Science, we all know, is serious stuff. If it is to retain its cultural and cognitive authority, it must be seen as an objective, dispassionate and value-free enterprise. But science, at its core, is a human enterprise populated by all types of people. Some, to be sure, are rather austere – practically agelastic. Newton, it’s been said, only laughed once: when asked if there would be any use in reading Euclid. But science and scientists can also be awfully funny – without jeopardising the objectivity of what comes to count as certified knowledge.
Mindful of American author E.B. White’s admonition that
I shall not attempt to provide a definition, much less an analysis of the nature of humour, its role in one’s psychic well-being, relationships with others, and various institutional settings that comprise society. I note, only in passing, that some of the giants have tried their hand, and perusing their work literally left me limp. Unable to appreciate the merits of Hobbes’ superiority theory made me feel inadequate. Kant’s reliance on reason to account for humour seemed totally incongruous to me. After slogging through Kierkegaard’s treatise I felt so disoriented and confused that I began to question the meaning of it all. Though hopeful, I found that delving into the recesses of Freud’s theory provided no relief at all. And reading Schopenhauer’s discussion sapped whatever will I previously possessed to continue. Fortunately – just in the nick of time as the deadline for this article approached – I stumbled upon Mel Brooks learned distinction,
Feeling rejuvenated, I was able to press on.
Cartoonists have been poking fun at science – and especially at psychologists – for decades. From 1925 to 2004, for example, 2486 cartoons about psychology appeared in The New Yorker. Gary Larson’s depictions of psychology in his Far Side are insightful – and hilarious. Just consider his cartoon titled, The Four Personality Types, featuring four individuals confronting a half-filled glass of water. After the typical optimist, pessimist, and indecisive personality types say their piece, the fourth, hands on hips bellows,
You don’t need to be a native New Yorker to relate – and smile.
But one need not look outside the halls of academia to find such humour. Indeed, for my money, nothing beats the humour contained in The Worm Runner’s Digest, published between 1959 and 1979. If your library subscribed, you might find it and its twin, the Journal of Biological Psychology, nestled between the serious Journal of Applied Psychology and Journal of Comparative and Physiological Psychology. The brainchild of James V. McConnell, then an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, the Worm Runner’s Digest burst on the scene as a new 1960s counterculture was beginning to take form. Devoted in part to puncturing the pretentiousness and pomposity of that sacred cow known as science, it was, as McConnell noted, one of the first scientific journals that knowingly published satire.
What, then, prompted the creation of this peculiar journal?
It began with a paper McConnell presented on the morning of 8 September 1959 at the 67th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association. In this paper, Apparent retention of a conditioned response following total regeneration in the planarian, McConnell reported data collected by one of his honours students, Reeva Jacobson, which indicated that separate pieces of trained worms, after being allowed to regenerate their missing parts, retained the initial training of the original uncut worm. Moreover, after several regenerations, worms that contained none of the structure of the originally trained animal also retained some memory of the initial conditioning.
On 21 September Newsweek published a summary of this work, triggering a series of events that no one – certainly not McConnell – ever expected.
Two years earlier, the Soviet Union’s successful launch of Sputnik sparked fears that the United States lagged behind the Soviets in science and technology. One result, designed to ignite the youth of America’s interest in science, was a renewed emphasis on local science fairs.
Shortly after the Newsweek coverage, McConnell was inundated with letters from high school students from around the country asking where they could obtain worms for their projects and how they should go about caring for and training them. Some students, according to McConnell, demanded that he send a few hundred trained worms at once since their projects were due within days.
After answering the first few letters McConnell realised that something more efficient was needed. So he and his students wrote what amounted to a training manual describing their work and how to repeat their experiments.
McConnell firmly believed that anyone who takes himself, or his work, too seriously is in a perilous state of mental health. So as a joke, he affixed the name Worm Runner’s Digest to the top of the manual. Adorning the front page was a crest that one of his students designed, complete with a two-headed worm with pharynx fully exposed, a pair of diagonal stripes in the maize and blue colours of Michigan across the escutcheon of said planarian, a coronet made up of a Hebbian cell assembly, a Ψ for psychology, a homage to the stimulus-response of behaviourism, and a motto, ignotum per ignotius which, loosely translated, means When I get through explaining this to you, you will know even less than before I started. To top things off, McConnell labeled it Volume I, No. 1.
To McConnell’s astonishment, word of this new journal got out and he started receiving submissions. So he decided to pep things up a bit by scattering poems, jokes, satires, cartoons, spoofs and short stories more or less randomly among the more serious articles.
McConnell wrote some of these spoofs himself, including one on learning theory that should be mandatory reading. In it, a psychology professor is walking in the woods thinking about how to teach his intro students the finer points of learning theory when he suddenly finds himself in a giant Skinner box on an alien spaceship, complete with a nipple on the wall that delivers a slightly cool and somewhat sweetish flow of liquid and, later, a lever that when pulled delivers protein balls of food. The experiments the subject endures are classic, and if the denouement does not bring a smile, well, perhaps you are in a perilous state of mental health.
