2632: Greatest Scientist

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Greatest Scientist
"Ow! One of the petri dishes I left on the tower railing fell and hit me on the head. Hey, that gives me an idea..."
Title text: "Ow! One of the petri dishes I left on the tower railing fell and hit me on the head. Hey, that gives me an idea..."


This comic takes the feats of seven of history's most acclaimed scientists and combines them into one fictional act, claiming that this person was the greatest scientist in history. The joke is that pulling off a combination of all of these would be rather impressive[citation needed] from a technical standpoint, but would have little value as a scientific experiment; almost none of the things being tested are directly related to each other.

These scientists are Thales of Miletus, Galileo Galilei, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Fleming, Ivan Pavlov, Eratosthenes, and Isaac Newton.

The ground is noticeably curved in this comic, because the curvature of the Earth is mentioned and measured.

Humorously combining multiple science experiments into one was also a punchline in 1584: Moments of Inspiration. Curved floors to represent Earths curvature were mentioned in 2412: 1/100,000th Scale World.

Table of Experiments[edit]

List of experiments in the comic
Experiment in comic Experiment in reality Meaning Scientist
Measuring the shadow of a tall building Tradition holds that Thales of Miletus measured the shadow of the Great Pyramid of Giza, and used geometry he had recently proven to calculate its height. Thales was the first known person to actually prove mathematical fact rather than simply notice it, and as such he is considered the father of both math and science. His development of the theory of similar triangles in particular paved the way for many later discoveries, such as the Pythagorean theorem and Eratosthenes' measurement of the earth. Thales of Miletus
The Leaning Tower of Pisa Galileo conducted an experiment at the Leaning Tower of Pisa, where he dropped two objects to measure whether the rate at which objects fall is dependent on weight or is constant. Galileo found that objects with different weights fall at the same rate, disproving Aristotle's statement which purported the opposite. Galileo was not the first scientist to run such an experiment (and there is some debate whether he ran the experiment himself or not) but Galileo's version is notable for furthering the idea of experimentation in science, in opposition to the then-prevailing view that knowledge is learned by studying the writings of the ancients. Galileo Galilei
Flying a kite into a thunderstorm with lightning In June 1752, Benjamin Franklin performed his famous kite experiment in which he attached a conductive wire to a kite and flew it near a thunderstorm. Attached to the kite was a key, which was further attached to a Leyden jar. While the kite was not hit by lightning, "Franklin did notice that loose threads of the kite string were repelling each other and deduced that the Leyden jar was being charged." This is sometimes considered the discovery of the fact that lightning contains/is electricity. Benjamin Franklin
Two moldy petri dishes In August 1928, Alexander Fleming put Staphylococcus aureus into multiple petri dishes and then left to go on holiday/vacation. On September 3, he returned and found that one plate had mold on it. The moldy plate was the only one that no longer had S. aureus bacteria in it. He later repeated this experiment and the result was confirmed. The mold that Fleming had discovered produced penicillin, an antibiotic. This was the first time that a substance had been discovered that could reliably treat bacterial infections, having a huge impact on medicine across the world. Sir Alexander Fleming
Salivating dog located next to a bell In 1902 Ivan Pavlov conducted a study on dog reflexes by giving dogs food and simultaneously ringing a bell. When the dog smelled and saw the food, it started salivating. Eventually, simply ringing the bell made the dog salivate, as the dog had associated the bell ringing with food. Pavlov also performed other, less humane experiments on other dogs. This was the discovery of classical conditioning, where a stimulus is paired with an unrelated other thing through repeated exposure. The subject will eventually react to the unrelated thing in the absence of the stimulus. This is an example of taught reflexes, where a subconsious reaction like a reflex or instinct is taught. Ivan Pavlov
The shadow angle of the dog determining the circumference of the Earth In the 200s BCE, the Greek philosopher Eratosthenes measured the circumference of the Earth. While his exact method has been lost to time, a simplified version remains: At high noon on the summer solstice in Syene, Egypt, the sun was almost directly overhead. This was confirmed with a sundial. 5,000 stadia away in Alexandria, at the same time, the angle of the sun was measured with another sundial and converted into a fraction of the Earth's circumference. Some simple multiplication could then yield the circumference of the Earth. The distance Eratosthenes calculated for the circumference of Earth was 250,000 stadia. This estimate was either 2.4% low or 0.8% high compared to modern knowledge, depending on whether he used Greek or Egyptian stadia - a remarkably accurate estimate for the time. Eratosthenes
(Title text) A petri dish falling on the scientist's head, leading to a new discovery Sir Isaac Newton, an inventor of calculus and discoverer of his famous Laws of Motion, also determined the basic mechanics of gravity. Newton apparently told acquaintances that his inquiries into gravity were "occasion'd by the fall of an apple", and this is often embellished into a story where Newton came up with the notion of gravity when an apple fell from a tree and hit him on the head. Regardless of what the apple really landed on, this purportedly led Newton to consider the question of what exactly caused the apple to fall straight to the ground. This line of thinking ultimately let him to deduce the Law of Universal Gravitation, which is fundamental to understanding celestial mechanics. Sir Isaac Newton


