Two Ig Nobel shows in Stockholm Monday

March 29th, 2015

The 2015 Ig Nobel EuroTour arrives in Sweden this week after wending its way through the UK, Belgium and Denmark. The tour concludes with two shows in Stockholm. Here are the details:

  • KAROLINSKA INSTITUTE, Stockholm, Sweden. Lecture hall Gustaf Retzius, at Berzelius väg 3. Monday, March 30, 3:00 pm. Featuring: Marc Abrahams; Dr. Nakamats (Ig Nobel winner, photographing every meal he has consumed over a period of 43 years); Jaroslav Flegr (Ig Nobel winner, Is it mentally hazardous for a human to own a cat); Sabine Begall and Pascal Malkemper (Ig Nobel winners, Documenting that when dogs defecate and urinate, they prefer to align their body axis with Earth’s north-south geomagnetic field lines); Andrea Rapisarda (Ig Nobel winner, demonstrating mathematically that organizations would become more efficient if they promoted people at random); Gustav Nilsonne (Karolinska neuroscientist, demonstrating the relative difficulty and ease of walking with a cup of coffee and a cup of beer.).
  • BOULEVARDTEATERN, Stockholm, Sweden. Gotgatan 73, 116 62 Stockholm.Monday, March 30, 6:30 pm. Same people as in the afternoon show.

BONUS: “A Genius’s Last Show” [Dagens Nyheter report, in Swedish]

BONUS: A question for Professor Flegr


8,315,553,613,086,720,000, and the Monster

March 29th, 2015

Who wrote the paper of papers that has the number 8,315,553,613,086,720,000 in its title? John H. Conway.

The 8,315,553,613,086,720,000 paper is:

A Group of Order 8,315,553,613,086,720,000,” John H. Conway, Bulletin of the London Mathematical Society, 1 (1969): 79-88.

Someone convinced him to sit down and talk about “Life, Death, and The Monster”  Here’s video of that:

To many admirers, Conway is above all the creator of life: the Game of Life. Martin Gardner wrote about that achievement: “The game made Conway instantly famous, but it also opened up a whole new field of mathematical research, the field of cellular automata … Because of Life’s analogies with the rise, fall and alterations of a society of living organisms, it belongs to a growing class of what are called “simulation games” (games that resemble real life processes).”

Here’s Conway doing an informal, long talk about that, and this and that (beginning with sphere packing in 24-dimensional space, and then meandering around various topics):


First Rule of Ant Fight Club: Choose a Model for Ant Fight Club

March 28th, 2015

Two ants enter; one ant leaves. (Well, the numbers are actually somewhat larger than that.)

In the paper Modeling ant battles by means of a diffusion-limited Gillespie algorithm, biologist Giacomo Santini and his coauthors have proposed two modeling approaches for studying battles among ants.

When developing theories (for animal behavior and in other complex systems), a crucial scientific step — in addition to experiments and observations, of course — is to develop and analyze one or more models.

Indeed, scientists often pit models against each other. As Santini and coauthors write,

(…) This work is mainly motivated by the need to have realistic models to predict the interaction dynamics of invasive species. The two considered species exhibit different fighting strategies. In order to describe the observed battle dynamics, we start by building a chemical model considering the ants and the fighting groups (for instance two ants of a species and one of the other one) as a chemical species. From the chemical equations we deduce a system of differential equations, whose parameters are estimated by minimizing the difference between the experimental data and the model output. We model the fluctuations observed in the experiments by means of a standard Gillespie algorithm. In order to better reproduce the observed behavior, we adopt a spatial agent-based model, in which ants not engaged in fighting groups move randomly (diffusion) among compartments, and the Gillespie algorithm is used to model the reactions inside a compartment.


The new paper is a sequel to a prior paper by the same authors. So much for not talking about Fight Club.

Bonus: One of the new paper’s citations is a 2009 preprint called Partial differential equations versus cellular automata for modelling combat, and the longstanding fight between PDE and cellular-automata approaches to modeling (of which that paper is but one tiny battle) rages to this day. If you believe Google Fight, it seems that PDEs win this battle. My fellow Oxford applied mathematicians will no doubt be happy about this result.

A question for Professor Flegr

March 27th, 2015

At last night’s Ig Nobel show at the University of Aarhus, a woman in the audience asked Ig Nobel Prize winner Jaroslav Flegr: “Can you prove that you are not a character in the movie ‘Back to the Future’“?

Flegr answered: “No.”

Here is a photo of Professor Flegr taken at the event. He is seated at the right. (Ig Nobel Prize winner Hynek Burda is at the left, and Ig Nobel winner Eigil Reimers in the middle.)


Tonight, the Ig Nobel Tour does a show in Copenhagen. Next Monday, there will be two shows in Stockholm.

Improbable Research weekly podcast, reviewed

March 27th, 2015

Tom Holliman reviewed the Improbable Research weekly podcast. The review appears in the April 2015 issue of The Psychologist:

The Annals of Improbable Research, the magazine dedicated to research that ‘makes people laugh and then think’, has recently launched a weekly podcast, ‘Improbable Research’, which is sure to be a massive hit with anyone interested in the quirky and obscure side of science. Presenter Marc Abrahams’ dead-pan style of reporting is a perfect comedic match for truly improbable research, well suited to discussing papers such as Kees Moeliker’s ‘The first case of homosexual necrophilia in the mallard duck’. However, don’t let this comedy value fool you; ‘Improbable Research’ is a scientific podcast, and the methodology of studies such as Greenway and Garcia’s ‘Designing and testing an improved packaging for large hollow chocolate bunnies’ is treated to rigorous examination, as is an investigation into the economic benefits of Kurt Cobain’s suicide (the tactfully titled paper ‘Artists’ suicides as a public good’), with joyfully entertaining results. ‘Improbable Research’ takes the listener on a hilarious adventure through esoteric, absurd and at times questionable research, and leaves them amused, bemused, and eager for more.