Dozens of reputable psychologists contributed humour to the digest as well. Harry Harlow had two pieces: Fundamental principles for preparing psychology journal articles and a poem, Yearning and Learning, a somewhat bawdy look at how monkeys learn to copulate.
B.F. Skinner contributed two parodies of behaviourism: A Christmas caramel, or a plum from the hasty pudding, in which he plays the role of Professor Skinnybox, and
which he published under the pseudonym of F. Galton Pennywhistle.
Spoofs of Freudian theory also appeared. Some comments on an addition to the theory of psychosexual development by Sigmund Freud introduced the nasal stage, occurring between the anal and phallic stages, in which the libido is localised primarily in the mucous linings of the nose. Though the consequences of poor nasal training might not be as drastic as those accompanying poor toilet training, two pathologies might ensue: feelings of superiority that lead you to turn your nose up at others, and/or being a busybody and constantly sticking your nose in others’ business.
Other notable contributions that graced the Digest’s pages include faux reports on The effects of physical torture on the learning and retention of nonsense syllables,The Gesundheits Test, Taste aversion in dead rats: Learning or motivational defect? and its follow-up Taste aversion in dead rats: A note on proper control procedures. The Digest is also credited with announcing the law of scientific output, where productivity equals the number of secretaries in a laboratory times their average typing speed divided by the number of scientists. Thus, not only is one good secretary worth two good scientists but when the number of scientists is zero, productivity becomes infinite.
But bona fide experimental reports were included in the Digest as well. Some of these, most notably McConnell’s report in 1961 that naive planarians, upon cannibalising their conditioned brethren, showed evidence of remembering the conditioned task, strained the credulity of psychologists. Indeed, the publication of serious articles side-by-side with spoofs apparently posed a problem for some scientists who complained that they weren’t able to distinguish between the serious reports and the parodies.
To deal with this problem, McConnell banished all of the so-called funny stuff to the back of the journal, printing it upside down to make sure that no one would confuse it with the serious work. This began in October 1964. Three years later, the split became formal when McConnell renamed the front part of the journal containing the serious scientific work the Journal of Biological Psychology, retaining the name Worm Runner’s Digest for the back half of the journal.
At its peak, the Digest had roughly 2500 subscribers scattered throughout the world. Since humorous cartoons appear regularly in best-selling psychology textbooks today, it is easy to forget how extraordinary and subversive the Digest was when it first appeared.
As might be expected, responses to the Digest were mixed, reflecting some of the schisms found in the larger society at the time. While admirers hailed the Digest as a scientific Playboy, revelling in its wit, McConnell’s more austere critics referred to it pejoratively as a scientific comic book, arguing that science is not the place for such sophomoric humour. McConnell, in fact, believed that the Digest cost him research grants.
McConnell’s bottom line – that science could and should be fun – is perhaps as important today as it was when he began to champion the cause in 1959. If your library does not hold copies of the Digest, you can find the greatest hits in two anthologies – The Worm Re-turns and Science, Sex, and Sacred Cows – in used bookstores, or online. As Arthur Koestler opined,
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James V. McConnell. Worm runner’s digest
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The name of the journal, The Worm Runner’s Digest, seems an appropriate pun in the light of both natural cannibalism and the cannibalism experiments on transfer of learning.
There have been through the years many facets to the Digest. In Vol. I, No.1, the November, 1959 issue, is a sober and scientific article on the apparatus needed to house, transport, and experiment with planarians. And there is another treatise on the experimental procedures to be followed in working with planarians; this article includes a complete data sheet for recording experimental results. Another perfectly straightforward paper appears, The Feeding and Care of Planaria. Somehow, everything is not as cut and dried as it at first seems. The paper, written by Margaret Clay of the Planarian Research Group, concludes:
Not all the articles concern worm-running. In another issue, Vol. VII, No.1, is a profound paper, written by Lawrence A. Newberry of Purdue University. Mr. Newberry addresses himself to the problems of the effect of background noise on the detection of the cork-popping effect by popped-cork retrievers. Notwithstanding his attempt, Mr. Newberry makes only a single major contribution to the literature of science in an asterisked footnote on the first page of the paper.
Learned theses analyze in detail research problems of particular investigators. One particularly valuable report was in a paper presented by four young people, Joan M. Klein, K. Suzanne Lathrop, Elizabeth J. Lominska, and Lesley E. Seaman. This study deals with the abstruse problem: The Effect of a Pre-Frontal Lobotomy on the Tsetse Fly. The researchers submitted that they had lobotomized some 3000 Congolese red-eyed thyroidectomized tsetse flies, divided into groups of 1500 males and 1500 females. Great care was taken to supply the reader with all pertinent information:
In addition, the young scientists prepared graphs showing the behavior of the flies before and after lobotomy and thyroidectomy. The investigation, they reported, was to determine the effects of lobotomy on the flies’ reproductive behavior.