[A segment of the Earth is shown where the ground is noticeably curved, low at the edges and highest in the middle. On the left of the panel, there are one tall, but leaning tower, three smaller buildings, two trees and a small plant representing Pisa, Italy. The tower represents the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Cueball is standing in front of the left most building. The height of the tower is labeled h1 against a locally non-leaning dotted line, the length of its shadow upon the grounds is marked L1, the angle from ground at the end of the shadow to the tip of the tower is labelled θ1. Attached to the top of the tower, there is a kite string which goes in a upward sloping curve to a kite. The kite is in the top right corner with it's tail pointing away from the kite to the right. Just above and to the left of the kite there is a cloud with a lightning bolt coming out beneath it. Beneath the kite there is a string down to a rectangular device, that seems to have two arms beneath it. These seems to have dropped two items, as indicated with dotted lines going down towards the ground in two parallel and straight lines. It turns out to be two disks that fell from the kite, and just above the ground they hit a bell supported on curved pin. As they hit the bell is makes two sounds. Next to the bell is a small dog with it's tongue hanging out. A horizontal line above the dog and its shadow is labeled (and possibly broken up by) h2, the length of its shadow on the ground L2, and the angle up from the far end of the shadow to the tip of the dog θ2. To the left of the dog there is a three and two smaller plants. Between Pisa and the dog, near the middle part of the curved there are various distant pyramids near the horizon. This section of the ground are very nearly horizontal to the image. All buildings in 'Pisa', the dropping disks and the supported bell/dog at the other side of the scene and various trees and plants around each end are locally-vertical in a radial manner, except for the Tower Of Pisa which is almost vertical to the image in exhibiting its local 'lean'. The two θ angles are clearly different but the dotted diagonal segments they define head in the same drawn direction from the tips of the shadows to the tips of their objects. The Sun is not illustrated but would be somewhere to the left of the image and upwards to cause the measured shadows.]
Left labels: h1 θ1 L1
Right labels: h2 θ2 L2
Bell: Ding ding
[Caption below the panel:]
History's greatest scientist was probably that one who measured the shadow of the Leaning Tower of Pisa while flying a kite into a distant thunderstorm where lightning caused two moldy Petri dishes to fall onto a bell next to a salivating dog whose shadow angle determined the circumference of the Earth.

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If anyone knows how to get this to work with the bar at the top, please do it! SqueakSquawk4 (talk) 18:32, 13 June 2022 (UTC)

User:SqueakSquawk4 for everything to display correctly I think you need to follow the steps here: User:DgbrtBOT#When_the_BOT_fails... Ahiijny (talk) 18:43, 13 June 2022 (UTC)
A) Following them now. B) Bookmarked. SqueakSquawk4 (talk) 18:45, 13 June 2022 (UTC)
Should be fixed now. Natg19 (talk) 18:49, 13 June 2022 (UTC)

Saying Viviani already proved that the acceleration due to gravity on an object is independent of mass runs into a snag: Viviani suggest that it was Galileo who showed him that. So whether Galileo actually dropped any balls from the Tower of Pisa or was even the first to assert the principle in writing, he seems to be the driving force behind Vivian's proofs of it. Dismissing Galileo here is wrong. 21:53, 13 June 2022 (UTC)

Thunderbolts and lightning, very, very frightening me. Galileo, Galileo, Galileo, Galileo, Galileo, Figaro.... 23:22, 13 June 2022 (UTC)

He did this before in 1531, where he combines several principles into a single comic. 23:39, 13 June 2022 (UTC)

Hard to believe he's been doing these comics for nearly 500 years now. 19:46, 14 June 2022 (UTC)

So many missed opportunities to include Focault's pendulum, cannonball mine drops, the Magnus and Coriolis effects, electromagnatism, etc, ad nauseam, ad astra 13:57, 14 June 2022 (UTC)

Pavlov was inhumane

Pavlov did a lot more than just ring some bells. For example (Trigger warning for dog lovers), he drained them of stomach acid until they were dead for profit alone, and sewed dogs heads onto each other. I think this should be acknowledges. I have put this in the main article, but it has been removes. I've tried re-phrasing, and want to know how well that will stick.

