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20.12.2019

A thesis defense

One-act comedy

(The Soviet physicist V. F. Turchin wrote the original play in the ‘60s. I’m offering here my version very freely translated from Russian and adapted to the modern Western reality.)

On stage — a big seminar room at the NRILB — National Research Institute of Logs and Branches. On the front stage — a massive wooden table located on the right; on the left — a podium with a bottle of water and a glass. In the background — a wide thoroughly cleaned whiteboard and a projection screen; some posters are attached to the walls on both sides. Seated at the table are the Chairman of the Examination Committee, the Candidate’s Ph.D. Advisor, and two official Examiners. Other characters are seated in the first row with the audience. During the play, they come on stage and then return to their seats. In this way, the spectator feels present in a real seminar room where the defense is taking place.

(The Chairman is a researcher in the NRILB — a renowned scientist with strong national and international visibility. He is an aged man, tall and with wide shoulders. He belongs to the category of people whose years-long awareness of their own authority and power has become visibly imprinted on their facial traits.)  

CHAIRMAN: (rising) Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to this defense of the dissertation named “The effect of branches on the rolling of wooden logs on inclined surfaces” by Mr. Smart in fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Wood Sciences. I invite the Secretary of Graduate Studies to read excerpts from the Candidate’s record. Mr. Neuter, please.

(Secretary Neuter is a man around fifty years of age, with a sharp nose and a dull yellowish face. He talks with an official monotone intonation without raising his eyes from the paper and without distinguishing the names of the documents from their content.)

NEUTER: The following documents have been submitted for the consideration of the Examination Committee: A transcript of mandatory courses. Ethics of scientific research: passed. Scientific writing in English: passed. Foreign language (French): A-. Foundations of wood sciences: A. Advanced topics in computational timberology: A+. Laboratory in timberology: A.

Curriculum vitae. Mr. Anthony Smart, born in 1985. In 2007 received his B.Sc. degree from the Krakosian State University, Department of Timberology. Worked as a Field Engineer at the Logan Sawing Company for 5 years. Received several internal awards for innovation. Since 2012 joined the Ph. D. track at the NRILB under the supervision of Prof. Bigwiggins. In 2014 received the Institute Director’s award for excellence in studies. Mr. Smart participates in the Institute’s athletic team (half-marathon racing) and is an amateur musician (violin).

Selected publications. Based on the topics of the dissertation, the Candidate has published two papers in the Journal of Theoretical and Applied Timberology: “On certain dynamic characteristics of logs with branches using a method of progressive elimination” and “A computational measure of branching”. He also presented an extended abstract at the International Congress of Wood, Log, and Branch Sciences.

Submitted for the attention of the Committee a dissertation titled “The effect of branches on the rolling of wooden logs on inclined surfaces”, 132 pages.

(Returns to his seat)

CHAIRMAN: Are there any questions regarding the mentioned documents? (Pause) In that case, I would like to welcome the Candidate to present his work. Mr. Smart, please. You have 20 minutes.

(Anthony Smart comes to the podium. He is an energetic young man with a pleasant well-shaved face. He is neither overly-confident nor too scared. When it comes to explanations appearing almost obvious, he speaks with a slight apology, but not excessively so in order not to seem arrogant. Everything in his speech is correct and pleasant. “A great guy!” — thinks the audience.)

SMART: The foundations of the scientific approach to studying logs rolling on inclined surfaces were first laid by Leonhard Euler, who for that purpose developed variational calculus. Recently, due to the rapid automation of various wood processing tasks, the problem has become central to timberology. It is, therefore, quite natural that it has been studied by many timberologists — nationally and abroad. Detailed studies were dedicated to the influence of various factors on the log rolling velocity, including the log length, section area and, more generally, shape, geographic longitude and latitude, as well as the log’s density, humidity, color, and smell. These effects are presently well-understood. However, the influence of branches on the log rolling on inclined surfaces is far from being fully elucidated due to its formidable complexity.

Foundational to the problem was the Ph.D. dissertation of Serge Oliphant published in 1985. In his pioneering work, Prof. Oliphant formulated for the first time the branch equation (which I’m going to mention in the sequel), analyzing which, he concluded that certain solutions imply that during the rolling some of the branches may, simply speaking, break down. Experiments conducted by him fully confirmed this theoretical prediction.

