#05 Meet the Snouters! Joe Cain Talks About Jokes in Science | WeAreSTS

WeAreSTS - A Podcast from UCL Department of Science and Technology Studies (STS), hosted by Professor Joe Cain.

For April Fool’s Day, we talk about a famous joke in the history of biology. Dr Rebecca Martin interviews Professor Joe Cain about the snouters. It’s a joke that began with publication of a book in 1961 that told the story of an unusual group of mammals discovered on a remote archipelago in the Pacific Ocean. It was a fiction; a prank; a joke. That joke took on a life of its own as other people retold the joke, embellished it, and translated it into new environments. Joe has done the historian’s job of tracing these paths. He’s also done the sociologist’s job of drawing a lesson about communities and tribes. “Jokes help groups draw boundaries,” he says. “They do social work, and they do intellectual work.” Joe talks about the project in this interview. He also talks more widely about science and technology studies and its value for interpreting science as the work of people like us.

The research paper Joe discusses:

Joe Cain. (2019). In My Tribe: What the Snouters (and Other Jokes) Reveal About Tribes in Science. Endeavour. 43(1-2, March-June 2019): 2-10. DOI 10.1016/j.endeavour.2018.12.001

If access is blocked, read the preprint version (same paper, different format):

https://tinyurl.com/snouter-preprint

Abstract from the Original Paper

This paper tells the history of this famous joke in science: Gerolf Steiner’s invention of the Rhinogradentia using the pseudonym Harald Stümpke. It follows this story from this joke’s creation in the 1940s, to the relabelling of Rhinogradentia as “snouters” in the 1960s, to later use as an inside joke within zoology and taxonomy. Steiner’s original monograph for these imaginary creatures followed standard conventions in taxonomy and did not disclose its fictitious nature. It was a tall tale for specialists to cherish. Later, Steiner’s joke took on a life of its own as his monograph functioned to identify communities of shared understanding and to spot lapses in expertise. This study places Steiner’s story within “jokelore,” arguing the rhinograde narrative has been repeated, shared, extended, and mimicked by diverse groups so they may accomplish either social work or intellectual work within the context of particular tribes and intellectual traditions.

For more examples of jokes in science, including Equus pantomimus and Eoornis petrovylox gobiensis, visit Joe’s site:

https://profjoecain.net/rhinogradentia/

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“WeAreSTS” is a production of the Department of Science and Technology Studies (STS) at University College London (UCL). To find out more, and to leave feedback about the show, visit us online:

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Editing and post-production by Professor Joe Cain.

“WeAreSTS” producer is Professor Joe Cain.

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