Why A Scientist Is Apologizing For A Picture Of Meat

To Callum Roberts, professor of marine conservation at the University of York, one question is particularly important: "What's a physicist's favorite food? Fission chips" (per The Guardian). When you think about scientists, silliness might not be the first thing that comes to mind. But, think again. David Colquhoun, professor of pharmacology at the University College London, asks, "Why did the chicken cross the Möbius strip? To get to the other... eh? Hang on..."

In 2014, humor spoof-news publication The Onion published an article titled "Psychology Comes To Halt As Weary Researchers Say The Mind Cannot Possibly Study Itself." The American Psychological Association took to Twitter to respond — and it said the article was pretty funny. "Psychologists have studied humor for decades," the APA joked. In fact, in a 1988 WIRED article, it was noted that the typographic sideways smiley face, written ":-)," was formally introduced by Carnegie Mellon professor Scott E. Fahlman, who proposed that folks use the "character sequence for joke markers," in 1982.

Today's science community might be wicked smart but, judging by recent events, it might not always know how to take a joke. Étienne Klein (a physicist and director at France's Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission) is facing backlash for a joke — and a super silly joke at that (via CNN). Last week, Klein posted a close-up picture of a slice of chorizo, saying it was an interspace photo captured by NASA's James Webb Space Telescope — and not everyone is laughing. 

Meat the hottest item in space today

Klein captioned the tweet, "Picture of Proxima Centauri, the nearest star to the Sun, located 4.2 light years away from us. It was taken by the James Webb Space Telescope. This level of detail... A new world is unveiled everyday" (translated by CNN). Not only did people buy it, they ran with it. The tweet has since received 13.3K likes, with one user praising it as a "New frontier in #SciArt." Another calls the post "great genius," and others joke along with comments like "putting the astronomy in gastronomy" and "#ChorizoGate."

Chorizo, a spicy Spanish pork sausage (BBC), is deep red with white flecks, which vaguely resembles a close-up photo of a red dwarf star — like Proxima Centauri, the nearest star to Earth, says NASA. About the original tweet, Klein jokes, "Well, when it's cocktail hour, cognitive bias seem to find plenty to enjoy... Beware of it."

But, not everyone appreciates the humor. One Twitter user calls the tweet a "calamity," and another goes as far as writing, "Can't believe you anymore... " Klein, though, explains the tweet's intention: "In view of certain comments, I feel obliged to specify that this tweet showing an alleged picture of Proxima Centauri was a joke. Let's learn to be wary of the arguments from positions of authority as much as the spontaneous eloquence of certain images." 

Tech journalist Mike Elgan isn't impressed by the critics, either, commenting "everyone is a humorless bore now."