There’s no book quite like the autobiography, since they are usually biographies with some poor ghost writer having to make an illiterate celebrity (sportsperson) sound interesting. Odd that I’d decide to read an actual autobiography.
Just so we’re clear, this is a book by David Mitchell the comedian, not David Mitchell the award winning author. David Mitchell is a particularly funny comedian from the UK, one part of the Mitchell and Webb team, and Back Story is his tale of growing up and “getting on the tele”. Listening to the audiobook had the added benefit of David telling his story and giving his various rants and jokes the life they deserved.
That’s right, this book is funny from start to finish. Many comedic efforts fail to do this, either trying to squeeze too much out of a one joke premise, failing to be consistent, or having the jokes become tired – more of the same – somewhere in the middle of the book. Ostensibly told as David walks to work one morning, and recounting his life thus far, he manages to pack in a lot of commentary about schooling, university drama societies (Footlights), and the oddities of making shows for TV. And in true David Mitchell style there are plenty of witty insights, comedic rants, and down the barrel jokes to tell the tales.
I generally think that celebrity biographies are symptomatic of what is wrong with publishing and book stores. Someone has gone to a lot of effort to convince the reading public that these celebrities actually wrote the book (because they have heaps of spare time, and are well known for their writing prowess) and that they have something interesting to tell you that the tabloids haven’t already used as filler around those telephoto swimsuit shots. They’ve even managed to convince people that this is what you buy people as gifts, especially Xmas gifts for your dad. I don’t know if this was a big campaign or just one of those things that happened, but it would be great if people could stop pretending that sports people are interesting, are literate, and are actually writing a tell-all-book.
It is probably because David Mitchell is clearly the writer of this book, that the humour and the story told are entertaining yet honest, that I’ve enjoyed this autobiography. Too often in the past I’ve been disappointed with biographies and comedy books, so this was not just a good read, it was refreshingly good.
I don’t get out to commercial gyms that often. My own home setup is a power rack, barbell, a few hundred kilos of plates, some spinlock dumbbells, a bench, and a bike; which is more than many gyms offer. Thus, I only really step into a commercial gym when traveling or if I’m on holiday. But every one of these gyms has a list of people that inhabit them.
The average gym always seems to have these people. I wouldn’t be surprised if they are moving around to each gym, training multiple times a day, every day, all over the country. I doubt they travel internationally, as I’m sure other countries can come up with their own stereotypes. Please note, these stereotypes don’t seem to apply to powerlifting and weightlifting gyms, probably due to screening at the door by a guy that looks like he ate a bouncer.
Skinny guys lifting in the mirror
I think the reason the skinny guys have to watch themselves so closely in the mirror is due to their lack of muscle, thus needing to be closer to see it working.
Woman who clearly doesn’t want to be there
She will usually be wandering around the gym aimlessly, doing as little as possible, sometimes arguing with her personal trainer about not being able to do any more reps, let alone sets.
Guy who clearly doesn’t want to be there
This guy will usually be middle aged and portly, who was driven to the gym and wheeled through the door on a fridge trolley by his physician, with direct instructions to exercise before he drops dead of a cholesterol induced heart attack.
Person busy checking their phone whilst sitting on machine
This has changed over time, as it used to be the person reading a magazine or newspaper, but now with smart phones people can sit on $5,000 worth of equipment for 30 minutes whilst they check their messages and read Buzzfeed.
Resident couple who spend as much time flirting and smooching as working out
You just know that if there weren’t quite so many people around they’d be having sex on every piece of equipment in the gym. Even the tricep machine.
Big fish in small pond
Often fat, but not always, this is the strongest guy in the gym, which is really not saying much because all the other strong people have left for gyms that have more weight plates.
The clueless lifter
Curling in the squat rack, squatting on a bosu ball, turning every exercise machine into a low back and biceps station: someone shoot them and put them out of their misery.
Mr/Ms/Mrs Overly Revealing Clothing
Since skins, yoga pants, string tees and sports bras became a thing, some people have taken advantage of their gym toned and surgically enhanced bodies with a new found love for revealing as much as possible whilst still technically wearing gym clothes.
