How about in 7 words? Or however many words, but rattled in under 24 seconds?
By far the most entertaining part of every Ig Nobel prize ceremony (see The Thinker, the Stinker and the Farting as a Defense Against Unspeakable Dread) is the 24/7. Each speaker has 24 seconds to introduce his or her research and then, in as many (or as little) as 7 words give a rendition of its essence.
Speak of brevity! Hilarious 24 seconds of impenetrable jargon followed by 7 words of comprehensible hilarity… all in the name of the improbable scientific research.
Paul Krugman’s (2008 Nobel Prize in Economics) spent his allotted 24 seconds to recite this:
Given decentralized constrained optimization by maximizing agents with well-defined convex objective functions and/or convex production functions, engaging in exchange and production with free disposal, leads, in the absence of externalities, market power, and other distortions, there exists an equilibrium characterized by Pareto optimality.
Let this stuff simmer in your amygdala nuclei for a moment, and only then transport it to the proximity of the frontal lobe. I did and, curious about the meaning of Pareto optimality, looked it up. The gist of it, in a few more words than 7: No one can be made better off without making at least one individual worse off.
Paul Krugman’s 7-word summary is both brilliant and simple: “Greedy people, competing, make the world go round.”
Succinctly put. However, there are 8 words in this sentence, and Krugman consented to drop the word competing. If it were up to me, I’d drop the article.
Scientist Erika Ebbel Angle condensed the essence of mass spectrometry in these 7 words: “It weights the bits in your gunk.”
Can Arsenic Sustain Life? was the topic of the improbable research conducted by Sir Richard “Rich” Roberts, British molecular biologist (1993 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine). Sir Richard disavowed arsenic-based life in exactly 7 words and with unimpeachable logic: “Only assholes believe arsenic can support life.”
Although, if I were a titled Englishman, improbably researching arsenic as life’s sustenance, I’d say, “Only arse believes arsenic can support life.” I think it would sound awfully classy and dreadfully British, no? Wikipedia defines arse as British English vulgarism for the buttocks, equivalent to ass in American English. But then again, ass or arse, Sir Richard managed just fine without my help, and he sounded properly British, too.
And, lastly, Dr. Kate Clancy, Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Illinois, had these 7 words to say about her field of research: Vaginas should smell like vaginas, not flowers.
Dum-de-dum-dum… I can only imagine Dr. Clancy’s 24 seconds of impenetrable jargon. Follow the hyperlink to read her own humble account of her participation in the event.
Who would’ve thought that scientists can compete with writers in brevity of narrative, clarity of descriptions and hilarity of presentation? And — in their spare time — have a scientific research going, both improbable and very plausible…