1895: Worrying Scientist Interviews

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Worrying Scientist Interviews
They always try to explain that they're called 'solar physicists', but the reporters interrupt with "NEVER MIND THAT, TELL US WHAT'S WRONG WITH THE SUN!"
Title text: They always try to explain that they're called 'solar physicists', but the reporters interrupt with "NEVER MIND THAT, TELL US WHAT'S WRONG WITH THE SUN!"


When a new development occurs, news channels will often interview an expert in the field to educate laymen in what, exactly, is happening. Thus, when you turn on the local news and see a scientist being interviewed, it is likely that something new has come up regarding their field of study that could affect you. How much it affects you could range from an interesting bit of information about your local area, to the complete annihilation of the human race. So, to help identify how serious the issue likely is, Randall has made this chart showing how worried you should be depending on the field of the scientist. A table has been arranged to explain the amount of worry needed for each field below.

To the far left, the least worrying are archaeologist and economist. An archaeologist studies ancient human civilizations, which would be unlikely to harm any modern person. Economists study and explain the trends of finances and resources, which are also unlikely to pose an immediate threat.[citation needed]

Following this, it shows nutritionists and eventually criminologists. A nutritionist studies nutrition in the human body, and is likely discussing which food options are healthy or unhealthy. While this may be important, it is not a cause for immediate concern. A criminologist, however, studies criminal behavior. If a criminologist is being interviewed on the news, there is likely a change in criminal actions within the neighborhood, be it more or less. It is also possible there may be a serial criminal working in the area. However, because crime is a relatively rare occurrence, and one for which precautions can be taken, it is still unlikely to be an immediate threat to the viewer.

It then moves past researchers studying different types of organisms, before reaching astronomers. Still only very few events would be local regarding astronomy, but it could of course be regarding a pending meteor strike.

A virologist studies viral infections and their spread, and a vulcanologist studies volcanoes. Viruses spread quickly, and can be fatal, meaning a breaking news development in one's locale regarding viruses is likely to mean imminent danger. Volcanoes, depending on their size, can potentially demolish entire countries, thus having one making headlines nearby is also very concerning.

The last point to the right (most worried) "Astronomer who studies the Sun", also called a "solar physicist" (mentioned in the title text), could be really troublesome, but not especially locally. If there are serious problems with the Sun it will be a world-wide problem. But you should still be worried.

The title text mentions that the reason they are not called solar physicists, is that before they can tell the reporter this, they are interrupted by the anxious reporter who wishes to know what's wrong with the Sun. This is not really something that happens so often[citation needed] that the title texts "They always try" has any real meaning. And this is also why no one knows or uses the term solar physicists...

The fields of science[edit]

Field Worry level Explanation
Archeologist Extremely low (~2.7%) Likely just dug up some old ruins or bones. Unlikely to involve bad news, though it may possibly cause problems (e.g. if a construction project is delayed to accommodate an archaeological investigation).
Economist Very low (~7.3%) News about the economy could be either good or bad, and in most cases is just more of the usual ups and downs rather than anything cataclysmic. Could also be a report on a big stock market crash.
Nutritionist Very low (~12.0%) Possible fad diet. Note that nutritionists tend not to be a protected profession, compared to dietitians. May be alarming if it involves credible information about bad health consequences of eating, or not eating, a particular food.
Criminologist Low (~26.6%) Probably just crime statistics. Sometimes just correcting people who mistakenly believe crime is on the rise, and even a large increase in an otherwise ordinary crime rate is still a small risk overall. Specific threats (such as a dangerous criminal on the loose) are usually addressed by police representatives.
Ornithologist Medium (~43.3%) This would indicate the discovery of a strange behavior exhibited by birds. A newsworthy event involving ornithologists could indicate some imminent problem with the ecological environment, such as a mass migration or death event suggesting toxic pollutants in the environment. A possible reference to The Birds or Birdemic, two films with similar premises (horror films centered around flocks of birds suddenly becoming hostile to humans) but vastly different critical evaluations (The Birds was directed by Alfred Hitchcock and is generally considered a classic; Birdemic was low-budget and is notoriously poor-quality).
Botanist Medium (~46.0%) Similar to an ornithological related news. Seeing how plants are both more fundamental to the environment and more "boring" to the general public than birds; if something news worthy involves a botanist, then it is more likely a more fundamental and more impactful change to the environment.
Marine Biologist Medium (~53.3%) Similar to Botanist news. However, as oceans represent the substantial majority of the Earth's surface, and are very far removed from local concerns, anything which is news-worthy of them is likely a major impact to the environment on a global scale.
Entomologist Medium high (~62.6%) There might be a new invasive insect species that could cause health concerns, ranging from famine to blood-transmitted diseases.
Astronomer High (~82.0%) Possible inbound meteor, or perhaps sighting of incoming alien ships.
Virologist Very high (~88.0%) A disease that is incurable and spreads fast might ravage or even destroy a city, country, or (in an extreme case) all human life. An example of a worrisome virus is COVID-19,[citation needed] which resulted in many interviews with epidemiologists.
Vulcanologist Very high (~93.3%) A volcano might erupt soon, the danger of which could range from an isolated area to a planetwide concern.
Astronomer who studies the Sun Extremely high (~98.6%) There might be something wrong with the Sun, the consequences of which could range from major disruption of modern technology to the end of life on earth. The title text elaborates that, technically, the correct term is "solar physicist". Unsurprisingly, reporters (and the general audience) aren't particularly interested in such a pedantic matter, and want to be informed about the more pressing issue regarding the fiery ball that maintains the Earth's orbit and capacity for life.[citation needed]


