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History of the science jokes

[ Introduction | Down memory lane | August 1998 till January 1999 ]


July 1998: It was strange that a history nut like me, did not have the history of his own collection. I am forgetting parts. Not that I believe it is very interesting; I write this mainly for myself. But here it is, a history of the Science Jokes.

Down memory lane

Dedicated to all the people who make or post Science Jokes

Once upon a time I discovered a newsreader called nn, and with it came an addiction to usenet. This was probably around 1990. As my memory is worthless I soon learned to save everything that I wished to remember. One of the things I collected where jokes of a scientific nature. Most of this came from science groups as I had yet to discover rec.humor. This collection was just for me to bore my friends. This stage took a long time.

In spring 1993 or 1994 this changed (told you I had a bad memory). I discovered the humor groups and the canonical jokes. Lars Olofsson asked in eunet.jokes for jokes of a scientific nature. I sent him my small collection, picked up anything people sent him in the newsgroup and asked Lars for his complete collection. In those days there was a project in rec.humor to prevent lots of old jokes from returning again and again to rec.humor, called the cannonical jokes. They were sent every month to rec.humor and people were referred to them, whenever jokes of that nature were asked. They could be ftp'ed from the ftp-site of Nathan Mates at Caltech. There were all kinds of lists like the doit list and lightbulb list I could search for scientific variations. The most important one for me was Michael Cook's math jokes list, wich I took completely. Why not; it was just for personal use after all. In the summer, somebody in rec.humor asked for science jokes and my collection fit the bill and I posted it. The science jokes were born.

People kept asking for jokes in the newsgroups and I started a bimonthly posting schedule. By this time the jokes were already divided in a "math", "physics", "chemistry", "computer science", "mathematician, physicist and engineer" and "miscellany" section. Miscellany contained everything that did not fit in another category or in several. Of course people also asked for just physics jokes and such and I designed a way to extract those from the jokes with a format to tell me which subjects a joke was about and an awk script select.awk to extract the relevant jokes. I posted those jokes on demand in the relevant sci group or e-mailed them to the poster who wanted them. The trick is simple. Each joke begins with the regular expression:

to fill an 75 character line. * means a new joke, & a changed joke and the letters stand respectively for math, biology, physics, chemistry, engineering and computer science (the C was already taken by chemistry). A chemistry joke would always fit the regular expression
and it was very unlikely anything else did.

The list kept growing fast and I kept reorganizing. In November 1994 I began to keep statistics, made with another awk script.
Statistics of Science Jokes 5.20, Nov 25, 1994
Computer Science157222714.1847
Chemistry and Pharmacy2938813.3793
Anecdotes about scientists1220316.9167
High school science class pranks1836820.4444
TOTAL 605 9888 16.3438

The first part of the version meant a major change and the second part any change, addition, update whatever. From this time on I have the statistics information to help my memory.

The next major change was the creation of the computer canonical lists (yes plural) by N. Thomson in December 1994. In January, I decided that it made no sense doubling the work and mailed him the little I had and he had not (He never replied, the impolite ... uh ... whatever is impolite ;-)), removed the pure computer jokes from my list and called it version 6.1. Computer science is not a real science anyway! If you are wondering about the mathematics list, I had already asked Michael Cooke for permission to use his list. Half of his list did not come in the mathematics section, because of the overlap with other sciences. That is the reason I kept mathematics. Later on we exchanged new mathematics jokes we found and we still do that. Except for a trillion knot jokes (don't ask!), my list includes all of his.

The science jokes kept slowly growing during 1995. During this time Usenet was the primary medium for the science jokes. First they were posted only to rec.humor, later on also crossposted to the general sci groups till I was told that for instance sci.bio.misc was not pleased with a multi-file joke list with only 10% biology. That made sense, so after that I just posted an announcement to the sci groups.

