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Comedy is Simply a Funny Way of Being Serious

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Ever since I was a kid learning about the history of our country, I’ve loved editorial cartoons. They’ve been a part of American politics since Ben Franklin published “Join or Die”in the Pennsylvania Gazette in 1754. I feel that often, a skilled cartoonist can take an abstract issue and make it personal and emotional considerably more effectively than an essay can. But I never thought I’d be able to bring that passion to UCS.

MisInformation cartoon by Jesse Springer

(c) UCS/Jesse Springer

Then, back in 2005 and 2006, right after UCS started working on scientific integrity, I noticed a lot of cartoonists were touching upon political interference in science. Because cartoons are most effective when they point out the preposterous.

And what could be more preposterous than government officials manipulating, censoring, and distorting scientific information and censoring scientists? (A lot of the links to the old cartoons are no longer live online, but I did find this good one from Tom Toles).

Now unfortunately, I can’t draw more than stick figures, and few of my colleagues can do any better. So we decided to ask you, the public, to give us your creative take on this issue, in a contest we called “Science Idol.” Hundreds of cartoons poured in, and when all was said and done, we decided that we had enough material for a wall calendar. It was a big hit, and it gave us a great opportunity to raise awareness about the importance of scientific integrity in government in a brand new–and completely accessible–way. (See some of my favorites from previous years here).

We’ve continued the calendar tradition every year since. For the past couple of years, we’ve gone back to some of the cartoonists who entered our contest in the past and asked them to tackle specific topics. This year, we asked them to focus on the ways in which special interests confuse the public and policy makers, delaying governmental action that would protect public health, safety, and the environment.

In early August, we announced twelve contestants for this year’s contest and gave people on our action network the chance to vote for their favorite. I’ll be announcing the winner soon on this blog.

In the meantime, for you early birds out there, pre-order a 2012 UCS cartoon calendar by Labor Day and you’ll get a 20% discount.

And I do think British actor Peter Ustinov was right: Comedy is simply a funny way of being serious.

CensorMatic Cartoon

This cartoon was a finalist in the first UCS cartoon contest. Copyright UCS/Katie Sakelsky

Posted in: Scientific Integrity Tags: , ,

About the author: Michael Halpern is an expert on political interference in science and solutions to reduce suppression, manipulation, and distortion of government science. See Michael's full bio.

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