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Humorous science

Work of American cartoonist Sidney Harris is an amusing portrayal of life in laboratories

reprosuctions from the book "A CIÊNCIA RI"Sidney Harris never had a formal scientific education and rarely keeps in contact with scientists. But the comic strips and cartoons he has produced in the last 40 years capture the soul of issues with which researchers from different sectors have to deal with every day.

Born in 1933 in Brooklyn, New York’s most highly populated borough, Harris had no idea what college course to choose; so he decided to earn some money by going into humor. In what he considers as being a stroke of luck, he came across magazines that bought work done by freelancers. “To my surprise, many publications bought cartoons and it occurred to me that I could draw a cartoon much faster than write a funny story,” Harris said years ago in an interview to “Ciência Hoje” magazine. It seems that this strategy worked. Ever since then, Harris has produced more than 27 mil cartoons, many of which were published in the major U.S. newspapers and magazines, such as The Wall Street Journal and The New Yorker.

For many years, his drawings did not focus specifically on science. Around 1970, he came across the address of American Scientist, a scientific magazine. He decided to send some drawings to the magazine for an evaluation by the publishers. In nearly four decades, Harris’ drawings were printed in science newsletters such as Discover and Physics Today, and in science magazines, such as Science, one of the most highly respected magazines in the world. Science published his drawings for almost five years, up to 1992. “I had heard rumors that one of the editors didn’t like cartoons and decided that they should be eliminated from the magazine,” Harris said.

The work of Harris is now available in Brazil. The compilation “A ciência ri” was launched in October by Editora da Unesp publishers. Publisher Jesus de Paula Assis had the idea of publishing a Portuguese version. Years ago, Assis had become acquainted with Harris’ work after having read one of his books and buying all of the other books available on the web. Assis says that “although Harris does not have a science background, he identifies problems of history, methodology and sociology better than any other card-carrying sociologist.”