Times changed. Netscape and the World Wide Web became popular. People started to ask for a place where they could download the list. I had no ftp-site. The Physics Faculty of Utrecht University started to allow web sites, but my disk quota was already filled with programs, written for work. I could make a small homepage, but not a complete science joke list. The copy of the original was kept as a zip file on the unix machine when there was enough room, but also frequently deleted. That would not do for a webpage. The first help came from Bernard Treves Brown. I received the following e-mail (I told you I save stuff):

From: Bernard Treves Brown <MCNBJTB@fs4.in.umist.ac.uk>
Organization: DIAS, UMIST, UK.
To: J.C.D.Verhagen@fys.ruu.nl
Date: Wed, 26 Apr 1995 10:02:26 GMT
Subject: Science Jokes ftp site
Reply-To: B.J.Treves-Brown@umist.ac.uk
Priority: normal
X-Mailer: Pegasus Mail/Windows (v1.22)
Message-Id: <13E1CBC151DA@fs4.in.umist.ac.uk>
Status: RO

Dear Dr. Verhagen
I notice that there are requests for your collection
of science jokes to appear on an ftp site. I can 
offer our services if you care to give us permission
to mount it.
Best Wishes
Bernard Treves Brown

Bernard J. Treves Brown
Department of Instrumentation and Analytical Science,
UMIST, P.O. Box 88, Manchester. M60 1QD  UK

I was very happy with this offer, and since this time the Science Jokes were available from his department's website for a long time. The scijokes abbreviation which you find in the file names comes from Bernard (The accursed DOS 8.3 filenames). A month later Paul Mayer offered to put the Science Jokes on his website. I seem to have lost that mail, so I cannot bore you with that. Since that time the list was available on his site and for about 10 years this was the most popular version of the science jokes. I send Bernard every update, this means almost every week. As Paul has more work to adapt to the jokes, I sent him the bimonthly updates. From this time on the version number got three parts <major version>.<bimonthly update>.<weekly update>.

A fourth version came in July 1995 with the following mail from a till then unknown student of my own faculty:

From nienhuys Tue Jul 18 15:51:59 1995
Subject: science jokes op WWW
To: verhagen@fys.ruu.nl
Date: Tue, 18 Jul 1995 15:51:57 +0200 (GMT+0200)
X-Mailer: ELM [version 2.4 PL24 PGP2]
Mime-Version: 1.0
Content-Type: text/plain; charset=US-ASCII
Content-Transfer-Encoding: 7bit
Content-Length:   177
Status: RO

Hallo, ik heb jou collectie Science Jokes onder mijn homepage gezet 

Commentaar/bezwaren/complimenten/suggesties hoor ik wel.


Han Kwan Nienhuys had copied Paul's copy of the science jokes and then figured, I was a much closer source. Han Kwan also gave me some stencils with math jokes, which came from his secondary school math teacher. I am a bit sorry that he never sent the report of his experiences about his chemicals tasting hobby. In case you are interested, hydrochloric acid tastes like vomit. So now you know where vomit gets it taste from. He created a script to cut the jokelist in its seperate sections, so I could send him weekly updates. In May 1996, this script inspired me to make an awk script (awk again. I know that I should really learn perl, but I could learn awk from the man pages and perl is too complicated for that.) to make it real HTML. This had the additional advantage, that the script did not need to be adapted if new subsections were made in the Science Jokes. The only problem was the fact that the original is still a text file. The script does not know when to use preformatted, a paragraph or a list; therefore it only uses preformatted. The only way to solve this is to make a new mother-list, from which both the text and the HTML file are derived. I once started on it, but it is still not finished. Somewhere in 1995 the new jokes page was created especially for Han Kwan (another AWK script). (Before that I sometimes mailed new jokes upon request.) Finally the page About the Science Jokes Collection was created on my own webpage.
Statistics of Science Jokes 6.17, June 22, 1996
1. Mathematics270387314.34
2. Physics159261416.44
3. Chemistry62109717.69
4. Biology5361211.55
5. The mathematician, the physicist and the engineer (and others)66132920.14
6. Miscellany203425420.96
7. Anecdotes about scientists3143715.26
8. Mnemonics41112627.46
9. Pranks2563025.20
10. Sources of science humor on and off the web1521514.33
TOTAL 925 16287 17.61
Number of jokes in every category
Jokes including:Number:
mathematics 340
physics 233
chemistry 99
biology 71
engineering 62
computer science 16
New jokes since last posting (April 29, 1996)37
Changed jokes since last posting (April 29, 1996)4

1996 passed with more and more jokes as the only change. The World Wide Web became the main part of internet and I now can meet enthusiastic websurfers, who do not know about newsgroups. In May 1996 Han Kwan left the University of Utrecht to get his Phd. at another scientific institution. Luckily, my disk quota increased around the same time and I could take over. Most of the work consisted of changing the links to the site. It was nice to have a site for my own as Paul Mayer had less and less time for updates. But new changes were to come.

