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Peter Bagge's History Of Science
posted June 22, 2009
: Discover Magazine
, ongoing, single-page installments, monthly
Peter Bagge's one-pagers on famous scientific figures and experiments have been running in Discover
for a few months, long enough I feel safe making some brief summary observations about them. I don't know how most people look at Discover
, but in my family it's always been the one science magazine we keep around at magnificently reduced subscription rates of one kind or another because we're all dumb as rocks about science. I have no idea if people that actually know what they're talking about take it seriously or pay it any attention at all, but it admirably fulfills its role as broad science news advisor in our various, dimwitted households. Peter Bagge's cartoons seem informed but not invested; they tend to focus not on the science itself on the ridiculous egos involved or on the dehumanizing nature of the wobbly steps sometimes taken in the name of enlightenment.
In the one-pager excerpted above, Bagge digs into an experiment to find the causes of malaria where test subjects paid some ridiculous-when-you-think-about-it amount for risking their lives prefer to be in the mosquito group over the "wear clothes dunked in the vomit of sick people" group, only to suffer a reversal of fortune when the test results are known. It's that simple. These are like having Bagge reading you demented stories he's underlined from a big, musty book of abusive scientific practices. I can't imagine people falling in love in them the way you could understand people having almost instant affection for Larry Gonick's non-fiction work, but as a sideshow in a magazine read by people who may have the sneaking suspicion that all science and scientists still work in some modern dress-up version of what we're seeing, it's a pleasure to have in there. In the last one I read, some sort of future-knowledgeable being tries to calm a despondent inventor by noting the modern uses of what he created, but in doing so reveals that there's a second World War coming and frightens him with pictures of the disco era. I don't remember the invention, but I can recall the gag, and that's kind of a science, too.