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The Funny Side of Science

Some people have the strange idea that science is too straight-laced to be funny. These people are not scientists. True scientists love to tell jokes about themselves. To prove the point (scientists are always trying to prove a point), here is a collection of examples.

Many of these jokes are general enough that they can be understood by everyone. Others require a basic knowledge of the science in question; these will be explained in a note. Some fall between the two. Depending on your background, they may be too specific to be easily understood but not specific enough for the author to feel they need explanation. When you come across such a joke, this is your cue to do some research.

What better way to learn something than to discover why the joke is funny?

General Science

The readers of Ubiquity would of course have a particular interest in jokes about computers. However, science is universal, so let’s start with some general jokes. We will focus specifically on computers in the next section.

Question: What is the difference between mechanical engineers and civil engineers?
Answer: Mechanical engineers build weapons. Civil engineers build targets.

An assistant in the laboratory of noted physicist Ernest Rutherford was a very hard worker. Rutherford noticed this and one evening asked, “Do you work this hard in the mornings, too?” “Yes,” the assistant proudly answered, expecting to be commended. “But then when do you think!” Rutherford exclaimed.

In the mid-19th century, when British Prime Minister William Gladstone met physicist Michael Faraday, he asked him whether his work on electricity would be of any use. “Yes sir,” remarked Faraday with prescience. “Someday you will tax it.”

Besides discovering things about physics, Albert Einstein also taught it. One day a puzzled student came to him and said, “Professor Einstein, the questions of this year’s final examination are the same as last year!” “True,” Einstein replied. “But this year the answers are different.”

It is a fundamental tenet of science that nothing is certain. Whatever we think we know today could be overturned by an unexpected discovery tomorrow. True scientists claim only to give the best description of what has currently been observed and confirmed, never to describe how things really are. This is known as the “Provisionality Principle.” It does not mean that scientific ideas are untrustworthy, just that they are never complete.

A scientist lecturing to a lay audience says according to the latest calculations, in about 5 billion years the Earth will spiral into the Sun and be completely destroyed. A woman in the back row lets out a shriek: “That’s horrible! That’s horrible!” “Madam,” the lecturer asks, “why are you so upset that the Earth will be destroyed 5 billion years?” She replied, “Did you say 5 billion years? Oh, I’m so sorry. I thought you said 5 million!

News bulletin: “It has recently been discovered that research causes cancer in rats.”

Living on Earth may be expensive, but it includes an annual free trip around the Sun.

Teacher: What is the chemical formula for water?
Teacher: What kind of answer is that?
Student: Yesterday you said that the formula for water is H to O?

If H2O is the formula for water, what is the formula for ice? H2O cubed.

The most important thing to learn in chemistry is to never lick the spoon.

After eating his first meal on the Moon, the astronaut reported, “The food was good, but the place lacks atmosphere.”

Computers and Computer Science

An engineer, a mathematician, and a computer programmer are driving down the road when their car gets a flat tire. The engineer says they should buy a new car. The mathematician says they should sell the old tire and buy a new one. The computer programmer says they should drive the car around the block and see if the tire fixes itself.

A computer programmer was drowning at sea. There were many people on the beach who heard him cry out, “F1! F1!”, but no one understood.

Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft, reportedly compared the computer industry with the auto industry, saying, “If General Motors had kept up with technology the way the computer industry has, we would all be driving $25 cars that get 1000 miles to the gallon.” General Motor responded. “True, but don’t forget the drawbacks:”

  1. Your car would probably crash twice a day.
  2. Every time they repainted the lines on the road, you would have to buy a new car.
  3. Your car would occasionally die on the highway for no reason. You would just have to accept this and restart the motor.
  4. Executing a maneuver would occasionally cause your car to stop and fail. You would just have to accept this and re-install the engine.
  5. The oil, gasoline, and alternator warning lights would be replaced by a single “general car default” warning light.
  6. New seats would force everyone to have the same size butt.
  7. The airbag system would say, “Are you sure?” before going into action.

In all fairness, it should be pointed out this is a rather old joke. Although exaggerated, the critique of Microsoft software was more-or-less accurate. It has improved considerably since then.

Why is it programmers always confuse Halloween with Christmas?
Because 31 OCT = 25 DEC.

I changed my password to “incorrect.” So whenever I forget what it is, the computer will say “Your password is incorrect.”

To err is human, but to really screw things up you need a computer.

A TV can insult your intelligence, but nothing rubs it in like a computer.

A clean house is the sure sign of a broken computer.

