Image: just a portion of the original “Up Goer Five” cartoon, diagramming a Saturn V rocket.
Like a lot of people, I’ve been enjoying the “Up Goer Five” phenomenon. If you don’t know about it (unlikely!), it started as an xkcd cartoon in which Randall Munroe labelled a diagram of a Saturn V rocket using only the thousand most common words in the English language. Munroe followed it up with a book along the same lines, Thing Explainer, and the idea really took off, with scientists in all disciplines trying their hands at it. It came up most recently for me because the 2016 meeting of the Ecological Society of America had an Up Goer Five session. I wasn’t able to get to any of it, but I got a taste via Twitter and via titles and abstracts posted online and around the convention centre.
Up Goer Five is fun – tons of it. But I have the unsettling feeling that I’m missing something, because I don’t quite understand what Up Goer Five is for. Or at least, I can see three things that people may think it’s for, but they seem at odds with each other, and I’m not convinced that any of the three does more good than harm. Continue reading