Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Proposal by Paper

By Stephen Luntz

When Brendan McMonigal wrote a mock research paper proposing to his girlfriend neither guessed it would go viral on the internet.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

When physicist Brendan McMonigal wanted to propose to science communicator Christie Nelan he decided to do it in the most scientific way he could think of. He created a fictitious paper, writing about their relationship as if it was a scientific subject for study and titling it Two Body Interactions: A Longitudinal Study.

In the conclusion McMonigal wrote: “The summary of the findings of the study are presented in Figure 1, and show that the projected happiness is upward with high confidence. Taking these results into account the author proposes to Christie Nelan, the indefinite continuation of the study.” He gave it to her on bended knee at the place where they first met.

The single flaw in the plan was that Nelan skipped straight from the abstract to the conclusion, and was forced to then read the whole paper while “just wanting to say yes”.

A year later, in the lead-up to the wedding, Nelan put the paper on the internet. It went viral, attracting over two million hits (and probably more through mirror sites). The combination of whimsical romance and science proved irresistible to many.

Both McMonigal and Nelan were early enthusiasts for science. “I was always interested in science, but not in a specific branch,” Nelan says. “In grade 2 I read a book on clouds and I was going to be a meteorologist. The next year it would be something else,...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.