The Sciences

Brian Cox: Naked chimp

Bad AstronomyBy Phil PlaitNov 7, 2010 3:43 PM


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I love social networking on the internet. All the usual reasons apply here, but I also get an added bonus: I find a lot of interesting stories I can write about when I surf places like Fark, reddit, and so on. I also read the site BuzzFeed to get my daily nerd-meme info. At the bottom of the page they have a list of five interesting stories becoming popular. Today, I was a bit surprised to see this one:

[Click to emprimatenate.] Uhhhh, what? For those who don't know, that's Professor Brian Cox, an English physicist and TV science documentary host... and also a friend of mine. Over the years I've seen Brian in a varied number of states, and while he does look all too human, I can't think of any time I've been with him that would qualify him as a "naked chimp". I've heard he shares 98% of his DNA with chimpanzees, though. Oh, and there's a rumor he got so agitated after giving a TED talk he had to be shot with a tranquilizer dart. That one does have the ring of truth to it.

Anyway, when you click the link, it takes you to an article that actually is about a naked chimpanzee (it has alopecia). The primate in question is shown on the right. Hmmm. Quadraped, bilateral symmetry, nerve and sensory center located up high in a protected bony structure... yup. It's Brian. For those of you wondering what's going on, the explanation is actually pretty simple. A lot of these social network sites allow you to enter a link and a comment for others to see, and the software automatically searches that link for an appropriate photo to add. So, for example, when someone posts one of my blog entries to reddit, the link will include a little thumbnail image of, maybe, the comet nucleus picture I was describing. It saves the submitter time and effort, and is pretty nifty. This must have happened at BuzzFeed. The software examined the naked chimp story page, and on the sidebar was a link to a video interview with Brian about the Large Hadron Collider. It grabbed the picture, and there you go. Here's the actual sidebar bit:

Of course, shortly after this picture was taken Brian sat down and started picking insects out of the photographer's hair. I think that's in the video. They'll probably have edited it out by the time you look at it, though.

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