System administrators have two fundamental problems:

  • Dumb users
  • Smart users

A chemical engineer, electrical engineer, and a Microsoft engineer are on a road trip. The car breaks down. The electrical engineer looks under the hood and can’t find anything wrong. The chemical engineer checks the oil and fuel and can’t find anything wrong. The Microsoft engineer says, “Close all the windows, and try again.”

“Computer Terminology”

  • State-of-the-art: Any computer you cannot afford.
  • Obsolete: Any computer you already have.
  • Microsecond: The time it takes for your state-of-the-art computer to become obsolete.
  • Syntax error: Walking into a computer store and saying, “Hi, I want to buy a computer and money is no object.”
  • Hard drive: The sales technique employed by computer salesmen, especially after a syntax error.
  • Floppy: The state of your wallet after purchasing a computer.
  • Keyboard: The standard way to generate computer errors.
  • Mouse: An input device to make computer errors easier to generate.
  • Portable computer: A device invented to force business people to work at home, on vacation, and on business trips.
  • Crash: The typical computer response to a critical deadline.
  • System update: A quick method for trashing all of your software.

A man flying in a hot air balloon suddenly realizes he is lost. He reduces height and spots a man down below. He lowers the balloon further and shouts to get directions, “Excuse me, can you tell me where I am?” The man below says: “Yes. You’re in a hot air balloon, hovering 30 feet above this field.” “You must work in information technology,” says the balloonist. “I do” replies the man. “How did you know?” “Well,” says the balloonist, “everything you have told me is technically correct, but it’s of no use to anyone.”

There are 10 types of people in the world; those who understand binary, and those who don’t.

Any sufficiently advanced bug is indistinguishable from a feature.

If you don’t recognize it, this is a pastiche of the famous comment by science-fiction author Arthur C. Clark: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

An elephant is a mouse with an operating system.

Programming is like sex: One mistake and you have to support it for the rest of your life.

Applied Science

A priest, a lawyer, and an engineer are about to be guillotined. The executioner puts the priest’s head on the block and pulls the rope, but nothing happens. The priest declares he has been saved by divine intervention, so the executioner lets him go. The lawyer’s head is then put on the block and the rope is pulled; again nothing happens. The lawyer claims he can’t be executed for the same crime twice, so the executioner lets him go. The engineer’s head is now put on the block, but before the rope can be pulled, he looks up and exclaims, “Wait a minute! I think I see the problem!”

At the height of the space race in the 1960s, NASA decided it needed a ball point pen to write in the zero gravity of its orbiting space capsules. After considerable research and development, the “Astronaut Pen” was developed at a cost of about $5 million. The pen worked and the designers were overjoyed. The Soviet Union, faced with the same problem, used a pencil.

A civil engineer thinks his equations are an approximation to reality. A theoretical physicist thinks reality is an approximation to his equations. A pure mathematician doesn’t care.

Engineers know that measurements, however precise, can never be totally accurate. Theoretical physicists are always trying to find equations that accurately describe the real world. Pure mathematicians are interested only in mathematics.

The optimist sees a glass as half full. The pessimist sees a glass as half empty. The engineer sees a glass that is twice as big as it needs to be.

Question: What did one lab rat say to the other?
Answer: I’ve got my scientist so well trained that every time I push this buzzer, he brings me a snack.

Biology and Medicine

Biology is the only science in which multiplication means the same thing as division.

Enzymes are things invented by biologists that explain things that otherwise require harder thinking.

A biology professor puts a frog on this desk and say, “Jump.” The frog jumps. He then cuts off one of the frog’s legs. He again says “Jump” and the frog jumps. He cuts off a second leg, says “Jump” and the frog jumps. He cuts off the third leg, says “Jump,” and the frog jumps. Finally, he cuts off the fourth leg and says “Jump.” This time the frog doesn’t move. “Jump,” he commands; still the frog doesn’t move. Turning to the class, the professor says, “We learn from this experiment that when you cut off all four of a frog’s legs, it suddenly becomes deaf.”

Question: How do you tell the sex of a chromosome?
Answer: Pull down its genes

Question: What is the difference between a general practitioner and a specialist?
Answer: One treats what you have; the other thinks you have what he treats.

After a brain scan, the doctor tells the patient, “I have some bad news and some good news. The bad news,” he says, “is that you have a brain tumor and will die without an immediate brain transplant. The good news is, due to a car accident this morning, two brains are immediately available, one from a rock star and the other from a scientist. The rock star’s brain will cost you $300,000; the scientist’s brain will cost you $30.” Puzzled, the patient asks, “Why is the scientist’s brain so much cheaper?” The doctor replies, “Because it’s been used.”

