Archive for 'Arts and science'

What is your favorite dinosaur, and why?

Thursday, April 16th, 2015

Darrin Pagnac, of the Museum of Geology at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, teache sthe course GEOL 372, Dinosaurs, every spring. He writes (in the Transforming Time Into Space blog):

The course is geared toward sophomore majors and upper-level non-majors.  I specifically keep it light and utilize it less to instruct the intricacies of paleontology and more as a tool to instill skepticism and critical thinking skills.  It’s a very popular course and, most likely because of the content, I generally get very good teaching reviews. After the systematics portion of the course where I outline the various types of dinosaurs, the exam includes the question, “What is your favorite dinosaur and why?”  I’ve been tabulating the answers for five years and the results are intriguing.


Above is a pie chart of the total percentage of answers to this question.  I find it interesting that there is a 50/50 split between Saurischia (theropods and sauropods) and Ornithischia (all other groups).  In terms of totals, theropods are the clear leader for obvious reasons; they have sharp teeth, claws, are fast, agile, and awe inspiring.  I do take note of subdivisions of theropods as well, and, as expected, “raptors” are generally the front-runner with Tyrannosaurus a close second.

The next most common favorite is sauropods, but for completely different reasons.  Students who like sauropods are drawn to their ubiquitous nature.  Sauropods seem to be the “go-to”, iconic dinosaur and are found everywhere from old cartoons, to gas station signs, to displays in major airport terminals, to cheesy tourist traps.  Sauropods have been these students’ favorites since childhood

Ornithischians are a more mixed lot.  Because ornithischians contain six groupings as opposed to saurischia’s two, simple statistics dictate that responses to these groups will be more dilute, and this is indeed the case.  Below is a bar chart illustrating the breakdown of favorite dinosaur group by year, as well as the totals.  As you can see, it varies a great deal by year which ornithischian group comes out on top.


Ankylosaurs are the leader for favorite ornithischian group due to their distinctive appearance and “weaponry”.  The same attraction draws students to ceratopsians and stegosaurs; horns and spikes apparently appeal to repressed blood-lust.  Pachycephalosaurs appeal for similar reasons.  Despite the fact that my pachycephalosaur lecture is devoted to debunking the head-butting myth, students still seem to relish the idea of dinosaurs running full-tilt into each other’s thickened crania.  Finally, the students who are drawn to hadrosaurs generally hearken back to a favorite childhood movie or cartoon.  Iguanodonts get no love, which is too bad.  How can you hate a dinosaur that’s constantly giving you the “thumbs-up”?

I constantly refer to paleontology as the “gateway drug to science”.  Paleontology is a fantastic tool for STEM education and for fostering curiosity and passion for science.  Dinosaurs work gloriously in this capacity as they provide an approachable way to illustrate scientific concepts and critical thinking applications.  After I’ve destroyed childhood viewpoints with my pachycephalosaur lecture, I often find many students openly angry at the idea that no head-butting likely occurred.  When I ask them why they are so angry, they generally state in some way that they’ve become emotionally attached to this imagery or idea.  I then tell them to think about this next time they hear a debate about climate change, or creationism, or anti-vaccination, or GMOs, or any politically heated argument.  It’s difficult to change your mind about something you’re emotionally invested in.  I encourage them to keep an open mind.

Sixty-five million years later, dinosaurs can still have a lasting and positive effect on the world…

Podcast #7: Trinkaus, a further look (at things that annoy him)

Wednesday, April 15th, 2015

Continuing what we started last week (in Podcast #6) the happily annoyed works of Professor John Trinkaus — who counts things that annoy him — bubble further forth in this week’s Improbable Research podcast.

LISTEN on or iTunes (or DOWNLOAD it, and listen later).
SUBSCRIBE on or iTunes, to get a new episode every week, free.

This week, Marc Abrahams tells about:

The mysterious John Schedler did the sound engineering this week.

The podcast is all about research that makes people LAUGH, then THINK — research about anything and everything, from everywhere —research that’s good or bad, important or trivial, valuable or worthless. CBS distributes it, both on the new CBS web site, and on iTunes.

