This week, the shocking private emails of a group of senior scientists were leaked after one of the scientists placed his laptop in the line-of-sight of the dozen or so nosy people who were sat behind him at a rather dull public lecture in London.*

Secreted in a back corner of the lecture theatre, Charles Quackenbush strains to hear the next facile question tumble and stumble in “uhms” and “ahs” from the eager humanities student in the front row. He briefly exchanges a look with a fellow from the department (the wednesday evening public lectures are always a source of great amusement for the department’s old boys) before returning to his emails, leaving Sir Frederick to try explaining again the very basics of natural selection to the sociologists of science.

Dear Charles, Just to confirm, as per our earlier conversation, that the recording will be Thursday at nine — my BA will meet you in BH reception. Could you send your press photo for the listings? I don’t think we have one on file. Melvin.

Charles taps out a quick content-free response about “looking forward to it”, and drags in a file from close at hand. Archives the email.

Dear Prof Charles Quackenbush, I am a MA Science Communication student at City Univ–

Are you sure you want to delete this email? OK Cancel

And then another new arrival; the latest episode in the great ongoing saga that was tearing the department in two. A short episode.

chaz, those are mighty hateful hurtful words. i can’t believe you would say such things about collins, after that nice book he wrote about me and science not being incompatible. cheers, God.

Charles frowns, looks up and glances over to his right. At the far end of the row Professor Goddard Z Bumsted O’Higgins leans forward and grins at him, iPhone in hand. Charles doesn’t stop frowning. Hits reply, but he’s too slow. There’s already another new entry. Its author, Professor Elisabeth Penelope Ditherley de Pelet, a row in front to the left, is now staring, stern face and unfocused eyes illuminated by the light from her netbook, at another of Sir Frederick’s amusingly captioned slides of his golden retriever.

Shut up, Bumsted, the grown-ups are trying to talk here. Charles, I’m afraid your argument is utter utter cock. It would be by *not* inviting Collins to speak that the university would look like it had the agenda. Obviously you’re free to publicly say whatever you like about the guy, but the fourth best university in the world can’t snub the head of the NIH without anybody noticing. You know how these things work. When people of his standing announce that they’re coming to town, an invitation is expected from us. If you succeed in blocking this, the headline will be “fundamentalist atheists go out of their way to be rude,” and I couldn’t blame anybody for running it–

Charles thinks about replying with “yawn”, and yawns.

–frankly, I’d have thought you’d have more important things to be doing than preaching to the rest of the department. You can’t have failed to hear the *gossip*, even stuck in your own fantasy land? -Betty x

Charles frowns some more. Sends a blank email to Goddard, subject “what’s the gossip?” Continues through the dregs of his inbox.

Dear valued reader, We are pleased to announce that there is still time to register your place at the first annual International Conference of Gastropodcomparative-systematicsemiquantitativetemporalnuclearmisinteractomics, to be held in Las Vegas, 18-21 March 2010…

Charles hits the spam button.

heheh. betty’s post-doc has been telling everyone what she walked in on in the darkroom the other day. your students were in there, *kissing*. from what i’ve heard, they’ve been doing a lot of that lately. heh. they’re probably in there *now*. I say, though, old chap, I’d have thought you’d have been wanting to put a stop to that sort of thing? cheers, God

The colour drains from Charles and his hands begin to shake with horror. Kissing. How awful. Charles had read that kissing could lead to friendship and a social life, even marriage, or children. Charles couldn’t afford for his people to be rushing around all over the place having children. There was science to be attended to, and they were already behind on delivering it.

Charles stares at Sir Frederick’s “science kitteh” slide, tapping his feet manically, wondering desperately what he can do to contain the situation. Eventually, the solution comes to him.

Hi All, I stand by everything I’ve said and will still vote in the ‘no’ camp, but I have no interest in wasting any more of my time arguing with those of you who apparently don’t care for reality, rationalism or academic integrity. Invite him if you like. *I* will make sure that I am well out of it. There’s an interesting looking conference in Las Vegas that weekend. I think I might take the whole lab. A good dry conference should get those students back in line. Regards, Chaz.

* Obviously, any resemblance to real people, events, or email exchanges is entirelycoincidental.

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