What do you think should happen. I think it is important to acknowledge, but at the same time it is not directly relevant to the comic. Please discuss. SqueakSquawk4 (talk) 23:16, 13 June 2022 (UTC)
It was I who removed the first phrasing, and as it is written now I think it's good. Perhaps a trivia section would be appropriate for it, as someone else mentioned, and I saw no problem with having a link in the previous version. While False (speak) 09:19, 14 June 2022 (UTC)
Seems most appropriate for a Trivia section and not the main article.
Two Petri dishes

The title text says that "One of the petri dishes" fell (emphasis added). Is that an obscure reference to the Twin paradox?

Proposed new text:
(Title text) One of the petri dishes fell and one did not The Twin paradox thought experiment: ... See 1432 Albert Einstein
No I think that is very far fetched. --Kynde (talk) 13:21, 14 June 2022 (UTC)
I have added it, with a "Possible" note next to it. (Or will have in a min)
Also, I assume you meant 1584: Moments of Inspiration, not 1432: The Sake of Argument.
Also Also, two Square brackets [ ] around an internal link, not two fancy/curly brackets {} SqueakSquawk4 (talk) 11:23, 14 June 2022 (UTC)
I will remove it. There is not sign of twin paradox in that title text! --Kynde (talk) 13:24, 14 June 2022 (UTC)
Sorry. I'm such an imbecil for adding it. So so sorry. Is there something I can do to make up for it? I don't want to delete my account, but I would if you wanted. Edit: How about a compromise, where the Einstein theory is mentioned in brief under the table as far-fetched but possible? SqueakSquawk4 (talk) 14:27, 14 June 2022 (UTC)
The link to the twin paradox is that there are two Petri dishes and only one of them falls (rather than all of them) and that being bonked on the head "gives an idea". I think this should be included, and wouldn't mind a "possible" or "unlikely" or "far-fetched" qualifier. For that matter I wouldn't mind if the table literally said "This is absolutely definitely positively with a cherry on top not a reference to the Twin paradox" :) -OP
Thanks SS4. I meant the title text of 1432, which explains thought experiments (they also came up in 1233 but aren't explained there).
I used {} because I assumed that'd link to that comic with both its number and its title. -OP
Quick list of these things, in case it helps.
  • Bare URLs are treated as literal links if recognisable (might fall over some URLs, best avoided when more complicated than https://www.microsoft.com) - and note the padlock icon in most cases.
  • Single []s are for URLs.
    • [URL] alone gives a 'reference number' link, not very viewer-friendly
    • [URL TEXT] (with a <space> between) gives the TEXT-as-link-to-URL format
    • Will include a 'padlock' icon on (most?) external sites
    • Using an explainxkcd URL (e.g. pointing at a page like an edit-diff one) doesn't add the padlock... May be possible to link to those with [[]], below, but I find it simpler to do it this way, when necessary.
  • Double [[]]s are best used for internal links
    • [[PAGE_TITLE]] (need not use underscore for spaces, but can) links in the form you write...
    • [[PAGE_TITLE|TEXT]] gives you the choice of using alternate text.
    • Because of page-redirects, often a [[COMIC_NUMBER]] or a [[COMIC_TITLE]] will work and send you to the right [[COMIC_NUMBER:_COMIC_TITLE]], but it's good practice to use the latter because some comics are titled with numbers, etc, and if you're not giving substituted link-text it's convention to link (e.g.) 2632: Greatest Scientist visibly explicit like that... ;)
  • {{}} is for invoking Templates
    • Some are unqualified, like {{Citation needed}}
    • But {{TEMPLATE|OPTIONS|...}} is common. e.g.:
    • Other useful templated shortcuts to external sites are {{tvtropes}} (a wiki-in-spirit) and {{wiktionary}}, that require the 'page title' as first parameter and any text-to-link-as optional second. Note that because TVTropesWillRuinYourLife, the TVTropes-linking template is set up to visually warn the possibly compulsive wikiwalker that they may get sucked in and does retain the padlock... ;)
HTH, HAND! 21:02, 14 June 2022 (UTC)
TYVM, 227! I just assumed there'd be a bot that auto-creates templates, for instance, create Template:2632 with contents "2632: Greatest Scientist"...
To close the Petri dish issue, (by the time I got to read tbis) the title text says "... that I left on the rail ..." so it wasn't one of the two hanging from the kite. RIIW - Ponder it (talk) 21:34, 14 June 2022 (UTC)
I noticed that -- two different petri dish "experiments". I don't think that any reference to Einstein's work is suggested/implied by the comic. BunsenH (talk) 15:42, 15 June 2022 (UTC)
As before I agree and removed a new version of it. --Kynde (talk) 11:44, 17 June 2022 (UTC)
Height shadow