A(nother) new kind of underpants (US patent)

Monday, April 13th, 2015

UK-based inventor Paul O’Leary has received (as of 20th Jan 2015) a US patent for his ‘Underwear Garment’

“A significant amount of effort has been expended into research of clothing and, in particular, the aspects of underwear garments which help to promote confidence and self-esteem within a wearer. Such research and development has typically centred on specific areas of the human body, such as the chest or legs, resulting in a number of improvements in the form and function of, for example, brassieres, corsets and stockings. It is perhaps fair to say that less effort has been generally expended in this regard to the groin region.

ShrreddiesThere are a number of problems and social stigmas associated with the groin region which can lead a person to lack confidence or otherwise feel embarrassed.”

The new invention – already being marketed under the tradename ‘Shreddies’ – is designed (amongst other things) to attend to some of these problems by filtering out flatulence via a ‘Zorflex’ activated-carbon back panel.

The Science Behind Shreddies is explained here : [scroll about halfway down the page]

Also see: A new kind of underpants (2010)

Coming Soon: Underpants in Academia

How to write an “editor’s note” (about nudie musicals in 1970s New York City)

Monday, April 13th, 2015

A good editor’s note clarifies something vital that some readers might (without guidance from the editor) overlook or under-appreciate, or that some lawyer insists on having stated explicitly. New editors can learn the art of writing editor’s notes by studying classic examples. Here is one such example:

[Editor’s note: This post contains numerous hyperlinks to video and sound files that enrich the text with excerpts from the films and productions that the author discusses. We suggest that you read through the post once without clicking the hyperlinks to get a sense of their context in the discussion, and then go back through to reap the benefits of these additional illustrations.]

That note appears at the very beginning of an essay called “Nudie Musicals in 1970s New York City“, by Elizabeth L. Wollman [pictured here], associate professor of music at Baruch College, City University of New York. The essay was published on June 16, 2014, in the “Sound Matters” blog, produced by the Society for Ethnomusicology.ElizabethWollman

(Thanks to investigator Jim Cowdery for bringing this to our attention.)

BONUS: Baruch College is home to many great essayists. Perhaps the greatest is Professor John Trinkaus, who has written nearly 100 studies about things that annoy him.

Of Sketchy Perception in a Monty Python Sketch

Sunday, April 12th, 2015

Not noticing something that’s right before your eyes? Happens all the time. The phenomenon fueled the 2004 Ig Nobel Prize-winning invisible-gorilla research of Americans Chris Chabris and Dan Simons. Now, two researchers in the UK point to a stark example in a Monty Python sketch:

And now for something completely different: Inattentional blindness during a Monty Python’s Flying Circus sketch,” Richard Wiseman and Caroline Watt, i-Perception (2015) volume 6, pages 38–40. The authors, at the University of Hertfordshire and the University of Edinburgh, explain:

Perceptual science has frequently benefited from studying illusions created outside of academia. Here, we describe a striking, but little-known, example of inattentional blindness from the British comedy series “Monty Python’s Flying Circus.” Viewers fail to attend to several highly incongruous characters in the sketch, despite these characters being clearly visible onscreen. The sketch has the potential to be a valuable research and teaching resource, as well as providing a vivid illustration of how people often fail to see something completely different….

Despite widespread interest in inattentional blindness, most researchers are unaware that a striking example of the phenomenon appears in the British comedy series “Monty Python’s Flying Circus.” Episode 12 of the second series of Monty Python’s Flying Circus aired in December 1970 contained a short sketch entitled “Ypres 1914—Abandoned.” This sketch takes place during the First World War, and begins with a close-up image of a harmonica being played by a British soldier (Eric Idle). The camera then slowly zooms out to reveal four soldiers (including John Cleese, Eric Idle, and Michael Palin) sitting in an army encampment. Standing behind them are several actors dressed in a series of highly incongruous costumes, including that of a nun wearing a large white hat (Graham Chapman), a sheikh, and a Greek Orthodox priest….

Here’s the Monty Python sketch itself, with an added layer of meaning (a narrator, speaking in Polish):