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The Almighty Buck Space Wikipedia Science

Did Stephen Hawking Owe a Nobel Physicist a Subscription To a Softcore Porn Magazine? (vice.com) 106

dmoberhaus writes: In 1974, Stephen Hawking made a bet with Nobel Prize-winning cosmologist Kip Thorne about a black hole. The wager was a subscription to the softcore porn magazine Penthouse for Thorne or a subscription to "Private Eye" (basically the British equivalent of The Onion) for Hawking. Hawking ultimately lost the bet, but did he ever pay up? Motherboard dug around to find out if Hawking settled this infamous bet.

Motherboard's Daniel Oberhaus wasn't able to get ahold of Thorne, but did manage to track down a copy of the obscure 1997 straight-to-VHS documentary called Black Holes, which is the only evidence that the wager even happened. "In 1990, Stephen Hawking happened to be visiting Los Angeles and he broke into my office and thumb printed off on this bet," Thorne recalls in the video. Oberhaus writes: "Although the status of Cygnus X-1 was an open question in the 70s, by the 90s mounting evidence had forced Hawking to concede the wager. The bet was recorded in a handwritten note scrawled on a piece of card which is shown in the film. It read: 'Whereas Stephen Hawking has a large investment in general relativity and black holes and desires an insurance policy, and whereas Kip Thorne likes to live dangerously without an insurance policy, therefore be it resolved that Stephen Hawking bets 1 year's subscription to 'Penthouse' as against Kip Thorne's wager of a 4-year subscription to 'Private Eye,' that Cygnus X-1 does not contain a black hole of mass above the Chandrasekhar limit.' 'I had given Thorne a subscription to Penthouse, much to his wife's disgust,' a smiling Hawking says in the film."

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Did Stephen Hawking Owe a Nobel Physicist a Subscription To a Softcore Porn Magazine?

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  • By that wheelchair guy

    • Larry Flynt is right!

    • Oh my! I am really getting old.

      In the pre-internet days, Penthouse was considered hardcore porn, not softcore porn.

      • Re:It's in the book (Score:5, Informative)

        by Stephan Schulz ( 948 ) <schulz@eprover.org> on Wednesday March 21, 2018 @01:59AM (#56295565) Homepage

        In the pre-internet days, Penthouse was considered hardcore porn, not softcore porn.

        Maybe in Puritanville, USA, but not anywhere else. Hardcore porn has a reasonably formal definition [wikipedia.org] - it basically shows people in the act of actually doing it (not just pretending to be doing it). Penthouse, on the other hand, essentially only ever showed pictures of nude and semi-nude women.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          You are totally wrong. Penthouse switched to full on hardcore porn showing penetration years ago. Tho I have not seen one in many years so they may have changed back. Regardless, for a long time Penthouse has been fully hardcore.

          • Re:It's in the book (Score:5, Informative)

            by Stephan Schulz ( 948 ) <schulz@eprover.org> on Wednesday March 21, 2018 @04:42AM (#56295839) Homepage

            You are totally wrong. Penthouse switched to full on hardcore porn showing penetration years ago. Tho I have not seen one in many years so they may have changed back. Regardless, for a long time Penthouse has been fully hardcore.

            Well, I'm wrong en detail - didn't know about the switch (they switched in 1998, and apparently back in 2005, according to Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] - man, I'm OLD!), but pre-internet would be pre-1982, or, if you assume the web, pre-1989. About 10 years of porn on the web before Penthouse went hardcore...

            • by 4im ( 181450 )

              if you assume the web, pre-1989

              Ummm... since you're old enough to remember - there was no actual web around outside CERN before 1991. My own first encounters were rather around '92 or '93, with MOSAIC on some lab Macs (in Switzerland, thus close to the web's birthplace). Outside of academia, Internet access went through the likes of Compuserve or AOL, ISPs mostly came later.

              Back then you'd find pr0n rather on Usenet (binaries groups) than the web, or maybe on some FTP servers. That changed quickly, of course.

        • penthouse has pussy spreads and at least dicks inches away from said pussy. playboy doesn't.

          playboy always did that so that it could claim like it's not jackoff material etc. it worked for a while, it was always bs.

          some countries playboy doesn't even have tits.