Usually, but not always, works as a personal trainer and has artfully styled hair that appears to be doubling as a crash helmet for those heavy pressing days.
Because you need makeup in the gym, not to mention dozens of trips to the bathroom to remedy the sweat streaks as the natural enemies duke it out during the workout.
People there to socialize not workout
Usually moving in loud packs discussing how wasted they got on the weekend. Can also be single people flirting with one another, or single people flirting with clearly married people in a vain attempt to get laid.
Front for drug money laundering operation.
Taker of long lunches and caller of meetings to remind people you’re the boss.
The person immediately to the Prime Minister’s right when major announcements are made. Responsible for nodding head in background of TV coverage of the PM making the announcement and the person responsible for any fuck-ups (unless they can be blamed on someone in a government department).
Director of Government Department
In charge of minister publicity stunts and press releases.
Semi-professional fisherman with a once or twice a week day job assigning an apprentice to do some plumbing.
Similar to plumber except with less water and shorter working hours.
The doer of all shit jobs ever imagined and some that were too gruesome to imagine.
Bus driver with lower risk of crashing, better perks, longer hours, and shorter life expectancy due to radiation at altitude.
Press release copy and paste expert.
Writer of articles on topics that they probably haven’t bothered to research, or researched by reading what other columnists and journalists have written.
In charge of making sure others don’t do stupid and annoying shit that will hurt everyone around them. Not to be mistaken for parking meter attendants, nor strippers.
Not to be mistaken for police officers, firefighters, school girls, secretaries, nurses or prostitutes.
Professional liar and manipulator for hire to inanimate objects and services.
The survivors of explosions and experiments that engulfed their high schools in flames, now tasked with finding even more cool ways to blow shit up.
Pro: They are easy to entertain with just about anything.
Con: They want to turn everything you own into a sticky, finger-mark covered, toy.
Pro: They make charming noises as they play, running around being delighted by any and everything.
Con: They make noise the entire time about any and everything, usually at ear splitting volumes.
Pro: You’ll have so many social events to attend that you’ll be flat out partying.
Con: All of those social events involve other people’s toddlers, usually mashing food into the carpet.
Pro: You will have everyone buying your toddler clothes and toys so you won’t have to spend much on clothes and toys.
Con: Everything costs more with a toddler and you won’t be able to walk through your house without tripping over all of the crap your toddler has been given.
Pro: They spend a lot of the day sleeping, so you get plenty of down-time.
Con: You spend most of the day trying to get them to sleep because they refuse to take a nap despite being so tired they just want to cry.
Con: All that down-time is spent cleaning, cooking and basic personal hygiene that can’t be managed whilst the toddler is awake.
Pro: Someday they’ll be grown up and able to support you as you age.
Con: You’ll probably do a crap job of raising them and they’ll decide to put you in a home with only one staring window.
With the rebirth of Cosmos on TV, Neil DeGrasse Tyson and the team have brought science back into the mainstream. No longer is science confined to the latest puff piece on cancer research that is only in the media because a) cancer and b) the researchers are pressuring the funding bodies to give them money. The terms geek and nerd have stopped being quite the derogatory terms they once were. We even have science memes becoming as popular as Sean Bean “brace yourself” memes.
This attention has also cast a light on the scientific process itself with many non-scientists and scientists passing comment on the reliability of science. Nature has recently published several articles discussing the reliability of study’s findings. One article shows why the hard sciences laugh at the soft sciences, with the article talking about statistical errors. I mean, have these “scientists” never heard of selection and sample bias? Yes, there is a nerd pecking order, and it is maintained through pure snobbishness, complicated looking equations, and how clean the lab-coat remains.
As a science nerd, I feel the need to weigh in on this attack on science. So I’m going to tear apart, limb by limb, a heavy hitting article: Cracked.com’s 6 Shocking Studies That Prove Science Is Totally Broken.
To say that science is broken or somehow unreliable is nonsense. To say that peer review or statistical analysis is unreliable is also nonsense. There are exceptions to this: sometimes entire fields of study are utter crap, sometimes entire journals are just crap, sometimes scientists and reviewers suck at maths/stats. But in most instances these things are not-science, just stuff pretending to be science. Which is why I’m going to discuss this article.
