JUNE 20, 2005

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By Patrick Francis

Who is the greatest scientist of them all? With no objective way of comparing scientists from different disciplines and eras the debate has raged for time immemorial leading to more than one disagreement, most notably the 1982 Falkland Islands war which began when Margaret Thatcher refused to even consider General Leopoldo Galtieri’s claim that Jonas Salk was one bitchin’ scientist. Luckily modern society has produced the perfect measure of a scientist’s greatness: the no holds barred cage match in which combatants are locked in a steel cage and exhorted by blood thirsty on-lookers to fight until only one remains standing. History’s greatest mind has now been decided via a single elimination cage match tournament from which one undisputed champion has emerged bloody, unbeaten and victorious over 31 other aspiring savants.

Tragically the tournament was marred almost as soon as it began by a devastating explosion that destroyed half of the Midwest regionals. Einstein, widely regarded as a lightweight in the competition due to his strong pacificism and the incomprehensibility of his work with general relativity, seemingly fell victim to his hereto-unknown competitive streak and snuck a small nuclear device into the cage; detonating it in the middle of his match-up with Descartes. The ensuing explosion killed not only Descartes and Einstein but also Rutherford and Copernicus who were to fight next in a highly anticipated contest. After an agonizing debate, the tournament’s organizing committee decided to continue on with the competition saying, with a reportedly straight face, “…while the accident has been a tragic waste of life the tournament, by finally laying to rest who is the greatest scientist of all-time, will no doubt save countless future lives.”

Outside of a minute of silent remembrance prior to each remaining match-up, the first round was generally unremarkable. In particular Newton’s victory over Dalton and Arrhenius’ win against Stokes were dull, lifeless affairs. Even the forecasted jewel of the first round, Galileo v. Watson & Crick, failed to live up to its billing as the discoverers of the double helix couldn’t quite put their much ballyhooed theoretical work in the area of Brazilian jiu-jitsu into practice and were thoroughly whipped by Galileo in a bout lasting only 2 minutes.

The only truly memorable opening round fights were the shocking upset of Mendel by the unheralded Alexander Fleming and the disqualification of Niels Bohr. Disheartened by having his work on the inheritance of traits in pea plants go largely ignored during his lifetime, Mendel seemed despondent and only landed a handful of lackluster blows before finally succumbing to the inspired performance of the discoverer of penicillin. In the oddest match of the day Bohr was disqualified after being charged with spitting at Linus Pauling. It was a disgusting lack of sportsmanship that was uncharacteristic of Bohr, generally regarded as one of the more gentlemanly scientists. In a tear filled post-match press conference Bohr blamed his actions on the stresses associated with quantum theory as well as a diet-pill addiction.

The tournament lived up to its hype in the second round with an epic fight between Newton and Pauling. Many pundits had these two men as contenders for the crown and it was only due to an unlucky draw that they had to fight so early in the tournament. It was a tight fight throughout with both fighters showing moments of sheer brilliance and dazzling creativity. Pauling began the match by introducing Newton to the concepts of electronegativity and hybridization. This clearly intrigued Newton who stopped his advance and began to stroke his chin thoughtfully allowing Pauling to reach into the crowd and retrieve his Nobel Peace prize, which he then used to beat Newton about the face. Newton was able to escape the blows and amazingly climbed to the top of the cage before dropping onto his stunned opponent while screaming, “Eat gravity!” This was the beginning of the end for the author of the seminal work The Nature of the Chemical Bond as he was pinned moments later.

In another clash, Darwin was upset by a tenacious Pasteur. Darwin had shown both grace and athleticism in his first round victory over Ptolemy but against Pasteur he seemed disorientated and made frequent attempts to escape from the cage before ultimately falling to the Frenchman who accentuated his victory by standing over the father of evolutionary theory and exclaiming, “You’ve been Pasteurized!” Later, his coach explained that Darwin had insisted on employing a multi-generational breeding strategy whereby he and his offspring mated with the world’s toughest women. Darwin felt that this strategy, combined with a smear campaign that claimed Pasteur suffered from syphilis, was unbeatable. Unfortunately Darwin’s coach was unable to convince him of the plan’s shortcomings, most notably its overly long timescale.

