All / Originally Posted on Skirt

To the Zombie Mathematician

Dear Dr. Smith?,

Perusing the news today I came across a BBC article about your mathematical modeling of possible outcomes of a zombie attack.  I appreciate you also making the full text of the published chapter available through your university webpage, though as I am not a mathematician, much of the statistics admittedly went over my head.

But that’s not why I’m writing.

The phrase in the BBC article that actually caught my eye was: “Professor Robert Smith? (the question mark is part of his surname and not a typographical mistake)…”  They then clarify that this is because you wish to differentiate yourself from the lead singer of “The Cure”.  On your own website, you say that “If you haven’t lived with an incredibly common name, then you have no idea what it’s like to be entirely invisible on Google.”  However, as you immediately acknowledge, the question mark actually does not solve this problem.  Ironically, as Google does not recognize punctuation marks even when specified within quotes or through various Boolean search functions, the first page that appears upon Googling “Robert Smith?” is a Wikipedia article on the other Robert Smith, complete with many charming photographs of that same individual.  (Though “Professor Robert Smith” did link to your page…or even “that zombie researcher” in Google News.) 

So, since the question mark alone doesn’t seem to make a difference on that front, I am left with one pressing question: if you’re set on adorning your name with grammatical symbols, why not go for broke and use an interrobang?  If you are unfamiliar with this idiosyncratic piece of punctuation, it serves to fill that unfortunate gap between a question and an exclamation (e.g. “The conference fees are HOW much?!” or even “Why do people make fun of MY PhD when there are perfectly serious papers getting published on zombie research?!”)  To my extreme regret the interrobang isn’t available as a special character on, but several fine examples can be found on this website dedicated to bringing it into the fold of commonly accepted punctuation marks. 

Please excuse my presumptuousness–a name is a very personal thing about which to make suggestions, after all–but as I too have a fairly common name, I hope you take my suggestion with the sympathy and good humor with which it is intended.  I would also like to thank you for advancing public awareness of disaster preparedness requirements in the event of zombie attack, a vastly underappreciated area of research. 

Kindest Regards,

Caitlin McDonald