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Science and stuff with a wise-cracking Mars rover

If you spend any amount of time in the Twittersphere, you’ve probably seen at least one of the following:(1) surprisingly snarky and even subversive tweets from the Queen of England and other public figures; (2) running commentary from inanimate objects and fictional characters; (3) the occasional witticism from the whole of the cosmos.

Welcome to the world of parody Twitter accounts. In an age of memes — tiny chunks of social commentary that spread across the internet like cockroaches when you switch on the kitchen light — creating parody profiles on the social networking site has turned into something of an art form. The trend began, it seems, with “Fake Steve Jobs” in early 2007. Since then it has grown to include the likes of Kim Kierkegaardashian, the Bronx Zoo’s escaped cobra and even The Universe, which has made a habit of responding to people who refer to it in their tweets.

Parody Twitter accounts adopt different tones and serve different purposes. Some are just straight-up goofy, trading on a contrast with how the public figure in question might speak or behave. Examples include the Queen of England account alluded to above and the now-suspended @Bill_Nye_tho, which imagined the beloved Bill Nye the Science Guy as perpetually stoned and rhapsodizing about, for example, just how chill slugs are (as opposed to naturally slow moving, per the common misconception).

Others, in true parody fashion, seek to make some sort of statement by imitating the characteristics or perceived characteristics of a person or thing. These naturally include any number of politically oriented accounts.

My favorite strikes a slightly different pose. Launched the same day that NASA’s Curiosity rover touched down on Mars, Sarcastic Rover (@sarcasticrover) offers the musings of a melancholy robot/instrument platform puttering around the Red Planet scooping up dirt and lasering rocks, and occasionally lamenting how sad and lonely he is. 

The feed is riotously funny, but it also seeks to promote space exploration — and science generally — while giving shout-outs to laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy and MALDI among other previously totally arcane optics technologies. I’m not saying Sarcastic Rover has single-handedly made the space program hip again, but when people are dressing up as Curiosity for Halloween — at his suggestion — and walking around in T shirts emblazoned with a cartoon of the rover and the catchphrase “Let’s do a Science,” he’s clearly doing something right.

Sarcastic Rover — in real life, Jason Filiatrault, a “sporadically employed” comedy writer — has even spoken up for NASA when agency employees might have been bound by a sense of decorum to keep quiet. When the daredevil who recently set the record for the world’s highest skydive criticized the space program, suggesting it hasn’t taught us nearly enough to justify its cost, Sarcastic Rover fired back in a series of tweets and a blog post on his website. I won’t link to the latter here — language and all that — but check it out. It’s worth the read.

There are plenty of people within the science community, of course, who can speak eloquently in defense of the space program and of science generally. Still, it’s nice to know there’s someone out there who engages with the general populace and amuses to no end and, while he’s at it, encourages folks to learn a tiny bit more about how the universe works.

Or, as he himself said in a tweet:

“It’s okay America! I’ll carry the torch of scientific reason and inspire young minds… you just keep talking about Snookie’s baby.”



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