When the new patient is settled comfortably on the couch, the psychiatrist begins the consultation, “I’m not aware of your problem,” he says, “so perhaps you should start at the very beginning.” “Of course.” the patient replies. “In the beginning, I created the Heavens and the Earth.”

“I see you were last employed by a psychiatrist,” says the interviewer to the applicant. “Why did you leave?” “Well,” she replies, “I just couldn’t win. If I was late to work, I was hostile. If I was early, I had an anxiety complex. If I was on time, I was compulsive.”

Neurotics build castles in the sky.
Psychotics live in them.
Psychiatrists collect the rent.

“A Short History of Medicine”
“Doctor, doctor, I have a stomach ache.”
2000 B.C.E:  “Here, eat this root.”
1000 C.E.:  “That root is heathen; say this prayer.”
1850 C.E..: “That prayer is superstition; drink this potion.”
1940 C.E.: “That potion is snake oil; swallow this pill.”
1985 C.E.: “That pill is ineffective; take this antibiotic.”
2016 C.E.: “That antibiotic is not natural. Here, eat this root.”


Do you want to know something that is faster than light? Darkness.

 Albert Einstein suggested light defines the limit of speed. Nothing can go faster than light.

There was a young lady called Bright,
Who could travel much faster than light,
She departed one day,
In a relative way,
And returned the previous night.

Albert Einstein suggested time travel is theoretically possible, if one could travel faster than light. However, he also said that traveling faster than light probably isn’t possible.

Question: Why shouldn’t followers of the Special Theory of Relativity be taken seriously?
Answer: They fail to see the gravity of the situation.

In his Special Theory of Relativity, published in 1905, Albert Einstein did not really deal with gravity. This occurred in his General Theory of Relativity, published in 1916.

A policeman stops a car being driven by Dr. Werner Heisenberg. “Sir,” he asks, “do you know how fast you were going? “No,” the physicist replies, “but I know exactly where I am.”

Sign in a hotel: “Napoleon slept here. Heisenberg may have slept here.”

The preceding two jokes relate to the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, which states it is impossible to precisely measure both where something is and how fast it is moving. The more precise you are about the one, the less precise you are about the other. This has nothing to do with the accuracy of your instruments. It is a fundamental law of nature, especially noticeable with protons, neutrons, electrons, and other subatomic particles.

Question: What is the difference between a mathematician and a physicist?
Answer: A mathematician thinks two points are enough to define a straight line, a physicist wants more data.

Two atoms bump into each other. “I think I’ve lost an electron!” says one. “Are you sure?” replies the other. “I’m positive.”

Star light, star bright
First star I see tonight
I wish I may, I wish I might
Damn, it’s just a satellite!

This joke is based on an old nursery rhyme. The traditional last line is: “Have the wish I wish tonight.”

A lawyer, an accountant, and a physicist are discussing whether life is better with a wife or with a girlfriend:

Lawyer: “A wife is better because of the family support and the help she will be to your career.”
Accountant: “A girlfriend is better because you can keep your independence and go out with your friends more.”
Physicist: “It’s better to have both. That way, the wife will think you are with the girlfriend and the girlfriend will think you are with the wife, when you are really down at the lab doing experiments!”

Copernicus’s father admonishing his son, “Young man, it’s high time you realize the world does not revolve around you!”

 If a man alone in the forest speaks and his wife cannot hear him, is he still wrong?

This joke is based on the philosophical riddle: If a tree falls in the forest and there is no one there to hear it, does it make a sound? It raises questions regarding observation and reality. For physicists, the answer is yes. Sound is defined as pressure waves moving through the air, so there is no need for anyone to hear the sound for it to exist.

Science and Public Opinion

A student was attempting to show how susceptible we are to “junk science,” i.e. alarmist claims with little or no scientific foundation. He drew up a petition asking people to demand control or total elimination of the chemical substance dihydrogen monoxide. Why? Because it:

  1. Can cause sweating and vomiting.
  2. Can cause severe burns in its gaseous state .
  3. Can cause death through accidental inhalation.
  4. Contributes to erosion.
  5. Decreases effectiveness of automobile brakes.
  6. Is a major component of acid rain.
  7. Has been found in tumors of terminally ill cancer patients.

He asked 50 people if they supported a ban of the chemical. Forty-three said yes, six were undecided, and one burst out laughing. Dihydrogen monoxide is more commonly known as H2O, or water.

The following conundrum has been challenging the knowledge and imagination of the world’s best thinkers for centuries. You may not recognize all the people called upon here to answer this crucial question. If you don’t understand some of their responses, you may wish to do a bit of research. After all, isn’t that what the Internet is for? Tip: start with Wikipedia. This website often gives a thumbnail sketch of the person and his or her achievements before going into details.

