Death and the New Yorker Maiden

Humor and Death: A Qualitative Study of the New Yorker Cartoons (1986-2006)
NCBI ROFL blog (June 07, 2010)

I read the New Yorker magazine every week and have been reading it for years. In fact, I was reading the most recent issue just today. One of the magazine’s best features is its cartoons. Most of the cartoons alternate between extremely funny and utterly incomprehensible. The impossible to decipher ones are often the best part of each magazine because a reader has to think, a lot sometimes, about what the hell is going on in said cartoon.

Some of the funniest New Yorker cartoons involve death, dying, dead bodies, and, of course, funeral directors. I actually keep a file of death related New Yorker cartoons but I haven’t updated it in a while.

And I always thought to myself that it would be quite the project to analyze all the death and dying cartoons in the New Yorker.New-Yorker-CartoonWell, I no longer need to analyze the New Yorker cartoons because two authors (Matzo M. and Miller D.) working on a joint paper in Palliative Support Care (2009 Dec;7(4):487-93) have published their own exhaustive study. The title of their paper, Humor and death: a qualitative study of The New Yorker cartoons (1986-2006), sums it up.

It’s important to point out that the Death Reference Desk came across this study via the NCBI ROFL blog (acronym watch: National Center for Biotechnology Information and urban slang watch: Rolling on the Floor Laughing), run by two Ph.D. students in Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of California Berkeley.

But what I’m really shocked by is this turn of events. These two enterprising Bio-Engineers (cue They Might Be Giants please) got hold of this article before the Annals of Improbable Research (AIR) run by Marc Abrahams. Indeed, I’d go so far as to say that NCBI ROFL even SCOOPED the Annals of Improbable Research on a killer story.

So, let the Death Reference Desk be the first blog to nominate the authors of NCBI ROFL for a 2010 Ignobel Prize in Science Journalism.

Eustace Tilley would be proud.

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