Why I’m not spoofing Jenks

In a way, I’m a fan of Simon Jenkins’ work- it always provides easy blog fodder whenever he ventures into science commentary. His latest piece on the BBC’s Reith lectures painted a patently ludicrous comparison with a Soviet Academy, while the safety fears over flying through the Icelandic ash cloud were reminiscent of a McCarthyism of fear. Thoroughly daft exaggeration in my humble opinion, and worthy of a little satire.

The physicist Jon Butterworth is clearly of the same opinion, and posted a spoof Simon Jenkins piece on his Life and Physics blog, which then inspired Jennifer Rohn to declare Monday “Spoof Jenkins Day”- which quickly spread around the sciencey areas of the twitter-sphere. There is a summary of the resulting posts on Jennifer Rohn’s blog.

I know it’s intended as fun, but it just doesn’t feel right. One spoof post, if done well, is fine, but I firmly believe in attacking the ideas, rather than the people behind them. This post on the In the Dark blog is just unpleasant.

Satire takes skill and subtlety. This mass effort, though producing some gems, smacks too much of personal vendetta to my taste. Sorry folks.

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12 Comments on “Why I’m not spoofing Jenks”


  1. [...] Of course not everyone agrees with the personal nature of some of the counterattacks, such as this blogger, who explains why he will not be spoofing Sir Simon on this [...]

  2. telescoper Says:

    Sorry you found my post unpleasant. It was meant to be funny. As a scientist, I dislike being called a “thief” by an idiot like Simon Jenkins and I think he deserves to be on the receiving end.

  3. Piv Says:

    Poor effort.

  4. vishal kalel Says:

    I completely agree with your views.
    In fact Jenkins article didn’t anger me much than the childish personal spoofing attacks on him by none other than Scientists!
    So I wrote this post on my NN blog “Scientists are fallible. No.. they are stubborn too..!” http://bit.ly/9zgrgl
    With your views, I am relieved to know that sanity still remains in scientific minds..
    We should gather courage to cleanse our dirty yards..


  5. I have to disagree with your assessment of the #SpoofJenks day and the In the Dark post in particular.

    The whole day was offered and conducted in a spirit of fun – there were none of the vicious ad hominem attacks that regularly litter the comment threads on blogs (e.g. those regularly found beneath Jenkins’ rants against science).

    [I would also point out that you yourself characterised Jenkins' attack on science as 'mindless' in your previous (very good!) post. ;-)]

    It was a very playful, good humoured event, partly inspired by the failure of earlier, more serious attempts to engage with the journalist. For sure it is important to engage with the ideas but I think in a funny way (both senses), we were doing just that. If people see the ridicule that Jenkins’ piece inspired from the scientific community, they might think twice when reading his stuff in the future. As you pointed out yourself, Jenkins is an unreliable reporter on science and it is our duty to point that out.

    In the Dark’s post (http://telescoper.wordpress.com/2010/06/28/please-help-simon/) was, in my opinion, a razor sharp piece of satire – and clearly meant as such. OK, perhaps not to everyone’s taste, but it was to mine. Then again, I enjoy “The Thick of It” and nothing written yesterday came close to that level of bite.

    Best, Stephen

    • James Hayton Says:

      Thanks for the comment, but I should point out that I called his article and his argument mindless- this is not meant as a personal attack on the man himself.

      I disliked his attack on Rees, and on scientists in general, but somehow it felt like a line was crossed in some of the spoof Jenks pieces too.


  6. [...] noticed, I therefore just went for straight mockery. A few people seem to have liked my piece, but at least one blogger found it “unpleasant”. You can’t win ‘em [...]

  7. alice Says:

    Agree. Didn’t feel right to me either. Even without the death refs, I never like people laughing at other for stupidity.

    That’s why I linked to Tom’s one on twitter, I think he turned it in on itself – http://therearenoscientists.blogspot.com/2010/06/ladies-and-gentlemen-i-give-you-lord.html

    I liked Jon’s first one too, then it just seemed a bit much. I can see how it made people feel better, but surely that’s better kept to the pub?

    • James Hayton Says:

      Thanks Alice. I think the idea of “showing that we scientists have a sense of humour” only works if we take the piss out of ourselves. Jenny Rohn has said “the gloves are off” following Jenkins’ attack on Rees, but surely some self-moderation is needed. As far as I know Jenkins could be a nice bloke with some strange views. I know plenty!

  8. NotOneButTwo Says:

    There is a rather clear distinction between individuals enjoying the exercise of writing spoof pieces that make fun of Simon Jenkins’ views, and a coordinated campaign to do the same thing. Beneath that joking facade, there lies a rather nasty aspect of mob mentality, which is really quite unpleasant. What is perhaps even more worrying is that many of those who took part will be entirely unaware of the undertone and will express innocence and outrage that anyone could suggest such a thing.

    As has already been pointed out, there is also more than a little irony that many people argue that Jenkins only writes his articles as an ego trip designed to provoke a reaction, but they then go on to craft entertaining entries on their blogs that at some level are… an ego trip designed to provoke a reaction. Playing him at his own game? Maybe. Or maybe just hypocrisy. And maybe the reason for some of the annoyance is that he gets paid for his.


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