A group of scientists crash on a desert island on the way back from a conference. Quickly, they each decide to start doing something to help the group survive until they're rescued, using their own individual skills. In the group are an engineer, a biologist, a mathematician and a tenured research scientist.
"I know," says the engineer, "I'll build a shelter, and start looking for a water source. Maybe start digging a well."
"Okay," says the biologist, "I'll check whether the water's likely to be drinkable, and I'll do a quick audit of the local flora and fauna, and see what's edible and what's poisonous. I'll also keep a look out for signs of any wild pigs that we might be able to trap and eat."
"Fine," says the mathematician, "I'll stocktake our supplies and work out how long they're likely to last and how we should ration them, and I'll also try to work out where we are, what side of the island we ought to use for our signal beacon, and the best location for it, for maximum visibility."
All this time, the academic researcher has been shaking his head, until he can't contain himself any longer. "You're all crazy!", he shouts.
The others look at him, blankly, and wait for him to explain.
"You guys honestly don't have a clue, do you?", says the academic. "All of these plans are totally impractical. Let me point out a few basic facts here that you all seem to have forgotten. We're lost. We're probably hundreds of miles from the nearest shipping lane. Nobody knows we're here. We have no working communications equipment, and even if we did, we have no electricity to power it."
"So how the hell are we supposed to submit the research proposals for all this work?"
Why String Theory is Still Not Even Wrong - John Horgan recently sent me some questions, and has put them and my answers up at his Scientific American site, under the title Why String Theory is Still...
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