not useful, or sensible, or sane ones, but definitely original.