I'm not sure which scientist (or probably ancient philosophy) it might be referencing, but I get the direct impression that the first shadow in the spiel (which KarlMann just removed the row for, and I agree that that it was redundant to the latter shadow, insofar as it was written) is directly referencing the principle of using a shadow to calculate height, as indicated by the illustration, as opposed to the 'shadow to calculate radius' of the latter one. 10:19, 14 June 2022 (UTC)

I think you're right, and I may have been a bit hasty. But also, I don't know of any association of that shadow measurement with Eratosthenes. I'd guess that it well pre-dates him (pun not intended). But I have no idea who might have done it first, or whether their name may have been lost to the mists of history, much less any citation to back myself up on this. -- KarMann (talk) 10:23, 14 June 2022 (UTC)
No, not hasty, as Erato's involvement was clearly less useful in that bit (and I take it that the h2 local-horizontal to the dog is a typical Randall-joke comparison to the h1 local-height to the tower-top), and it would just invite reversion to have merely cleared out the existing 'explanation' without something convincing to replace it. And I've nothing convincing (or based upon a definite named historic figure, or even an alleged/fabled one) in my mind, because I imagine the principle is Older Than The Pyramids, possibly back to Babylon/Ur/whatever if not even a hunter-gatherer rule-of-thumb.
(Literally? Making an L with thumb and fingers and touching the thumb onto the end of your nose and sighting the tips of the upheld tips of fingers to a tree you're cutting down is also a pretty decent indicator (a couple of extra strides backwards might be reasonable!) of how far back is a safe distance when felling it. If you don't have that stick often mentioned in the arms'-length method. For some reason... despite being tolerably near at least one tree and having a handy axe available to you... ;) ) 13:23, 14 June 2022 (UTC)
Isn’t the first "shadow" mention an obvious reference to the famous story of how Thales of Miletus (the "Father of Science") measured the height of the Great Pyramid ? Just google "Thales shadow" to get an idea of how widely known the experiment is. This article discusses it in detail. I think the Thales experiment would deserve a mention in the explanation.
I agree, it's a reference to Thales. i'll add a row to the table. 16:39, 15 June 2022 (UTC)
Newton's Gravity

Newton didn't discover Gravity, (as Douglas Adams, as Dirk Gentley, said "they even leave it on at the weekend"). His insight was that there weren't separate Earth, Sun, Moon, Planet, etc gravities, but one Universal Gravity. He also worked out the equations which explain why we don't fall towards the sun. RIIW - Ponder it (talk) 21:50, 14 June 2022 (UTC)

In one of Diana Gabalon's Outlander series of books, one of the lead characters, Claire, reinvents penicillin circa 1770 but she time-traveled from the 1970's or so. Joem5636 (talk) 10:51, 15 June 2022 (UTC)

should it be mentioned that Galileo used pure logic to show that weight doesn't determine the speed of fall? "Two identical bricks would fall side by side; no doubt about that. If a piece of string was tied to them they still would. Shortening the string could not change that. Hence two bricks tied together end to end would fall at the same speed as either brick alone. Now throw away the string and glue the bricks together; no reason appears why this double brick of double weight should fall faster than two bricks tied together—or either one alone"

Black Hat

Am I the only one who thinks the scientist looks like Black Hat if you zoom in closely? Rayrge (talk) 12:39, 26 October 2022 (UTC)