“Why did the Chicken Cross the Road?”

Aristotle: It is the nature of chickens to cross roads.

Hippocrates: Because of an excess of phlegm in its pancreas.

Plato: For the greater good.

A.J. Ayer: In the absence of a technique to verify or falsify the assertion that it actually did so, the crossing of the road must be regarded as chickenless.

Thomas Edison: She thought it would be an illuminating experience.

Albert Einstein: Whether the chicken crossed the road or the road moved beneath the chicken depends on your frame of reference.

Nicolas Copernicus: Despite the evidence of your senses, I can show that it is mathematically simpler to describe it as the road passing under the chicken.

Mathematicians are always looking for the simplest way to solve problems. By assuming the Earth orbits around the Sun rather than the Sun around the Earth, Copernicus could much more easily calculate the path of heavily bodies across the sky. His assumption revolutionized astronomy. There is some question whether he actually believed that the Earth orbits around the Sun or just used the assumption as a mathematical convenience.

Charles Darwin: It was the logical next step after coming down from the trees.

J. Doppler: For its effect on passers-by.

Richard Feynman: It didn’t cross the road to the other side. It actually came back to where it started but was momentarily moving backward in time.

Jean Foucault: It didn’t. The rotation of the Earth made it appear to cross the road.

Sigmund Freud: Your concern about the chicken crossing the road reveals your underlying sexual insecurity.

Stephen Hawking: The Big Bang made the universe in such a way that chickens cross roads.

Werner Heisenberg: We are not sure which side of the road the chicken was on, but it was moving very fast.

Edmund Hillary: Because it was there.

Carl Jung: The confluence of events in the cultural gestalt necessitated that individual chickens cross roads at this historical juncture, and therefore synchronicitously brought such occurrences into being.

James T. Kirk: To boldly go where no chicken had gone before.

Isaac Newton:

  • Chickens at rest tend to stay at rest; chickens in motion tend to cross the road.
  • It was attracted to a chicken on the other side of the road.

Wolfgang Pauli: There already was a chicken on this side of the road.

Erwin Schrödinger: The chicken crossed the road and didn’t cross the road simultaneously.

B.F. Skinner: Because the external influences which had pervaded its sensorium from birth had caused it to develop in such a fashion that it would tend to cross roads, even while believing these actions to be of its own free will.

James Watt: It thought it would be a good way to let off steam.

The Sphinx: You tell me.

Grumpy old man: In my day, we didn’t ask why the chicken crossed the road. Someone told us that the chicken crossed the road, and that was good enough for us.

Douglas Adams: Forty-two.

“Light Bulbs”

Question: How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb?
Answer: Only one, but the bulb must really want to change.

Question: How many astronomers does it take to change a light bulb?
Answer: None. Astronomers aren’t afraid of the dark.

Question: How many general relativists does it take to change a light bulb?
Answer: Two. One to hold the bulb while the other one rotates the universe.

This joke depends on Albert Einstein’s assertion that how things happen is influenced by where you are when you observe them, technically known as your “frame of reference.”

Question: How many Microsoft engineers does it take to change a light bulb?
Answer: None. Microsoft has redefined darkness to be the new standard.

Question: How many chiropractors does it take to change a light bulb?
Answer: Just one, but it takes six visits.

Question: How many mathematicians does it take to change a light bulb?
Answer: Approximately 1.000000000000000000.

Question: How many software engineers does it take to change a light bulb?

  • None. It’s a hardware problem.
  • Only one. But it takes him all night and when he has finished, the washing machine no longer works.

Question: How many quantum physicists does it take to change a light bulb?
Answer: They can’t. If they know where the socket is, they can’t find the new bulb.

Question: How many Borgs does it take to change a light bulb?
Answer: Only one. But they all have to be in agreement that the light bulb must be changed to increase efficiency.

This joke will be understood by fans of the “Star Trek” television series.

Question: How many amoebas does it take to change a light bulb?
Answer: 1. No, 2. No, 4. No, 8. No, 16. No, 32 . . . ..

Question: How many archaeologists does it take to change a light bulb?
Answer: Three. One to change it and two to argue about how old the used one is.

Question: How many aerospace engineers does it take to change a light bulb?
Answer: None. It isn’t rocket science, you know.

Question: How many Microsoft support technicians does it take to change a light bulb?
Answer: None. “We have an exact copy of the light bulb here, and it seems to be working just fine.”

Question: How many engineers does it take to change a light bulb?
Answer: Three. One to hold the ladder, one to hold the light bulb, and one to interpret the Japanese instructions.