I'm taking a class from a fairly prominent professor whose name I won't be divulging this term. He's one of the more well-known professors in the UCLA CS department -- he formalized the field of causal reasoning, which is what I'm studying this term. It's kind of neat taking a class from someone like that: on the off-chance that I meet someone in the outside world who's ever heard of this field, I can totally brag about how I took a class from a mini-celebrity! Oh, what an exciting life I lead.
In my admittedly limited experience, academics seem to care less and less about social propriety as they go along. A week or so ago, he was lecturing on the concept of Minimality in regards to Bayesian Networks. In essence, this is just a restatement of Occam's Razor, but recast in statistical terms. Basically it just says that, given two models that equally well describe the data, you should prefer the one that makes less assumptions about causal relationships. Very straightforward stuff. But to make sure we got the point, he decided to give us an example.
Prefaced by the very brief disclaimer, "I hope I'm not offending anyone," he launched into a fairly extended diatribe about how science provides a better model for interpreting the universe than religion. Imagine, if you will, with a thick Israeli accent: "You see, the difference is that science sticks out its neck! It sticks out its neck and makes a hypothesis that you can say is wrong! But in religion, something happens that you don't expect, and you say 'God did it!' and you don't explain anything. It doesn't stick out its neck! What good is that? Useless!" This went on for a good several minutes. Mind you, I completely agree with his rant -- it's just not quite the kind of lecture I expected to hear in a computer science class.
Unrelatedly, last weekend I went out to Cal Tech to listen to Stephen Hawking lecture about black holes (what else would he talk about?). Admittedly, I spent a huge chunk of the talk wondering exactly how much of the talk was pre-scripted -- I would have been surprised if he could form phrases fast enough to do a lecture in real-time, but it seemed kind of strange to have a lecture in which the speaker essentially sat still for several hours while a pre-recorded speech was played in the background (which was, in fact, basically what happened). As I sat there thinking vaguely disrespectful thoughts, Hawking makes a vagina joke. Hearing a prominent physicist joke about how the French read suggestive subtext into the name "black hole" caught me more than a little off-guard (apparently, the maxim "A black hole has no hair" only served to reinforce their suspicions).
He also said some other stuff about how information can escape a black hole and stuff like that, but frankly, that wasn't what stuck with me.
And, apropos of nothing, a lesbian stand-up comic called me a male hooker last night.