Several years later, the Italian scientist Legnami published in the local journal Atti di Tronchi e Rami a paper in which he introduced into Oliphant’s equation an additional term accounting for partial timber decay. In a follow-up study, the American researcher Woodfill and his team refined Legnami’s term to account for the presence of worms in the wood structure, while the Russian timberologist Sukov proposed a recursive extension of the equation, allowing a branch to have sub-branches. Another major step in the field was made by Michael Bigwiggins who generalized Oliphant’s equation to the case of partial sanding of the log, further introducing the notion of branch quasi-independence. Due to the lack of time, I cannot mention in detail recent results by other authors, of which the most relevant for the present study are the works by Johnson, Jackson, Little, and Kukisch. A detailed literature review is presented in the first section of the thesis Introduction and Related Work.

The second chapter of the dissertation titled Problem Formulation analyzes the existing experimental methods for studying the impact of branching on the dynamic characteristics of the log. I demonstrate the insufficiency of these methods stemming from the existence of mutually incompatible quantitative measures of branching. In what follows, the method of successive elimination introduced by Prof. Bigwiggins is briefly overviewed. The method consists of the following: a log with a certain amount of branching is selected and its dynamic characteristics are measured. Then, one of the branches is eliminated (that is, removed), and the dynamics are measured again. A second branch is then eliminated and the dynamic characteristics are measured again, repeating the process until all branches have been eliminated. The resulting data are plotted as a two-dimensional chart, in which the horizontal axis represents some branching measure, while the vertical axis quantifies the dynamic characteristic. It is obvious that the choice of the branching measure does not affect the order of the points since any reasonable measure is monotonically decreasing with the elimination of one or more branches. In this way, we obtain robust plots that are invariant to any diffeomorphic transformation of the branching measure.

The third chapter of the dissertation is dedicated to experimental evaluation. The experimental setup is schematically depicted in this slide (shows a slide on the screen). The inclined surface is implemented as a stainless steel plane. The log is dispensed at the top of the surface and is received at the bottom using a pair of platinum-coated bronze latches. A laser interferometer continuously measured the log position; the rolling duration was computed from these data offline using unoptimized Matlab code. Branches were eliminated using an electric chainsaw with fine metal teeth. In order to reduce the impact of wood fibers, the eliminated branch area was coated with two hands of water-based varnish ABC-987. The setup control was fully automated using an Arduino micro-controller board.

Please pay attention to this system placed over the inclined surface (shows a slide with a magnified view of a system). This is a pigeon suppression system or PSS for short. Since, in order to render the experimental environment as close as possible to the real-world setting, all the experiments were conducted outdoors, pigeons freely flying in the surrounding air mass were observed to deposit guano onto the log under test, significantly altering its dynamic characteristics. The PSS was introduced in order to completely undo or, at least, significantly reduce this effect. The system comprises a fixture resembling a three-blade airplane propeller placed in the horizontal plane 1.5 meters above the inclined plane and brought into rapid rotation by a powerful oil-cooled AC motor. Our initial tests showed that the turbulent airflow generated during the operation of the PSS could alter the log dynamics. In order to compensate for this effect, six small fans countering the flow were installed between the PSS and the inclined plane.

In our experiments, two characteristics were studied: the log kinetic energy at its trajectory endpoint, and the rolling time. I will briefly review the experimental results obtained using the described setup.

Firstly, we obtained the functional dependence of the log kinetic energy (per unit of mass) on its branching factor, under different conditions. The general shape of these curves is consistent with the results obtained by recent studies in the National Ejection Facility in the United States, namely: with the increase of the branching factor from zero, the kinetic energy initially grows, then achieves a maximum, after which it slowly decays.

Secondly, we studied the dependence of the said maximum of the kinetic energy on the log thickness, which, to the best of my knowledge, has not been explored before. We found that with the growth of the log thickness, the maximum first decreases, then achieves a minimal value, after which it gradually increases.

Thirdly, we studied for the first time the impact of the air humidity on the above minima of the maxima of the log kinetic energy. We discovered that with the increase of the air humidity, the minimum of the maximum initially grows, then achieves a maximum of the minimum of the maximum, and then rapidly decreases.