[A chart consisting of a line with double arrows that has 12 dots progressing from left to right. Each dot has a line going to a label above or below the line. Above the labels is another label belonging to an arrow to its right that points right. Above this is a larger caption:]
How worried you should be if you see local reporters interviewing scientists about a breaking news story, by field:
More worried --->
[The chart shows the following titles left to right (least to most worrisome), some above and some below the line however that doesn't affect their relative positions. They are listed here in ascending worrisomeness for ease of viewing.]
Marine biologist
Astronomer who studies the sun

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Why not use Heliologist? :~) DarkJMKnight (talk) 14:49, 27 September 2017 (UTC)

If the sun is local breaking news, could be an impending dark age (solar activity destroying all technology) or a dark age (solar implosion/explosion/death). 15:42, 27 September 2017 (UTC)

Destroying *all* technology would require something on the scale of a solar expansion (hydrogen exhaustion) Solar flares (even those strong enough to burn all life from the face of the Earth) still would not be sufficient to destroy subterranean shelters like NORAD. Only a total extinction event would be capable of destroying all technology. Even if 99.9% of all humans on Earth were killed off, there are very well secured (& insanely well funded) facilities which will survive any event short of total crust-upheaval, at least for a generation or so. Reverting to primitive lifestyle may possibly happen for a *majority* of humans, but modern military systems are such that some humans with tech are almost guaranteed to remain, no matter what terrible events occur. In other words, the wealthiest technocratic elite aren't going to die off any time soon. 00:59, 28 September 2017 (UTC)
Which makes me wonder why only a local reporter is covering the story. Sounds like a media beat-up. The joke appears to depend more on someone's imagination than on the actual news story. 23:10, 27 September 2017 (UTC)

Everyone else is dead except for the reporter who happens to be beret guy

Marine biologist is probably about oil spills or coral reefs/fish dying etc, rather than invasive species -- 16:18, 27 September 2017 (UTC)

The explanation for "ornithologist" uses "avian dinosaurs" instead of "birds." There's a link to the wikipedia page for birds, but it's still a potentially confusing inside joke. 19:01, 27 September 2017 (UTC)

The reference to "ornithologist" is almost certainly a reference to Hitchcock's "The Birds" 01:52, 28 September 2017 (UTC)
Definitely, rather than the obscure Birdemic movie -- 06:32, 28 September 2017 (UTC)

So, wait: worried about what the hell is so wrong with interviewers for them to actually want to talk to these kinds of researchers; or about what is happening to the world are we all going to die is it the end times? 19:54, 27 September 2017 (UTC)

This seems to be inspired by horror and disaster movies, so talking to a volcanologist would suggest that a volcano is about to blow and make the local town the next Pompeii. An ornithologist means the birds are about to go psycho like in The Birds (if we're going to list obscure things nobody has ever heard of, I'd put forward a certain episode of a show called Cybersix), etc. That's what this is talking about. So, end times. :) NiceGuy1 (talk) 04:45, 29 September 2017 (UTC)

The solar physicist would most likely be talking about an incoming solar flare, which could shut down the electric grid, satellites, and a bunch of other stuff, potentially within minutes, making it the most pressing of the issues. 01:11, 28 September 2017 (UTC)

I think economists and nutritionists are at the lower end for being notoriously wrong in their predictions -- 06:35, 28 September 2017 (UTC)

Wow, this comic came on the morning right after the night in which I had a terrifying nightmare about the sun going supernova. I'm SERIOUSLY spooked. -- 08:53, 28 September 2017 (UTC)

