Box 1. "In this house we obey the laws of thermodynamics"

From the following article:

Science in comedy: Mmm... pi

Michael Hopkin

Nature 448, 404-405(26 July 2007)



The Top Ten science moments in The Simpsons, as chosen by Nature's editorial staff

"Bart's comet": After sabotaging a weather balloon, Bart accidentally discovers a comet about to hit Springfield. Deep impact miraculously avoided, bartender Moe comes up with a new form of planetary defence: "Let's go burn down the observatory so this will never happen again."

Inherit my shorts: In the episode "The Monkey Suit," the Simpsons' pious next door neighbour Ned Flanders is flabbergasted that the science museum's exhibit on the origins of man both highlights evolution and makes light of creationism — and, to top it all, has a unisex bathroom.

Science in comedyMmm... pi 

Professor Frink divides the circumference by the diameter.

Mmmmm GMOs: Homer's attempts to be a farmer in "E-I-E-I-(Annoyed Grunt)" involve using plutonium as a fertilizer. DNA from tobacco seeds and tomato seeds blend to produce a fruit that tastes like ashtray, but is nonetheless "refreshingly addictive".

Thank you, Andrew Wiles: In a Halloween episode two-dimensional Homer travels to the third dimension, which looks a lot like "that movie Tron", but with more equations. Writer David X. Cohen was responsible for the funniest and geekiest: 178212 + 184112 = 192212, an incorrect disproof of Fermat's last theorem produced by a computer program Cohen wrote for the purpose.

"Bye bye nerdie": Lisa isolates the element in nerd sweat that makes them irresistible targets for bullies. She presents her data at a conference with luminaries including former surgeon general C. Everett Koop, a scene in which we find the true purpose of a science pole.

Better living through chemistry: "Thank goodness I still live in a world of telephones, car batteries, handguns and many things made of zinc," says Jimmy, a character in an educational film. When confronted with a world without zinc he attempts suicide but fails, as his zinc-free gun cannot work.

Piltdown angel: In "Lisa the Skeptic" an almost complete human skeleton with angel's wings pits science — Lisa and guest star Stephen Jay Gould — against faith, as defended by Ned Flanders: "Science is like a blabbermouth who ruins a movie by telling you how it ends. Well I say that there are some things we don't want to know. Important things!"

Trips to Stockholm: In another Halloween episode, chemistry Nobel prizewinner Dudley Herschbach appears on the show to present Professor Frink with a Nobel prize of his own. Herschbach won the prize for crossed-molecular-beam techniques with which to study in detail the dynamics of chemical reactions. Frink is rewarded for reanimating his dead father.

Forensics files: DNA evidence in "Who Shot Mr. Burns" correctly identifies the assailant as a member of the Simpson family (Maggie, the baby, as it turned out). There were alternative endings, but to accept them would have meant ignoring "the Simpson DNA evidence". "And that," a narrator informs the audience with a nervous laugh "would be downright nutty".

Perpetually funny: In "The PTA Disbands", Lisa gets so bored by a lack of schooling she builds a perpetual motion machine. Homer is not pleased: "Lisa, in this house we OBEY the laws of thermodynamics."

Brendan Maher