Fourthly, we calculated the log rolling time as a function of the branching factor under different initial and boundary conditions. We observed a monotonic increase in the rolling time with the increase of the branching factor. The obtained plots are consistent with the recent measurements published by the timberological laboratory of the Franco-German consortium Baum und Ligne GmbH, but are significantly more accurate. While the Germans achieved the accuracy of around 2%, the accuracy in the present work exceeded 0.3%, being as low as 0.1% in certain settings.

These are, in a nutshell, the experimental results detailed in the thesis.

The fourth section of the dissertation contains a discussion of the obtained experimental results from the standpoint of the existing theory as well as certain additional theoretical studies not directly related to the performed experiments. As I already mentioned, the theory of log rolling on an inclined surface in the presence of branches relies on the branch equation formulated by Oliphant. In tensor notation, the equation can be expressed as (writes on the whiteboard):

B + RANCH = BRANCH (1)

Despite its apparent simplicity, this equation is notoriously difficult to solve due to the non-linearity of both sides. Analytical solutions have been only obtained for unrealistic trivial cases such as a quasi-linear spherical branch in pseudo-vacuum. In more realistic settings, numerical solutions are still possible thanks to the recent progress in the infinite element methods. However, even without exactly solving the Oliphant equation, one can use simple perturbative techniques to indirectly obtain several important results. In particular, the dependence of the final kinetic energy of the log on the branching factor was theoretically studied by Johnson, who proved the existence of its local maximum and calculated its location and value.

The results of our experiments demonstrate, however, that across different timber types this maximum is slightly shifted to the right toward higher branching factors compared to Johnson’s predictions. The reason for this divergence can be attributed to two causes: Firstly, Johnson assumed a uniform distribution of branches on the log’s surface, which does not exactly conform to empirical data. Secondly, Johnson modeled branches to be perpendicular to the log surface, which is also not entirely realistic. The first reason seems to be more dominant since if the shift of the maximum were explained by the lack of branch normality, spruce and oak logs would exhibit the shift in opposite directions — indeed, oak tends to branch upwards, while spruce — downwards. However, no such oppositely-directed shifts were observed experimentally.

Rolling time curves coincide with high accuracy to Prof. Bigwiggins’ theoretical predictions, which corroborates the validity of his assumption of branch quasi-independence.

Alright. Now a few words about purely theoretical results obtained in this work. Going back to equation (1) — re-arranging the terms yields: (writes)

BR + ANCH = BRANCH   (2)

Element-wise summation of the two equations (1) and (2) results in:

BBRRA + ANNCCHH = 2 x BRANCH   (3)

In this way, we obtain a new equation describing two coupled branches. From the standpoint of theoretical prediction, this equation has little advantage, since the experimentally-confirmed quasi-independence hypothesis allows us to use the equation for a single branch, which is substantially simpler. However, the equation for two branches allows deriving results of significant interest in other timberological tasks. In this dissertation, the coupled equation is used for the analysis of branching measures.

I remind that until now there has been no consensus regarding the choice of a branching measure — that is, which quantitative characteristic of the amount of branching is the most accurate and useful. The two most popular criteria widely adopted in the literature are the Lapsus and the Schnapps measures, named thus after the scientists who first introduced them. I remind that the Lapsus measure is the sum of products of the branch length by the square of its thickness, while in the Schnapps measure the products of thickness by the branch length squared are used.  Until today, there was no principled reason to prefer any of these two measures. However, in the dissertation, I showed that from the perspective of the coupled two-branch equation, the Schnapps measure is somewhat preferable as certain pseudo-kinematic interaction characteristics of the branches are notably easier to express using the latter measure in the Lamerde transform domain. Due to the lack of time, I cannot provide additional details to substantiate this claim. I will only mention that the idea of the proof was blueprinted by Prof. Bigwiggins and consists of representing a branch as a non-axially symmetric perturbation of the log thickness.

I see that my time is up, so I will stop here. Thank you for your attention.

(The audience applauds)

CHAIRMAN: Any questions for the Candidate?

(Pause)

VOICE FROM THE AUDIENCE: What future research directions do you intend to work on in this field?

SMART: Future directions? Well, first of all, it would be very interesting to study the behavior of the maximum of the min-max kinetic energy of the log which I mentioned earlier as a function of the solar irradiation intensity. There are certain reasons to hypothesize that this function is convex, but of course, empirical verification of this claim is required. Since in the real-world wood processing facilities the intensity of solar radiation varies in a wide range, this question has a big practical impact.