The first of August 1997, I got a new job without a website and I had to pay for my own page. So another move, this time to http://www.xs4all.nl/~jcdverha/scijokes/, where it still (July 1998) resides. Again all the links had to be changed and the search engines notified. The new sections "Other sciences", "combined sciences" and "academic life" were created in June and July 1997 to do something about the bloated miscellany section and the major version became 7. Later that year new subsections for puns appeared.

A few months later I found that 26 posts of 1000 lines to rec.humor was maybe a bit too much. Nobody was posting Canonical Jokes anymore. So I decided to post only the new jokes every other month. This really felt like the end of an era - the Science Jokes leaving their origin.

And there we are: I still collect Science Jokes, maybe a bit less enthusiastic, now that I know longer work in the sciences. I still roam the Usenet for new jokes, people are still e-mailing me jokes, people still visit Paul's and my websites and still FTP the files from the ftp-site (though this last is decreasing)...

There is no reason to assume this will soon change.

August 1998 till January 1999

The last half year there have been some changes. I finally got Netscape 4 and Internet Explorer 4, so I could experiment with stylesheets. The page became very colorfull, too colorfull according to some, so I muted it down a bit.

More interesting is the creation of the science humor webring, which has its own history page. I could scarcely steal the science jokes on webpages of others, but if you wish to see them you can just follow the ring.

A third change is a reaction to some criticism about long pages and not enough structure. But what really propelled me to action was a conversion of the statistics generated by XS4all to something that was easier to understand.

The statistics as generated by XS4all are a bit difficult to follow, as only the filename and not the title of a page is mentioned. In december 1998, I organized it in a way to be able to understand what was happening on the site. Here is the hit list of November 1998.
Number of hits and jokes for all subsections for Version 7.9
mathematics - general631105
mathematics - proofs36129
mathematics - statistics and statisticians20750
mathematics - mathematicians21436
mathematics - poetry18247
mathematics - quotes16741
mathematics - puns27281
physics - general565136
physics - poetry26936
physics - quotes27238
physics - puns35542
chemistry - general119153
chemistry - poetry45217
chemistry - quotes3856
chemistry - puns67255
biology - general35958
biology - poetry25717
biology - quotes26316
biology - puns39327
other sciences15023
the mathematician, the physicist and the engineer (and others)18680
combined sciences11642
academic life - general13350
academic life - rules for research18026
academic life - rules for writing an article10012
miscellany - general5466
miscellany - poetry558
miscellany - quotes8790
anecdotes about famous scientists15950
mnemonics - intro1790
mnemonics - mnemonics1531
mnemonics - mathematics1816
mnemonics - computer science1134
mnemonics - physics and astronomy16320
mnemonics - chemistry2808
mnemonics - biology and medicine22710
mnemonics - miscellany1239
sources of science humor on and off the net17741
Number of hits for special cases
main page5158
zipfile of list292
new jokes263
Humorous science poetry8
Humorous science quote18
meaningless picture on main page4433

What conclusions could I draw from this? Chemistry is by far the most popular, followed by mathematics, pranks and physics. This is a far different order than the number of jokes, which is mathematics, physics and then chemistry with pranks far behind. In the mnemonics section the order is a bit different. Chemistry again on top, followed by biology. Physics and mathematics lie behind that. So mathematicians like to make jokes and chemists like to read them. And apparently lots of people like pranks. ;-)

Sections with general names have few hits - miscellany at the bottom, above that combined sciences and other sciences.

Two of my favourite sections, "the mathematician, the physicist and the engineer" and the anecdotes are not much above that.

5% percent of the visitors downloads the zipfile to read the jokes offline or put them on their webpage (Yes, I noticed! ;-) and do not mind)

Also about 5% reads the new jokes, regular visitors I guess.

The picture entry is there to show that 14% of the visitors of this site uses a browser without pictures or with pictures off. Just a hint to site builders.

As a result of these measurements version 7.10 of the science jokes was much changed. I created the new section Earth Sciences for geology and such and 25 new subsections for mathematics, physics, academic life and miscellany to make it easier to select a subject. In January I kept making new sections. Every time I thought that a section was rather long or that some jokes might warant a new subsection I created a new one. The 39 subsections from October grew to 98 subsections in January.

[ Introduction | Down memory lane | August 1998 till January 1999 ]

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