Well don't worry, the sun is too small to go Super nova. My nightmare as a kid was that it swelled up and swallowed the Earth... This will probably happen, but in 5 bill. years fro now. But when you are 6 years old that is not a number that makes any sense, and I had just heard about the death of the sun :D --Kynde (talk) 09:33, 28 September 2017 (UTC)

Bayes! Uuuh-vey! Considering you should pre-multiply with the probability that the desaster happens in the first place (which is rather unlikely for the sun), I definitely would be worried with the economist most. (Mkay, big stock crashes are as probable as volcano eruptions, but I don't live near one.) 10:10, 28 September 2017 (UTC)

But economists are interviewed before and after every meeting of the [Federal Reserve / Bank of England / whoever] discussing whether to change interest rates. That's a lot of non-critical interviews. 10:52, 28 September 2017 (UTC)
If this is a joke about disaster movies like I think it is, then the probability of a disaster happening is basically 1, then this scale becomes a question of how scary the disaster is. I, for one, definitely think Jaws is a more scary announcement than anything an economist can come up with. 15:07, 28 September 2017 (UTC)

I'm pretty sure this is a joke about disaster movies not a serious scale. So Marine Biologist is pretty worrying because it's a shark attack or a giant octopus. Ornithologist is scary because of the birds, astronomers are meteors, etc. 15:07, 28 September 2017 (UTC)

This explanation seems pretty confused - the main explanation seems to imply that we're talking about real life, while the table underneath suggests we're dealing with 'movieland' (e.g. an ornithologist in real life is more likely to be talking about a population fall than 'strange behaviour'). My own take is that it's all talking about real life except for the last entry / title text, which is the punch line, and is referencing 'movieland'. 11:47, 29 September 2017 (UTC)

What about the missing entries? Mathematician: "the discrete logarithm problem has been solved" (eCommerce becomes insecure). Divad27182 (talk) 20:29, 28 September 2017 (UTC)

Exactly what I was thinking- after all the heavy handed AGW talk during the campaign, Climatologist is strangely missing from the list.Seebert (talk) 20:54, 28 September 2017 (UTC) 23:11, 28 September 2017 (UTC) I can think of one speciality worse: nuclear physicist. Like the Sun, but localised. Imagine how local people must have thought when they were informed of the Fukushima Daiichi plant being compromised in 2011.

I would personally put Criminologist up among the top 4 (depending on how much I believe this is who they'd talk to for a serial killer), and everything else from Entomologist on down would be tied with Archeologist, with Nutritionist perhaps lower (nutritionists never agree, people just listen to the ones saying something they like, so I figure they all need to be taken with a grain of salt except when there's a majority opinion). Seems like these are more influenced by disaster / horror / thriller movies, LOL! Like Ornothogists rate high because of The Birds (which is famous and by a famous director, never heard of that other one, how does it rate a mention?) P.S. The first two comments got doubled up, cleaned it up before it got worse. NiceGuy1 (talk) 04:20, 29 September 2017 (UTC)

People who aren't worried about interviewing the archaeologist clearly need to watch more The Mummy and Indiana Jones movies. And Alien, for that matter. 01:59, 30 September 2017 (UTC)

Wow, I got a completely different joke when I read this one. My initial interpretation of the comic was how worried we should all be that the (presumably scientifically illiterate) reporter was going to mangle the science contained in the interview in the interest of sensationalism and selling a news story. Not that your all's' interpretation isn't perfectly valid, but given Randall's previous send ups of poor scientific reporting, that's the direction my mind went first. 22:12, 3 October 2017 (UTC)

I suggest we add this article about the spelling of Archaeologist and Archeologist https://web.archive.org/web/20091205105622/http://www.saa.org/ForthePublic/Resources/OtherUsefulResources/Whyaretheretwodifferentspellingsarchaeology/tabid/1078/Default.aspx 01:00, 11 October 2019 (UTC) I added a funny citation needed to the part about the Sun. It's obvious enough to warrant one in my opinion.-- 19:10, 10 December 2021 (UTC)

"...regarding the fiery ball that maintains the Earth's orbit and capacity for life." — To be honest, this is overkill. There aren't that many things that can go wrong with the Sun to make the orbit different without affecting the capacity for life. And any number (including suddenly becoming a solar-mass black hole for... reasons(?)) that would definitely mess about with habitability but not actually change the orbit appreciably. Orbital changes are most likely due to other factors entirely, this side of being engulfed by the expaning solar atmosphere (which would be a herald of unhealthy conditions long before that). 13:32, 14 March 2022 (UTC)