Another big and practically unstudied question regards the dependence of the log dynamic characteristics on the spatial distribution of the branches on its surface.

In the domain of theory, it would be useful to generalize the coupled equation into a full-featured three-branch problem.

ANOTHER VOICE: Can you please mention in what range the thickness of the logs varied?

SMART: From five to eighty centimeters — in terms of the diameter, of course.

THIRD VOICE: What was the dimension of the blades in the PSS system?

SMART: 2 meters and 73 centimeters.

(Pause)

CHAIRMAN: Unless there are any further questions, I would like to invite the Candidate’s Ph.D. Advisor Prof. Bigwiggins.

(Smart steps down from the podium and returns to his seat in the audience. Bigwiggins takes his place. This is a mid-aged man at the apex of his scientific career. Many voices say that in the next few years he will be elected to the National Academy of Sciences. His body projects self-confidence and superiority over the people surrounding him. A hint of an arrogant smile is imprinted on his face.)

BIGWIGGINS:(reads) The present Ph.D. research works conducted by Mr. Smart in our laboratory is dedicated to one of the most important — if not the most important — problems faced by today’s timberology, namely the problem of rolling logs on inclined surfaces. This problem has tremendous practical importance to the wood processing industry, as well as an intrinsic basic scientific interest.

In his work, Anthony has skilfully combined wide experimental studies with deep theoretical analysis of the question. He has developed in minute details a new method for studying the dynamic characteristics of a log, which was originally proposed by our laboratory, namely the method of successful elimination. Using this method, the author obtained a series of important dynamic characteristics of logs with branches — importantly, in a form invariant to a wide class of branching measure transformations. Remarkable is the high accuracy of the obtained empirical results — a consequence of a well-thought experimental setup and the systematic removal of disturbances negatively affecting the measurement precision. I would like to highlight the proposed pigeon suppression system (PSS) which solves the so-called “pigeon challenge” — a long-standing issue that has been plaguing experimental studies for years. I have no doubt that PSS will secure its place in experimental timberology’s arsenal.

Of great interest are also the pure theoretical results obtained by the author. Relying on the representation of a branch as a non-axially symmetric perturbation that was born in our lab, Anthony demonstrated the advantage of the Schnapps measure of the Lapsus measure. Overall, the present thesis work fully satisfies the Ph.D. degree requirements and manifests that the author has successfully mastered applied and theoretical timberology tools. Anthony showed himself as an independent researcher and a fast learner. I am convinced that Mr. Smart should be awarded the Ph.D. degree.

(puts the paper aside)

I would like to mention that Smart’s dissertation was already acclaimed by our scientific community. Recently, Anthony presented his findings in a seminar talk at the BBZ, and Prof. Grossbuch said that it was a very interesting work.

(BBZ — Baumelogische Bundesforschungsinstitut in Zweiburg is one of the world’s top institutions in the field of timberology. Herr Prof. Dr. rer. nat. habil. Grossbuch is one of the world’s top scientists, definitely the highest authority in Germany. His word can either completely destroy a young researcher or cover them with undying glory. Bigwiggins frequently emphasizes his close relation to Prof. Grossbuch.)

The successive elimination method received a particularly high opinion. Grossbuch said it was a very cleverly developed method. Also… the representation of a branch as a non-axially symmetric perturbation also awoke significant interest. Grossbuch suggested applying a similar approach to other problems. The resulting advantage of the Schnapps measure was also positively noted. Herr Professor even joked (imitating strong German accent) “I adore Schnapps, ja!” Ha-ha-ha-ha…

(Makes a serious face)

So… Regarding the practical side of our work — we have been recently working with several leading industrial partners to adapt our methods to their particular type of equipment… With one of them, we are currently negotiating a strategic investment to start up a joint venture. Unfortunately, I cannot elaborate further in this forum, so I will finish here.

(Returns to his place)

CHAIRMAN: Thank you Prof. Bigwiggins. I would like to invite now the official External Examiner, Prof. Oliphant from the Department of Wood Sciences at the Krakosian State University. Please, Prof. Oliphant!

(Oliphant slowly steps onto the podium. He is a phlegmatic grey-haired elderly gentleman wearing thick glasses. He hasn’t been active in research for over a decade but is still renowned for his past contributions. He is over 60 and has neither the willingness nor the ability to further progress in his career. This makes him a particularly happy and pleasant person — as well as an ideal examiner. The latter fact is often exploited by younger timberologists. He always agrees to sit on examination committees — out of kindness and for the money.)

