As promised, the science joke. It usually opens with some sort of problem (anything really), in which a scientist is brought in to solve the conundrum. The punchline then follows with the scientist proclaiming “I have the solution! But it requires spherical chickens in a vacuum” (where chicken can be replaced for something more contextually appropriate).

Basically, the joke is that scientists can theoretically solve anything, but the practical application of their work is often hindered greatly by physical effects (such as resistance, gravity, etc.). Hence, spherical chickens (a sphere having equal distribution of forces applied on its surface) and in a vacuum (where there is no resistance). More broadly, and in the context of my previous post where I mentioned this joke, it refers to the need to make some simplifying assumptions for any science to be done at all. There’s no way to make any sort of progress by accounting for everything at the same time (which is why there still isn’t a grand unified theory). Some might say this undermines the credibility of science. I claim the exact opposite – it’s so precise that it only works in certain situations; but when you combine different scientific models/theories, you get a whole bunch of really accurate explanations that can account for a much wider range of scenarios. It’s certainly more academic to limit your parameters than to say “oh yeah, it works for everything; no explanation required”.

This nerdy joke has appeared on The Big Bang Theory.