A Shocking Amount of Medical Research Is Complete Bullshit
#6 – Kinda true. There are two problems here: media reporting of medical science and actual medical science. The biggest issue is the media reporting of medical science, hell, science in general. Just look at how the media have messed up the reporting of climate science for the past 40 years.
Of course most of what is reported as medical studies are often preliminary studies. You know: “we’ve found a cure for cancer, in a petri dish, just need another 20 years of research and development, and a boatload of money, and we might have something worth getting excited about.” The other kind that get attention aren’t proper medical studies but are spurious claims by someone trying to pedal a new supplement. So this issue is more about the media being scientifically illiterate than anything.
Another issue is the part of medical science that Ben Goldacre has addressed in his books Bad Science and Bad Pharma. Essentially you have a bias toward positive results being reported. This isn’t good enough. Ben goes into more detail on this topic and it is worth reading his books on this topic and the Nature articles I previously referred to.
Many Scientists Still Don’t Understand Math
#5 – Kinda true. Math is hard. It has all of those funny symbols and not nearly enough pie charts. Mmmm, pie! If a reviewer in the peer review process doesn’t understand maths, they will often reject papers, calling the results “blackbox“. Other times the reviewers will fail to pick up the mistakes made, usually because they aren’t getting paid and that funding application won’t write itself. And that’s just the reviewers. Many researchers don’t do proper trial design and often pass off analysis to specialists who have to try and make the data work despite massive failings. And the harsh reality is that experiments are always a compromise: there is no such thing as the perfect experiment.
Essentially, scientists are fallible human beings like everyone else. Which is why science itself is iterative and includes a methods section, so that results are independently confirmed before being accepted.
This illustrates that when you test for something at the 95% confidence interval you still have a 1 in 20 chance of a false positive or natural variability arising in the test. Some “science” has been published that uses this false positive by doing a statistical fishing trip (e.g. anti-GM paper). But there is another aspect, if you get enough samples, and enough data, you can actually get a statistically significant result but not have a significant result. An example would be testing new fertiliser X and finding that there is a p value of 0.05 (i.e. significant) that the grain yield is 50kg higher in a 3 tonne per hectare crop. Wow, statistically significant, but at 50kg/ha, who cares?!
But these results will be reported, published, and talked about. It is easy for people who haven’t read and understood the work to get over excited by these results. It is also easy for researchers to get over excited too, they are only human. But this is why we have the methods and results sections in science papers, so that calmer, more rational heads prevail. Usually after wine. Wine really helps.
Scientists Have Nearly Unlimited Room to Manipulate Data
#3 – True but misleading. Any scientist *could* make up anything that they wanted. They could generate a bunch of numbers to prove that, for an example of bullshit science, the world is only 6000 years old. But because scientists are a skeptical bunch, they’d want some confirming evidence. They’d want that iterative scientific process to come into play. And the bigger that claim, the more evidence they’d want. Hence why scientists generally ignore creationists, or just pat them on the head when they show up at events: aren’t they cute, they’re trying to science!
But there is a serious issue here. The Nature article I referred to was a social sciences study, a field that is rife with sampling and selection bias. Ever wonder why you hear “scientists say X is bad for you” then a year later it is “scientists say X is good for you”? Well, that is because two groups were sampled and correlated for X, and as much as we’d like it, correlation doesn’t equal causation. I wish someone would tell the media this little fact, especially since organic food causes autism.
Other fields have other issues. Take a look at health and fitness studies and spot who the participants were: generally they are university students who need the money to buy tinned beans and beer. Not the most representative group of people and often they are mates with one of the researchers, all 4 of them. Not enough participants and a biased sample: not the way to do science. The harder sciences are better, but that isn’t to say that there isn’t limitations. Again, *this is why we have the methods section, so that we can figure out the limitations of the study.*
The Science Community Still Won’t Listen to Women – Update
#2 – When I first wrote this I disagreed, but now I agree, see video below. As someone with a penis my mileage on this issue is far too limited. That is why it was only when a few prominent people spoke out about this issue that I realised science is no better than the rest of society. It hurts me to say that.