OLIPHANT: (reads) Mr. Smart’s doctoral thesis titled “The effect of branches on the rolling of wooden logs on inclined surfaces” is dedicated to a very relevant question of significant practical and theoretical importance… Please allow me to skip the thesis summary — the author has already presented it very well… Hmmm. Next. The work overall is impressive. I would like to emphasize the successful combination of vast experimental studies with deep theoretical analyses of the question. Both the experimental and theoretical parts contain important novel contributions. The author’s main contribution is the development of the successive elimination method. This is a very novel technique, and its usefulness is beyond doubt. The pigeon suppression system is remarkably novel and ingenious and is a constructive way aimed at countering major experimental challenges. I remind that until now experimentalists had to introduce complex corrections into experimental data in order to partially account for the influence of pigeons and their excrements on the log’s dynamic characteristics. The introduction of the PSS effectively solves the pigeon challenge greatly improving the accuracy and reliability of the results.

On the theoretical side, the author skilfully developed the equation for two branches. I hope that in the future a similar approach will be applied to develop the equations for three and, more generally, N branches.

Finally, the thesis is well written and contains an adequate amount of illustrations.

However, alongside with the mentioned merits, Mr. Smart’s work also contains several significant shortcomings.

(Prof. Oliphant removes his reading glasses. The audience is dead silent, stretching their necks breathlessly waiting for the list of the mentioned shortcomings. Everyone wants the list to be as long as possible: those who yet have to defend their dissertations — because they fear to do worse than Smart; those who already defended — because they don’t want Smart to do better than they did; finally, those who didn’t defend and are never going to defend any thesis — just out of mere sports, because this is the only dramatic episode in the entire boring defense ritual.)

OLIPHANT: …the work also contains several significant shortcomings. For example, there is an extra space before the third paragraph on page 13. On page 105, the figure caption is set in the wrong font and is not aligned. Finally, the list of bibliographical references contains a typo — reference [27] should be “Oliphant” rather than “Elephant”.

The mentioned shortcomings, however, do not significantly reduce the value of the work overall. We have a clear manifestation that the author is a mature scientist in the field of timberology. Mr. Smart certainly fulfills all the requirements of the Ph.D. degree.

CHAIRMAN: Thank you Prof. Oliphant. Let us now hear the review of our second Examiner, Dr. Little. Dr. Little, if you please.

(On scene comes Dr. Little — a blond genius with a nerdy face and a thin high-pitched voice.)

LITTLE: The topic of Mr. Anthony Smart’s dissertation “The effect of branches on the rolling of wooden logs on inclined surfaces” is very relevant both from the perspective of applications and its intrinsic value for timberology… Please also allow me not to read the thesis summary… Alright… Speaking about my evaluation, I would like to remark positively the successful combination of the large body of experimental work with the deep theoretical analysis. Next… one of the most remarkable contributions of the work is the well-thought experimental setup. Significant effort was invested by the author to counter the disturbances typically arising in this kind of measurements. This especially concerns the proposed pigeon suppression system PSS, which seems to be novel and is likely to be adopted by the experimentalist community. The measurements themselves obtained by the author are also valuable especially in light of their invariance to the transformations of the branching measure. Also valuable is the comparative analysis of the Schnapps and Lapsus measures. Finally, the work is well-written and illustrated.

However, together with the mentioned merits, the work contains several minor issues and regretful omissions. For example, the author claims that existing experimental methods for studying the log’s dynamic characteristics do not allow invariant results. However, in 1990, the Brasilian timberologist Antonio Madeiras introduced and developed a method allowing a wide invariance class. Moreover, Madeiras’ method is simpler and more efficient compared to the successive elimination technique developed by the author. Secondly, it is well-established that varnishes of type ABC-987 such as the one employed by the author have much lower friction coefficients than the log’s surface; consequently, the dynamic characteristics of logs with eliminated branches might substantially different from those in their natural state. Thirdly, in addition to pigeons, flies are also present in the airmass around the experimental setup. While a fly’s mass is, clearly, much lower than that of a pigeon, their number per unit of volume is much greater. I recently presented preliminary measurements of the “fly challenge” at the International Conference of Experimental Timberology showing that the two effects are of comparable magnitude. While the author addressed the pigeon challenge, the fly challenge remained unanswered. Consequently, the experimental methodology proposed by the author is suboptimal and its results totally unreliable.