The shock of the day was the emergence of Marie Curie as a force to be reckoned with. After a boring first round victory over Volta, Curie seemed to have transformed herself overnight into a charismatic and stylish fighter. Displaying a fighting technique that could only have been developed after repeated and careful viewings of the Karate Kid trilogy, Curie was able to completely dominate Werner Heisenberg who, when he was able to locate his fleet-footed opponent, seemed to consistently misjudge her momentum. Curie’s precision attacks and lightning fists wore down the befuddled Heisenberg, an early favorite after his clinical dismantling of Linnaeus, and her whimsical approach to the match made her a fan favorite; at the end of the bout, with the great German lying unconscious in a bloody heap, Curie took the time to sign autographs and tenderly blow a kiss to an ardent fan who had earlier yelled out a marriage proposal. She then returned to business, laying a bone-crunching pile driver into the prone physicist’s lower back.

In other action, the Leakey family was too much for Galileo to handle. While the later displayed some grit and hustle he was outnumbered and tired visibly over the duration of the battle, finally falling to the threesome as Faraday had before him. Freud also progressed with a rather pedestrian victory over Arrhenius, which, because of the first round tragedy, put him directly into the semi-finals. Other winners on the day were Mendeleev whose sheer power garnered much attention and Planck who, in a slight upset, defeated Aristotle. It was later revealed that the Greek philosopher had been suffering from a stomach flu ever since his victory over van Leeuwenhoek the day before; this could have affected his performance.

The quarter-finals saw some great grappling. In particular the fight between the Leakey family and crowd favorite Marie Curie was a battle for the ages. Curie came out strong and, in stark contrast to Galileo who focused all his efforts on Louis, employed a strategy of attacking whoever was within striking range. Seemingly garnering strength from her numerous supporters in the crowd, most of whom were wearing “Marie Curie: Rocking the Bitches since 1867 “ t-shirts, Curie was able to knock Louis unconscious near the end of round 3. Curie continued her onslaught taking down Richard with a swift kick to the head and things looked bleak for Mary. However, just as she had discovered Parathropus boisei at Olduvai gorge, Mary found some hidden reserves of energy and began to turn the tide on Curie eventually defeating her in what had become a marathon match. Even with their sweetheart defeated the crowd was unbowed in their support for the great lady and cheered wildly when she raised a defiant fist from the stretcher that was carrying her from the arena. On a curious note Freud was seen in the crowd furiously scribbling down notes throughout the battle.

On the other side of the bracket Planck faced Mendeleev in a comparatively toned down affair. Planck in particular looked tentative as an ankle injury picked up in his opening match against Avogadro was clearly affecting his movement. It also became increasingly apparent that Planck would have rather been wrestling with the implications of the statistical nature of the second law of thermodynamics, particularly the finite probability that entropy decreases over time in a closed system, than with the powerful Russian. For his part Mendeleev showed awesome concentration and focused all his attention on his opponent as opposed to the ordering of elements by their atomic weights, finishing the bout by lifting Planck above his head before throwing him against the side of the cage with tremendous force.

In the final contest of the day Pasteur was thoroughly outclassed by Newton. Ironically Pasteur, who had spent the lead up to the fight telling anyone willing to listen that he was going to “beat down Newton just like I beat down the theory of spontaneous generation” and had developed a reputation for arrogance, was unsure of himself and in the infrequent moments when he seemed to gain the upper-hand was unable, or unwilling, to press his advantage. In the end Newton emerged victorious after a powerful blow to the knee sent Pasteur to the mat for good.