          • Back in the late 70s, when I paid attention to these things, the Playboy models always looked like they were having more fun than the Penthouse models. (I'm not claiming they did, but that's how it was presented.)

        • I grew up in Canada. Before the Internet, to me, Playboy was soft because it didn't show the lips. Penthouse and Club were hardcore because they had wide open pussy shots. Post Internet, to me, hardcore means penetration and not just spread open pink.
  • by iamhassi ( 659463 )
    Did the summary answer the title's question? "I had given Thorne a subscription to Penthouse, much to his wife's disgust,' a smiling Hawking says in the film."
    • by sconeu ( 64226 )

      The exception to Betteridge's Law of Headlines.

      • by SeaFox ( 739806 )

        The exception to Betteridge's Law of Headlines.

        How it is an exception to the law? The title is written in past tense because of his death. "Did Stephen Hawking Owe a Nobel Physicist a Subscription To a Softcore Porn Magazine (He Never Paid Up On)?"

        The answer is no -- because in the 1997 video Hawking states he had given him the subscription (note also past tense).
        Hawking paid his debt. So Betteridge's Law continues.

        • by sconeu ( 64226 )

          Damn. You're right. I didn't even read the whole headline. I just saw the bet part.

          I am corrected. Thank you, sir.

  • by jd ( 1658 ) <imipak@@@yahoo...com> on Tuesday March 20, 2018 @11:45PM (#56295263) Homepage Journal

    That showed that piece of paper, and it appeared in several books. The original article is therefore false on the ability to verify the bet took place.

    Did Hawking pay up? I know Hawking said he did and I'm fairly sure Thorne has confirmed that.

  • Pre-decimalisation?
    They will all have their pants on.
  • He lost a bet with Susskind as well about information conservation [telegraph.co.uk]. Although the war of ideas was great for theoretical physics. Susskind is my favorite physicist because he puts all of his general study courses online. His class on general relativity is excellent [youtube.com]
    • Hawking's bets were premised on the idea that it would make verification or falsification headline news and guarantee the limelight be shared.

      Since the bets were always that one of his theories was wrong, he also guaranteed a win either way.

      • Hawking's bets were premised on the idea that it would make verification or falsification headline news and guarantee the limelight be shared.

        Since the bets were always that one of his theories was wrong, he also guaranteed a win either way.

        That's what makes both science and Hawking great.

  • by maroberts ( 15852 ) on Wednesday March 21, 2018 @01:01AM (#56295453) Homepage Journal

    Whilst it does have a humorous slant on the news, buried in Private Eye are often serious reports of corruption, nepotism, government mismanagement. etc.

    Private Eye is a serious journal which dresses up its allegations in humor. The Onion, so far as I'm aware, just goes for the laughs.

    • by oobayly ( 1056050 ) on Wednesday March 21, 2018 @04:20AM (#56295783)

      Plus, The Onion literally makes the news up. The British equivalents would be The Daily Mash and News Thump.

      Private Eye is an excellent weekly magazine. I think it's funny because if it weren't, then you'd be crying when reading some of the corruption and hypocrisy they uncover.

      It's editor, Ian Hislop is also pretty damn funny, not only on TV shows (Have I got news for you), but also in enquiries:
      https://youtu.be/qgTQbmEmaXk [youtu.be]

    • It's strange that the comaprison was though to be needed. Could have just said it's a popular satirical political magazine.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Whilst it does have a humorous slant on the news, buried in Private Eye are often serious reports of corruption, nepotism, government mismanagement. etc.

      Buried?

      Private Eye is a serious journal which dresses up its allegations in humor. The Onion, so far as I'm aware, just goes for the laughs.

      and also

      The Onion ---- Founded: 1988>
      Private Eye -- First issue date: 1961>

      I can remember back in the 70's where you'd have to travel to Glasgow to purchase a copy of the Eye fresh off the train from London from a guy outside the station..Menzies refusing to distribute it and all that for some strange reason. [wikipedia.org]

    • by Xest ( 935314 )

      Yes, the reason Private Eye dresses it up in humour is because when the lawsuits come flying they can pass it off as parody - they've probably been sued, and one more cases than almost any other publication.

      They effectively use parody laws to expose things the mainstream papers wont touch through fear of being sued.

