Do you have a star or an asteroid named for you? Me neither. Nor have I discovered anything new on this planet of ours or in this universe or even so much as published a book that is “soon to be a major” anything.
Thinking on this sometimes leaves me feeling a little empty inside, so thanks for depressing me today, me.
There are many ways of achieving the immortality, or really, a slightly more famous mortality, that I desire. One of them, a Twitter bot named VanityScience, made its debut in 2014 and is still going.
The product of the imagination of a mathematician and writer named Samuel Arbesman, it promises a randomly generated “eponym” every few hours. (“Eponym” is the word for the person for whom a discovery is named, like Alzheimer’s disease or Friedreich’s ataxia. But it can be good things, too. Eponym is not itself an eponym.) If you are a follower of the Vanity Science account, you will be awarded an eponym eventually, and thus have something named for you. I have received three or four. (Brushes fingernails against lapel, even though I am wearing a t-shirt.)
In 2014, I received this:
Yes, it is mine. All mine. The “Aldrich reaction” in the field of sociology. Named for me. For the length of time we like to call forever and ever. What the Aldrich reaction is remains undefined. It is a title awaiting a definition, a term awaiting meaning. A solution in need of a problem.
(I requested neither the field nor the type of discovery or previously unnamed phenomenon. The bot coincidentally came up with what may be, for me, the very best one possible. It may do the same for you.)
The laws in physics or corollaries in sociology (my field of expertise, as it turns out, so please refer all your sociology questions to me, @here) or principles in mathematics that the VanityScience bot names for its followers are not specified. That is why it is free, available only on Twitter, and has the word “vanity” in its name. But I do not think that this means the “Aldrich reaction” does not truly exist in the world or is not a recognizable reaction in society. I, a
lover of humanity and all whom I meet erm, student of humankind’s social structures, and a longtime encounterer of many people, certainly have reactions that are unique to me.
I think the Aldrich reaction is an observable fact in sociology and is thus worthy of study. In fact, I would say that it has been my life-long endeavor to make the world understand the Aldrich reaction, starting with my parents, continuing with my sister, and on and on.
There are many Twitter bots out there, from Tofu, which I do not fully understand even as I have played with it, to the grand Pentametron, which scours the Twitterverse for tweets that happen to be written in iambic pentamter and rhyme with one another, pairs them, and then re-tweets the resulting random couplet.
What happens when Twitter bots follow each other? Do we all become characters in Philip K. Dick story? Are we not already?
The creator of the Vanity Science bot explained his project in a blog post for Wired, “Vanity Science: Eponyms, Knowledge, and Twitter,” a title that in its precision actually obfuscates what it is about. The title should have been, “Vanity Science and the Arbesman Pride Rule (psychology): I Have Invented the Greatest Twitter Bot.”
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Some of this first appeared in January 2014.
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