The semi-finals showcased both the ability of men of science to think creatively and their skill at hand-to-hand combat. The first match was between the Leakey Family and Sigmund Freud. In the lead up to the tournament Freud had had to deal with many critics who questioned his status as a true scientist and he felt that this was his chance to show just what Psychology is made of. It was expected that Freud would stick with the Greco-roman wrestling that he had used to much success versus Archimedes and Arrhenius; however, he shocked the crowd by instead deploying a cunning combination of psychoanalysis and hypnosis. The Leakeys seemed confused by this surprise tactic and took up a defensive posture from the outset. Slowly, over a period of hours, Freud was able to break down some of the family’s barriers and was able to get them to open up. Louis, in particular, was an enthusiastic participant in the discussions and at one point started to relate his dreams. The final blow came when Freud deployed his Oedipal theories; this left the family in tears, unable to go on with the fight.

The other match-up was an exciting contest between Newton and Mendeleev. The latter, wanting to finish the fight quickly, opened with a series of powerful blows and did not let up for the remainder of the fight. By the sixth round it seemed Mendeleev’s potent attacks were wearing down Newton’s defenses and when the round ended it came as a great relief to Newton who looked to be on the verge of defeat. As the 7th round began Mendeleev made a crucial error and taunted Newton, declaring that Leibniz had in fact been the true progenitor of calculus. Upon hearing this, Newton flew into a rage and flung himself at the startled Mendeleev who, realizing his mistake, was powerless to stop the enraged physicist and quickly succumbed to the onslaught, turtling in a corner of the ring. It was a pathetic display from a man rumoured to have trained for the competition by wrestling bears in his native Siberia and the referee quickly put an end to the fight. Newton, still visibly upset, charged out of the cage and stormed into his dressing room where he reportedly caused several thousand dollars worth of damage.

And so from a field of 32 two emerged to battle for the title of history’s greatest scientist: Sir Isaac Newton and Sigmund Freud. Worthy competitors who, over the course of the tournament, had truly shown what it takes to be a great man of science: a single-minded drive to uncover the truth and a high pain threshold. Once again Freud opted for a new strategy, opening the match by serenely stating one of his many contributions to science: “Complications during birth are not the cause of cerebral palsy but rather a symptom.” Intrigued, Newton retorted by simply naming one of his inventions, “the reflecting telescope.” Freud countered with, “Psychoanalysis,” to which Newton replied, calmly, “the law of cooling.” Freud, by this point sweating and uncomfortable, then tried a multi-faceted attack, “the id, ego and superego as well as the concept of the unconscious.” This attack was brushed aside easily by Newton with the powerful rebuttal, “binomial theory, the laws of motion and conservation of momentum.” Freud was clearly shaken by this latest blow but the worst was yet to come as Newton, in a clear voice, declared, “And gravity.” With that the crowd erupted and Freud staggered backwards.

Freud then abandoned his initial strategy, tore off his spectacles and tweed jacket revealing a brightly coloured spandex body suit with yellow lightning stripes down the side and threw himself at Newton whose frilly shirt and heavy shoes clearly hampered his movements. Initially Newton seemed shocked at this onslaught, but, just as he had no trouble besting Freud’s achievements, the part-time alchemist was easily able to deflect the Austrian’s weak attacks. As it became more and more evident that he was thoroughly outmatched, Freud became desperate, finally pointing behind Newton and exclaiming, “Look, the Holy Trinity!” Newton did not fall for the cheap tactic and responded by placing Freud into a sleeper hold from which the psychologist never escaped. As Freud slipped unconscious from his grasp, Newton raised his arms triumphantly and placed the ceremonial garland about his neck basking in the adulation of the cheering crowd who rose as one to applaud history’s greatest scientist.

Patrick Francis is freakishly strong. However, his fighting technique is almost as bad as his dancing and so he would probably perform poorly in any sort of cage match. Also, he likes pie.
For those that prefer a print version, please download our beautiful pdf file.

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(part ii pdf)

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