Tintin Goes to the Neurologist

One man and his colleagues (his sons, ages 5 and 7) set out on a mission to discover why Tintin never aged over his ~45 years of adventuring. The resulting paper, published in the Canadian Medical Journal, was titled ‘Acquired growth hormone deficiency and hypogonadotropic hypogonadism in a subject with repeated head trauma, or Tintin goes to the neurologist’. Their hypothesis was that repeated head injuries seriously damaged his pituitary gland. This would mean no growth hormone or sex steroids being produced, stunting his growth and delaying puberty. To investigate, the authors found the frequency and severity of Tintin’s head traumas over his 23 books. Having bemoaned the lack of brain imaging, the damage was inferred by two measurements; 1. The number of frames before Tintin returns to normal activity, and 2. The number of objects circling his head (stars etc.).

The authors concluded two things. Firstly, that Tintin suffered from a damaged pituitary gland that caused growth hormone and sex steroid deficiency, causing stunted growth and no sexual maturity. Secondly, that it is a pretty great idea to get children involved in research.

If you read the paper (which you really should, it’s only a page long and pretty entertaining), you are unlikely to dispute the first conclusion. To me, the second is far more important.

We have a problem in our society; people think science is boring. Science is not boring, it’s really cool. I know that, if you’re reading this you probably know it too. But not everyone knows it – we need to make far more effort to make science interesting. It’s no good sitting in our metaphorical ivory towers, talking jargon and whingeing about the youth of today. Claude Cyr, third author of ‘Tintin goes to the Neurologist’, did a clever thing here. He applied very real scientific theory to pop culture. His ‘experiment’ cost nothing. His kids, aged only 5 and 7, actually did the research. He answered a question that even a five-year old cared about. As a proof of concept that ‘anyone can do science’, this paper was pretty damn great.


Essentially, Claude showed science in its most pure form – ask a question, SCIENCE, get an answer. And he did it in a way that is relevant and interesting to our everyday lives (well, Tintin is pretty important). As Neil deGrasse Tyson famously said, everyone is born a scientist. Every kid asks questions. We need to encourage that questioning. We need to show that science will find the answers. We need to show kids that THEY can do the science.

Good parenting, Claude.


Ps. Want to know why the seasons in Westeros are so unpredictable? Some physicists reckon it orbits a pair of stars, so have used three-body dynamics to find some answers. Turns out, it is totally unpredictable. They ‘…conclude that, alas, the Maesters were right – one can only throw their hands in the air in frustration and, defeated by non-analytic solutions, mumble “Coming winter? May be long and nasty (~850 days, T<268K) or may be short and sweet (~600 days, T~273K). Who knows…”’ http://arxiv.org/abs/1304.0445

Elsie Jacobson is one of the epic writers behind Science, bitches! (the weekly science column in the Critic) and is doing her Honours year in Genetics. She’s also in the debating team that continues to be undefeated in Bluff Cup. 

3 thoughts on “Tintin Goes to the Neurologist

  1. Ria Pi April 14, 2013 / 7:57 am

    This reminds me a lot of the Annals of Improbable Research, especially the paper about phylogeny in Pokémon.

  2. Davos Seaworth April 14, 2013 / 1:30 pm

    Why on in the world would you try to justify that; this paper entirely ignore the fact that for a binary star system like the one they proposed, it is literally always daytime. The Maesters tell the seasons by the length of the day, not the temperature. Also George R. R. Martin actually said it was ‘magical in nature’.

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