Regarding the theoretical part of the study — it does not contain substantially novel material since in 1995 the Japanese scientist Mokuzai derived an equation from which Smart’s two-branch equation follows as a trivial particular case!

It is worth mentioning, though, that the said minor issues do not decrease the value of the present work, and its author Mr. Antony Smith clearly fulfills the requirements of the doctoral degree.

(Returns to his place)

SMART: Please allow me to comment!

CHAIRMAN: Go ahead, Anthony.

SMART: I would like to reply to Dr. Little’s remarks. Firstly, regarding Madeiras’ method, I don’t share Dr. Little’s view regarding its simplicity and efficiency. On the contrary, it is cumbersome and inefficient, which is eloquently demonstrated by the fact that since its publication in 1990 the method was not used. Secondly, the two-branch case indeed follows from Mokuzai’s equation; however, the main merit of the theoretical part was not the development of the equation in se but rather the comparative analysis of the Lapsus and Schnapps measures. Regarding Dr. Little’s comments on the varnish and the fly effect, I agree that both introduce certain inaccuracies. However, I believe that Dr. Little exaggerates its significance. In particular, the study on the strength of the “fly effect” was not published in a peer-reviewed journal or independently confirmed by other research teams.
CHAIRMAN: Anyone wants to comment? Any remarks or questions?

VOICE: May I?

CHAIRMAN: Dr. Brie, is this you? Dr. Brie from the École superieure des fromages, if you please step up to the podium.

BRIE: (speaking from his place in the audience with a notable French accent) I just have a brief question for Mr. Smart. Mr. Smart, what, in your opinion, are the possible generalizations of your study to other applied domains? I’m particularly interested in cheesemaking.

SMART: Hmmm… Erm… Cheesemaking? Erm… Just speaking off the top of my head… I believe that the main experimental methodology, as well as the theoretical tools, can be extended without great effort to problems like, say, the rolling of cheese on inclined surfaces accounting for the hole effect. Of course, fractal dimensions will need to be introduced to properly account for the holes.

BRIE: (reflecting) The rolling of cheese on inclined surfaces accounting for the hole effect… Yes, yes, bien sûr! I’ll be happy to further discuss it with you.

SMART: With pleasure.

CHAIRMAN: Any further comments or questions? (Silence) Nobody? Mr. Smart, if you like to make any final remarks…

SMART: To conclude, I would like to express my deep gratitude to my thesis advisor, Prof. Michael Bigwiggins for formulating the problem and guiding me through my research. I’m also grateful to my Examiners, Prof. Serge Oliphant and Dr. Andrew Little for their important critique. I would like to thank my fellow students Tom, Dick, and Harry who helped me with their advice and participated in various discussions related to my thesis work. Special thanks to the lab engineer Seghetti for his invaluable help with branch elimination using the electric chain saw.

(Smart bows and leaves the scene)

CHAIRMAN: The Committee will now withdraw for deliberation and final decision.

(Committee members collect their papers and retreat behind the scene. The Chairman slowly collects his papers, disconnects his laptop and puts it into his leather bag. He is about to leave the room, when a loud exclamation from the audience stops him midway.)

SPECTATOR: Mr. Chairman! Sir!

CHAIRMAN: Yes?

SPECTATOR: Mr. Chairman, don’t you find them laughable all your experiments and theories? Don’t you think that all your timberology is, please pardon my frankness, completely useless nonsense?

CHAIRMAN: (after a long pause, very seriously) No, I don’t think so.

SPECTATOR: You don’t think so! And you find it perfectly acceptable that while certain scientists launch satellites into space, build quantum computers, and sequence the genome, other so-called “scientists” study the questions of log branching and the influence of pigeon excrements?

CHAIRMAN: I find it perfectly acceptable.

SPECTATOR: Acceptable? Seriously? So you believe that it is normal that a bunch of — again, please pardon my bluntness — charlatans pretending to be scientists, speculating on the huge respect that laymen have for science, defend dissertations, receive handsome grants, in short, enjoy the show on the taxpayers’ penny? Do you find this situation acceptable?!

CHAIRMAN: You, my dear friend, have a completely wrong idea of our activity.

