It’s two in the morning, you’re in a dive bar, and shit, as they say, is about to go down. You needn’t turn to action heroes to find a group that will help you take out the trash. The sciences offer a few heavy hitters. Here are ten scientists you’d want with you in a fight.
10. Richard Feynman
Let’s face it, this guy knows his way around a bar. But he brings a lot more than knowledge of the terrain. Feynman might be considered the wildman of the group, but we’re more interested in his analytical skill. He first made a name for himself during the Manhattan project, and then with a wildly popular series of books, but his greatest moment came after a national tragedy. When the Challenger shuttle exploded, the entire world wanted to know what happened, and Richard Feynman demonstrated it on a table in a conference room. All kidding aside, it’s always worth having someone who can analyze what is going wrong and figure out a way to fix the problem. Plus, he used to break out of the Los Alamos military base all the time, so if it all goes bad, he’s the extraction guy.
9. Edwin Hubble
According to rumor, when Edwin Hubble was in college, he was approached by a fight promoter who wanted him to fight the then-heavyweight-champ and the still-legendary Jack Johnson. According to Hubble, he did fight, and managed to tie, French boxing champion Georges Carpentier. There’s little doubt that Hubble was a talented boxer. If there’s doubt about whether the rumor is true, it’s because Hubble was also a self-aggrandizing jerk. He got under everyone’s skin in every possible way—including affecting a British accent for the rest of his life after just a few years at Oxford. Although he had dueling scars on his face, most biographers think they were carefully inflicted by a friend, not casually by a dueling opponent.
Still, a guy with a mouth like that has to have been in a few fights. And if you have to leave someone behind for the other group to pound into jelly, you shouldn’t feel too bad about leaving Hubble.
8. Dian Fossey
But forget something as effete as boxing—if there is one person on this list who is comfortable being in a physical fight, it’s Dian Fossey. According to biographer Harold Hayes, “Fossey had shot at her enemies, kidnapped their children, whipped them about the genitals, smeared them with ape dung, killed their cattle, burned their property and sent them to jail.”
If that sounds nasty . . . nasty doesn’t even scratch the surface of Dian Fossey. She was to science what Joe Pesci’s character was to Goodfellas.
It’s tough to say exactly which of the stories about her—which include everything from her utterly cowing her research teams to her threatening to castrate poachers with machetes—are true, which are exaggeration, and which were simply spread by her to establish an intimidating legend. What’s certain is that this zoologist was tough, fearless, and aggressive. I don’t know how it would be possible for a human to get her on their side, but you certainly want her on your side.
7. Mae Jemison
Mae Jemison got her doctorate. Then Mae Jemison joined the Peace Corps. Then Mae Jemison became an astronaut. Then Mae Jemison became the first astronaut to appear on Star Trek. Mae Jemison now has nine honorary doctorates—in addition to her original doctorate—and is on the board of a 100 Year Starship, a program meant to lay a foundation that will eventually lead to interstellar travel.
I don’t know whether Mae Jemison is a good fighter—although I imagine that she’s in good shape because while she was in medical school she was also studied dance, and later she produced and choreographed dance numbers. I just know that Mae Jemison doesn’t lose.
Mae Jemison doesn’t lose ever.
6. Buzz Aldrin
The man has proved that he can throw a punch.
I never get tired of watching that. Hey guy! How does it feel to have your ass handed to you by a 72-year-old man who definitely did walk on the moon?
5. Mary Anning
Mary Anning learned something about the science of fossil collecting from her father and mother when she was a child, but after the age of twelve she pretty much taught herself to be, in the opinion of some, “the greatest fossilist the world ever knew.” She did this in part out of interest in the background and significance of her discoveries, and in part because she needed to recover and sell fossils in order to support her family. This meant that she spent most of her life doing hard and exact physical labor. She hiked out and found fossils along cliffs, recovered them, cleaned them, and carefully staged them.
How does this help in a fight, you ask. Look at her picture. See that thing in her hand? She used that her entire life. This woman was strong, determined, and with a blunt instrument in her hand she could probably beat up Thor himself.
4. Charles Drew
Dr. Charles Drew invented a way to bank blood plasma, so there’s one thing you can be sure of—he won’t get woozy at the sight of blood. Before entering the medical field, he went to college on a sports scholarship and distinguished himself in both track and football, so he can get where he needs to be quickly and you know he can tackle people. After college he got by, for a time, as a high school coach—which means he probably broke up more than a few fights.
Most important, though, is his medical training. During his time at medical school he did very well in anatomy. This man knows where to hit. When he graduated, second in his class, he earned degrees as both a Doctor of Medicine and Master of Surgery. Master of Surgery. This is a guy who could literally use the famous line from The Dark Knight Returns: “This isn’t a mudhole... It’s an operating table. And I’m the surgeon.”
3. Ada Lovelace
I’ll admit it, Ada Lovelace wouldn’t be a heavyweight in this fight. She was not the healthiest person on Earth, even before she got the cholera that left her dyspeptic and asthmatic. Her contribution isn’t physical.
If Feynman’s talent is seeing what’s gone wrong, Lovelace’s talent is seeing what can go right. This is a woman who wrote notes which anticipated computer science by a century. Plus, she loved gambling, so she won’t shrink from a fight and she won’t hesitate to take any possible advantage of the other group’s weaknesses. If anyone can direct your group towards a risky, but winning, strategy, it’s Lovelace.
2. Isaac Newton
He was fussy, he was prissy, and he was particular, but no one could possibly beat him when it comes to pure meanness. This man spent his entire life in vicious fights with nearly everyone he knew, and all those fights ended with him winning.
Why? Because no matter how much people hated Isaac Newton—and believe me people hated Isaac Newton—it couldn’t compare to how much Isaac Newton hated other people. There’s no arguing with his staying power and malice. I’m telling you, after every one of your team is knocked out, Newton will still be there waving a shattered beer bottle and spitting in your opponents’ faces.
Plus, as he himself confessed, he was really good with a crossbow.
1. Chien-Shiung Wu
I didn’t expect to find anyone to top Newton, but someone did. Wu came to America in 1936, and got her PhD in physics from UC Berkeley in 1940. She was quickly hired by the US Division of War Research and moved to the Manhattan Project. After World War II was over, she went to Columbia University, where she worked so hard that her students once bought her and her son movie tickets just to get a couple of hours off. (It didn’t work. She sent the nanny.) Her work included everything from separating isotopes to investigating beta decay to proving that the nucleus of an atom didn’t have to be symmetrical.
All impressive work, but why does it mean she’s a good ally in a fight? Before she came to America, she spent four years, her university years, publicly protesting the decisions of the Chinese government. She would lead sit-ins at her college, demanding the government take a stronger line against Japan. Whether you think her politics were good or bad, consider whether or not you would have the guts to publicly protest in China in the 1930s. What’s really impressive is the fact that she was elected to be the leader of the protest group because her academic work was so extraordinary that her colleagues believed that the government would never move against her. She was so smart that she fought China and China backed down. Who the hell could beat that?