The work performed by the Planarian Research Group, and its results published in the Digest, as well as work by other planarian investigators across the country, seems to have merit — although there is no doubt it has engendered a fair amount of hostile criticism.
Basically, McConnell and others have established that there is some rudimentary form of learning, or conditioning, in planarians. They are trained by flashing strong lights at them, followed immediately by an electric shock. In the untrained animal the light causes no reaction, but the shock produces a strong longitudinal contraction. After a number of repetitions, the worm learns that the light is a signal heralding the shock, and contracts when the light is turned on. Other supportive work on learning, involving simple T-squares, as well as additional experiments of various kinds, has also been published.
But what is most startling about their research is that learning can be transferred from one flatworm to another. In a series of wellcontrolled experiments planarians were trained to perform certain tasks, then ground up and fed to untrained, or naive, worms. The naive planarians were then subjected to training procedures, and learned, or were conditioned, significantly more quickly than naive worms fed untrained victims. This suggests, McConnell believes, that there is a transfer of learning when a naive planarian has cannibalized a trained one. In addition, he points out in the Annual Review of Physiology, Vol. 28, 1966, there is a similar enhancement of learning when ribonucleic acid extracted from trained planarians is injected into naive ones.
James V. McConnell. Worm runner’s digest
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Finally, the wormrunners have also shown that planarians which have been severed head from tail retain learning in both regenerated sections of the new individuals.
McConnell suggests these results indicate that RNA acts not only as part of the biochemical storage mechanism in most organisms, but as the transfer agent as well. In one experiment, classically conditioned animals were severed, allowed to regenerate in pond water, while others regenerated in a weak solution of ribonuclease, an enzyme that hydrolyzes RNA.
And, Fried and Horowitz, writing in the Digest, have more recently shown that RNase injected directly into the trained planarians erases prior training, while saline injections have no effect.
For those interested in following this research in the Digest, a further note is in order: Now that the publication is both forward and backward, the title has partially changed. It is still called, on the humorous side, The Worm Runner’s Digest. However, the editors, having bowed to the exigencies of scientific journal publishing and probably to the demands of potential contributors, have changed the sober halfs title to The Journal of Biological Psychology. It remains to be seen whether or not they will compromise with content in either half.
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5 minute history lesson, episode 1: James V. McConnell
AnswersTM: When was Worm Runner’s Digest created?
Worm Runner’s Digest was created in 1959.
Is there an official definition of a runner’s fielder’s choice?
This is a tricky one. The easiest way to think of it is one runner is out attempting to advance on a wild pitch/pass ball while another runner advances safely. The reason they don’t simply score it as «advanced on wild pitch/pass ball» is because the official MLB rules* state that if an out occurs on what would normally be ruled as a wild pitch or pass ball (throwing someone out at home who was trying to score on a ball that got away from the catcher, for example), then it’s not actually a wild pitch/pass ball because an out was made on the play. The other runners who advance safely on the play are said to have done so on a runner’s fielder’s choice. *See the official comment for MLB rule 10.13.
What is runner’s high?
The rush the body gets from the release of endorphines caused by the exercise. Runners that have to miss their workouts often suffer withdrawal symptoms.
What is a worm?
Computer worms are malicious software applications designed to spread via computer networks. Computer worms are one form of malware along with viruses and trojans. A person typically installs worms by inadvertently opening an email attachment or message that contains executable scripts. ANDIF YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT THE ANIMAL…Worms are soft bodied animals that live in water and land.In my opinion, they may be related tojellyfish and slugs.On land there are earth worms that tunnel underground,and there are blood worms, leeches, and MANY other species. Worms is a generic term to describe animals thattypically have a long cylindrical tube-like body and no legs. Most animals called worms are invertibrates. However, there are animals called worms which do have a backbone. If you meant computer worm then, computerworm is a standalone malware computer program that replicate sitself in order to spread to other computers. Otherwise, the word worm is used to describe many different distantly related animals that typically have a long cylindrical tube-like body and no legs.
What is digestion?
The process that breaks food into substances that your cells can use Digestion is the mechanical and chemical breaking down of food into smaller https://wiki.answers.com/wiki/Components that can be https://wiki.answers.com/wiki/Absorption into a https://wiki.answers. com/wiki/Blood_stream, for instance. Digestion is a form of https://wiki.answers.com/wiki/Catabolism : a break-down of larger food molecules to smaller ones. Go this link for more information: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digestion
Are all gummy worms created equal?
Humor: Yes, all Gummy Bears and Gummy Worms are created equal for the continual satisfaction of your taste buds.
How were gummy worms created?
It is made out of molten and covered with sugar and corn syrup Check out: https://familyconsumersciences.com/2011/02/homemade-sour-gummy-worms/
What is runner’s high?
Its when you’ve run so much all the endorphins in your body are released and it gives you a feeling of pleasure instead of pain. it will make you feel like you can run forever. for me, its right around mile 12.
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