A series of cartoons that capture science’s 'rich diversity of weirdness'

Jan 10, 2016

Every month, Harper’s magazine contributing editor Rafil Kroll-Zaidi combs the journals for science’s most fascinating — and flummoxing — facts. He collects those facts in a column called Findings.

Part science journalism and part poetry, you might think of Findings as a news ticker for science’s most hilarious ephemera

The findings include one-liner facts such as “Czech and German deer still do not cross the Iron Curtain” and “Vanilla yogurt gives mice glossier coats and larger testicles.”

Now compiled in one place, the book lists short obscure scientific facts, accompanied by cartoon illustrations. Some have described the “Findings” as poetic, funny and fascinating. Kroll-Zaidi says he’s trying to make us laugh about science as well as give us an appreciation for the world we live in. 

“The idea was just that there is such a rich diversity of weirdness in these facts and these discoveries. It would be remiss not to present a visual interpretation of them as well,” Kroll-Zaidi says. 

Kroll-Zaidi says he’s also poking fun at a certain kind of science journalism.

“In a gentle way, I hope,” Kroll-Zaidi says. “There's a lot of clickbait out there there, and there's a great love in the media for oversimplifying a lot of studies or taking, especially, psychology studies and really running with them.

"I sometimes buy into that myself. I mean I sometimes present the silliest, sort of most reductive version of a scientific discovery. And other times I'll try to fight that and actually get behind what might be a very sort of broad headline to an incredibly specific aspect of of how a study was done.”

The Findings column in Harper’s magazine remains popular, and Kroll-Zaidi says he doesn’t usually get scientists angry at him. It is, however, easy to misinterpret scientific studies. 

“There are so many studies out there that on the face of them can be made to sound ridiculous.

If you're a member of Congress and you want to attack science funding then you can say, ‘Well, why do we need to study the effect of cocaine on the sexual habits of male quail?’ Well, it’s because quail have been used in these studies for nearly a century so it's a fine way to look at cocaine addiction,” Kroll-Zaidi says. “You could look through any database and just the title of of a study will give you enough to go on.”

This article is based on an interview that aired on PRI's Science Friday.