      This is somewhat a factor of our harsh libel laws, because it's easy to sue people for libel and slander even if what they're saying is actually true because our laws favour protection against li

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Penthouses and Playboy may be interchangeable. However, the Onion and Private Eye are in no way comparable.

  • blah (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Given that Hawking mentioned it, and his reasoning for the bet in the book he wrote (A Brief History of Time), then i'd say yes.

    He explained that he even bet against himself somewhat so that the consolation of him being wrong would be that at least he'd get a magazine subscription out of it, if i recall.

  • Private Eye (Score:5, Informative)

    by durgledoggy ( 1931480 ) on Wednesday March 21, 2018 @02:39AM (#56295623) Journal
    Private Eye is not "similar to The Onion". It is a satirical magazine which puts a satirical and humorous slant on actual news. It's a serious magazine.
    • by Zocalo ( 252965 )
      While I agree with you main point that it's a bad comparison, The Onion does technically put a satirical and humorous slant on actual news, and although they tend to use parody more than satire in the premises for their stories the connection to real world events is usually fairly apparent. Unlike Private Eye, The Onion also blatantly makes a lot of stuff up too, of course.
      • If you want a UK equivalent to The Onion, I'd suggest the Daily Mash.
      • I'd call it more equivalent to Jon Stewart's Daily Show, except that it is of course a newspaper and not a TV show. They're satirical, but they're not making stuff up.

  • I'm not sure how this is even remotely relevant, a small anecdote aside, even if it was a subscription to Kink.com.

    As if it was shameful or abnormal to read Penthouse. Or is it the gifting of it?

    • In the US, nudie magazines were considered inappropriate and distasteful. Shameful, a bit, abnormal, not if you look at circulation figures.

  • Why is this even newsworthy? It only shows that he was as much human as the majority of us.
  • If I recall, the bet is framed on the wall in a 3 Rd floor hallway in one of the astrophysics buildings at Caltech. One of my buddies who worked on LIGO showed it to me once. I chortled breifly. Ah, science.

  • This wager was a joke. The bet was about who was right or not. Nobody gave two fucks if the bet was paid out on or not. You'd think people who run a tech mag/web site would get that.
  • by rknop ( 240417 ) on Wednesday March 21, 2018 @07:27AM (#56296239) Homepage

    Stephen Hawking was at Caltech in the 1990s giving a public talk when he conceded this bet. He visited Caltech for a semester twice while I was in grad school there between 1990 and 1996. I remember one physics colloquium; I understood about the first five minutes of the talk. This was in the middle of an ongoing theoretical project where both of them were trying to answer the question: could an arbitrarily advanced civilization, constrained only by physics but not by financial or engineering considerations, construct a traversible wormhole? The question came about when Carl Sagan called up Kip to ask that question. (This was reported by Kip when he was giving a talk about black holes to the intro Physics course at Caltech; I was a TA at the time.) In the physics colloquium that Stephen was giving, he and Kip got into a bit of an argument at the end during questions, and I remember Stephen saying something along the lines of "even somebody as tough and powerful as you, Kip, wouldn't survive that".

    Each time he visited, Stephen also gave a public talk, which was *extremely* well attended. Indeed, at at least one of them, I didn't make it into the auditorium where the talk itself happened, but into another auditorium on campus where they were (what we would today call) live streaming the talk. At the end, when Stephen was taking questions, it would take him a couple of minutes to compose the reply on his keypad thingy. To keep everybody from getting restless, Kip would talk to the audience. During one of these questions, Kip was telling everybody about the bet. When Stephen's answer came out, he'd decided not to answer the question, but instead conceded the bet to Kip. It was quite fun to watch.

    Many people were there to see this; I'd be surprised if there weren't others reading this thread who had seen it.....

  • Does anyone really care that an adult bought a (perfectly legal) magazine for another adult?
  • Penthouse is "softcore" porn?

    Look, I understand the internet has raised the bar substantially, but I remember some pretty hardcore stuff in penthouse in the early 80s, as opposed to Playboy which was pretty boringly softcore forever.

  • Fourteen year old dupe of a dupe, although some thought the bet was for a set of encyclopedias

    Originally mentioned in this article: https://science.slashdot.org/s... [slashdot.org] and duped a few months later: https://science.slashdot.org/s... [slashdot.org]

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