There is still a heavy bias toward men in senior positions at universities and research institutes, women get paid less, women are guessed to be less competent scientists, and apparently it is okay to ogle female scientists’ boobs… Any of these sound familiar to the rest of society? This is gradually changing, but you have to remember what age those senior people are and what that generation required of women (quit when they got married, etc). That old guard may have influence but they’ll all be dead or retired soon where their influence will be confined to the letters to the editor in the newspaper. After seeing the video below, especially the way the question was asked, I think it is clear that the expectations for women create barriers into and through careers in science (the racism is similar and is one I see as a big issue). So it starts long before people get into science, then it continues through attrition.
Fast forward to 1:01:31 for the question and NGT’s answer (sorry, embed doesn’t allow time codes).
Recently there have been a spate of very public sexist science moments. Whether it be telling female scientists they should find a male co-author to improve their science, or Nobel Laureates who don’t want to be distracted by women in the lab, it is clear that women in science don’t get treated like scientists. Which is why I find the Twitter response to the Tim Hunt debacle, #distractinglysexy, to be exactly the sort of ridicule required. Recent events seem to imply at least repercussions are occurring now.
Scientists are meant to be thinkers, they are meant to be smart, they are meant to follow the evidence. They aren’t meant to behave like some cretin who hangs out on the mens rights movement subreddit discussion. Speaking of which, watch science communicator Emily Graslie discuss the comments section of Youtube.
It’s All About the Money
#1 – D’uh and misleading. Research costs money. *This is why we have the methods section, so that we can figure out the limitations of the study.* Money may bring in bias, but it doesn’t have to, nor does that bias have to be bad or wrong. Remember how I said above that science is an iterative process? Well, there is only so big a house of cards that can be built under a pile of bullshit before it falls down in a stinky mess. Money might fool a few people for a while (e.g. climate change denial) but science will ultimately win.
Ultimately, science is the best tool we have for finding out about our reality, making cool stuff, and blowing things up. Without it we wouldn’t be, this article wouldn’t be possible, we wouldn’t know what a Bill Nye smack down looks like. Sure, there is room for improvement, especially in the peer review process and funding arrangements, and science is flawed because it is done by humans, but science is bringing the awesome every day: we have to remember that fact.
I’ll admit it: I did English Literature in high school. I wasn’t particularly good at it. I’ll exclude all my other excuses as to why I didn’t do well in Lit – like my general lack of motivation in school and desperate need to complete the final level of DOOM – and blame my poor grades on the above graphic.
Obviously not the graphic itself, that would be silly. I mean the message that the graphic is trying to relay, and not just that the curtains may be blue. In school and even now, I find that literature is often over-interpreted. I remember clearly one example of this when we were forced to study Shakespeare’s MacBeth. Studying a play by reading it already had me wanting to throw stuff at the teacher, as plays are meant to be watched, not read. But I remember the teacher being adamant that there was a very important juxtaposition and allegory in the comedic scene of the drunken porter.
If you can’t remember this scene in MacBeth, suffice to say it is one big joke about how being drunk makes you pee and ruins erections. Dick jokes never go out of fashion.
Apparently there is a lot of deep and meaningful stuff going on….. Dick jokes can be deep and meaningful. I always thought that MacBeth chucked in that joke scene because the rest of the play was so dark, and it gave his actors a chance to change costumes before the next act. Essentially, I thought that it was just a necessity and the master playwright had made it fun for the audience. My teacher disagreed.
But that is the thing, unless Shakespeare wrote down his intentions, or there are some amazing insights recorded from his time, then it is just conjecture, or playing with themselves. Occam’s Razor would have us take the simplest answer that fits and not try to overcomplicate things.
That isn’t to say that there isn’t deeper meaning in any artistic work, far from it. But a lot of the deeper meaning is about the reader’s projection as much as what is/was written. Take as an example the list that the wonderful Mental Floss put together:
Many famous authors, many misinterpretations.
Now some authors and genres love to go overboard with the hidden meanings, or at least like to make it seem deep and meaningful (see Steve Hely’s satire on this). Some authors just do it accidentally as part of including various themes and ideas in their work. But literary analysis really does take that interpretation to another level.
Essentially, why can’t people just enjoy a book?