Gibbs Day: A Festival of Pseudoscience

On February 21, 1822--that auspicious day sandwiched between the official Washington's Birthday and the true date of Washington's birth--a scientist named Gibbs was born. Though he was not Gibbs-the-scientist, who garnered fame for his free energy equation, this Gibbs also achieved notoriety. This was the Wolcott Gibbs of the Gibbsians, a little known cult of fanatics not unlike the Moonies.

No one inside or outside of the sect can remember why or how Gibbs became their greater godhead, except to recall that the only existing statue of Gibbs is a bust. However, some have speculated that this small group chose Gibbs on account of his small achievements.

The history of the Gibbsians' lesser godhead, Schutt, is better known. A distant relative of Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie, Schutt was the founder of the Gibbs Historical Society, a front organization for the Gibbsians. Portraits of Schutt's head are displayed everywhere on February 21--"Gibbs Day"--sometimes adorned with the traditional tie and lab coat of the lesser godhead.

Gibbs himself, however, is the real focus of Gibbs Day. Each year at this date a snow sculpture of Gibbs's head appears by immaculate precipitation behind the Busch-Reisinger Museum and in front of the Gibbsian temple, a monumental temple on the Harvard campus disguised as a laboratory. On normal work days the group uses this "lab" to manifest their belief in X-ray diffraction as the key to solving the world's great problems. But on Gibbs Day, the X-rays are extinguished; the day's only pseudoscientific activities are the barometer and thermometer readings that precede the 15.6 seconds of silence that commemorate the anniversary of the birth of the greater godhead.

Among the distinguished members of the Gibbs Society taking part at this year's 150th anniversary of Gibbs's birth were Nobel Laureate William N. Lipscomb, Lawrence Professor of Chemistry, who crowned the noble bronze bust of Gibbs, and George Kistiakowsky, Lawrence Professor of Chemistry Emeritus and former National Science Advisor. Kistiakowsky's dog, a Welsh Corgi named Nikki, gave a speech describing his encounters with Checkers during Kistiakowsky's tenure in the Eisenhower administration. Many Gibbsians believe that Nikki is actually the reincarnation of Darwin's Beagle.


Following last week's solemn ceremonies, the Gibbsians quickly returned to their religious proselytizing, preparing tracts for publication and dissemination through a network of journals and "scientific" seminars. As one of the photographs smuggled out of the "lab" reveals, the Gibbsians are now trying to draw the godhead's body into existence out of photons and an erector set.