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LETTERS TO THE EDITORS

Cartoonish Science

To the Editors:

For many years I have benefited from and enjoyed reading American Scientist. It is one of the science magazines that exemplify effective communication with the nonscientific community, which is necessary for everyone’s well-being. But to be effective, such communication must be done without offending the audience at which it is directed. The “Dr. Beeker” cartoon, on page 466 of the November–December issue of American Scientist, failed in this regard.

The cartoon shows a scientist dressed in laboratory gear, wearing glasses, working with pen and paper. He looks with astonishment at a sailor dressed in work clothing, who jerks his thumb at himself as he barks out that he’s a bosun. This depiction of the sailor appears to ridicule him.

A good friend of mine, named Higgs, served the last two years of World War II aboard a United States submarine in the Pacific Ocean as an enlisted man, not unlike Bosun Higgs in the cartoon. We had previously spoken of the importance and fame that has recently been associated with that name. Upon seeing the cartoon I immediately thought of sharing it with him. But I quickly realized that the pun on “boson” is conveyed at the expense of the bosun, who is portrayed by the cartoonist as ignorant—implying that the real joke is on anyone who hasn’t been lucky enough to access higher education and the class-based social mores that come with it. Publications such as American Scientist must choose material carefully if scientists are to improve our relations with the public.

Alan Bruns
Lancaster, PA



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