(Chairman is frustrated and visibly annoyed. He slowly walks back and forth on stage, carefully choosing every word.)

CHAIRMAN: We need Smart’s dissertation. Well, of course, this is not a revolution in science — but it is still needed, since the wood processing industry needs to work, and Smart’s research will help them work a little better. At least, it might help them.

You called timerologists a bunch of charlatans and pseudo-scientists. This is wrong in two regards. First, we’re absolutely not a “bunch”. On the contrary, we comprise the main body of scientists around the globe. I assure you that the overwhelming majority of technical papers published in solid scientific journals — in physics, chemistry, mathematics, biology, history, philosophy, and so on — are written by the very same timberologists as we are, and are dedicated to equally narrow and insignificant problems that are not substantially more important for the theory or the practice than Smart’s thesis. It’s only the lack of understanding of the terminology and the absence of domain knowledge that prevent you from seeing this fact.

Secondly, we are certainly not “charlatans and pseudo-scientists”. On the contrary, we are driven by the best of motives, act in good faith, and our activity is absolutely necessary for the progress of science. Without us, timberologists, there would be no satellites, nor quantum computers, nor the theory of relativity. This is because these great leaps rely on uncountably many small steps — works devoted to niche problems.

You find it laughable that someone is concerned with the influence of branching on the rolling of a wooden log. Let it be so. Let it be laughable. But it is necessary. And even if it isn’t so much useful now, it will become useful sometime in the future. And even it will never be useful, something else — equally small and insignificant — will. That is why we need timberologists. That is why wherever there were no timberologists, there were — and there will never be Einsteins, or Schroedengers, or artificial satellites. It is in their entirety that timberologits’ works are indispensable. The trouble is that we cannot ascertain it regarding each specific study. Each individual needs to be certain that his or her own, personal, concrete work serves other people. We rarely have such certainty. We don’t know the joy experienced by other professionals when acknowledged for a well-tailored suit, a brilliantly written novel, a successful surgery, or enchanting music. We work within a tiny narrow microcosm, separated from the rest of humanity by unsurmountable ridges of our scientific sophistication. And even that tiny space — we divide it into even smaller lots since the level of specialization today is such that a researcher studying oak branches has no time or attention to his colleague, a specialist in pine branches. Sometimes the inhabitants of one such lot or neighboring lots become involved in a heated debate — but that is a storm in a teacup. The remaining timberologists — I’m not even speaking of outsiders, continue with their everyday routine without paying attention.

An average timberologist has a tortuous career. He dedicates the first and arguably the best part of his life to studying the theory of branching. Then, he is ready for independent work. He studies the effect of non-perpendicularity of the branches, takes into account the influence of pigeon excrements, draws a multitude of various plots, investing all his efforts into this work. He then publishes a paper which, probably, will be read by two or three timberologists specializing in his narrow field. Or, perhaps, nobody will read it. But he genuinely trusts that all that work was not done in vain — otherwise, why do it at all? He believes that one day, through a sequence of intermediate causes and effects unknown to him, his work will have a certain impact on something that will substantially change many people’s lives.

Sometimes it happens that this trust, which is foundational to all his doing, starts shaking and our timberologist clutches his head thinking with despair: “Jesus, what insignificant nonsense I’m doing!..” But most of the time, this existential crisis passes in one way or another. A big role here is played by the fortunate colleagues knowing no doubts; moreover, with the age, the command passes to Her Majesty the Habit…

Lay people don’t understand the language of the majority of timberologists. And if — by chance — they do understand what a certain Dr. Smith is doing, they become infuriated, and Dr. Smith becomes a scapegoat. Memes mocking his research appear in the social networks and Smith is nominated for the Ignobel prize. We understand equally well that it is laughable — perhaps, even better than you. And we are prepared to laugh together with you, and you see that we do, but through our tears. Don’t create scapegoats, gentlemen! Trust me that Dr. Smith or Dr. Smart is neither worse nor better than the others. And, overall, we need timberologits. I will remind you again, without hesitation, that without us there would be no satellites or quantum computers that you are so fond of.

That’s it… By the way, I believe that the audience shouldn’t bother waiting for the committee decision. I can tell with 100% certainty that they will unanimously vote for granting Anthony Smart the doctoral degree. And he fully merits it.

Good day, ladies and gentlemen! Thank you for your attention!

(curtain)

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