Archive for 'Ig Nobel'

Dignity and intelligence of plants

Thursday, May 21st, 2015

Dignity of plantsPlants not only have dignity, as enshrined in Swiss law and explained in the pamphlet The Dignity of Living Beings with Regard to Plants. Plants are intelligent, in ways some humans are slow to recognize. That first notion was honored with the an Ig Nobel Peace Prize, the second notion is explored in a new book called Brilliant Green: The Surprising History and Science of Plant Intelligence.

The 2008 Ig Nobel Prize for peace was awarded to The Swiss Federal Ethics Committee on Non-Human Biotechnology (ECNH) and the citizens of Switzerland for adopting the legal principle that plants have dignity.

The book Brilliant Green is written by Stefano Mancuso [profiled in the video, below], a plant behaviorist, and Alessandra Viola [pictured here], a science journalist. 

Here’s part of an interview with Mancuso, by Lindsay Abrams, in Salon:

Are violathere things that you’re still trying to prove or haven’t been able to figure out? Can you be sure whether there’s really intention there?

Today in my lab, we are studying in two different, let’s say parallel, ways. One is the social relationship among plants. I think that would be incredibly interesting to try to explain how plants behave differently according to their neighbors. If the neighbors are relatives, there is a kind of behavior. If they are strangers, there is a completely new, completely different behavior. This is something that we are trying to find, how the plants are able to recognize the plants around them and how they can change their behavior accordingly.

brlliant greenThe second point is memory and learning. This is the most important and the most fascinating. At the beginning of the past year, we published a paper where we were able to demonstrate that the plants were able to learn — for example, that a specific stimulus was not dangerous. They were able also to learn not to react, not to spend energy responding to a non-dangerous stimulus. What was incredibly surprising for us was that we left plants completely undisturbed for almost two months; at the end of the second month, the plants were all the time remembering that a specific stimulus was not dangerous. What we learned from that experiment was that plants had a memory. We don’t know how they can memorize, because they have no brain. There should be another, completely new system to store information that could be incredibly interesting to find out. The other thing we want to find out is how long this kind of memory is. Two months is a lot. Just to give you an example, in insects, the average length of the memory of information is 24 hours.

Podcast #12: Ostrich courtship of humans

Wednesday, May 20th, 2015

Ostriches, sea monsters, and sex figure heavily in this week’s Improbable Research podcast.

LISTEN on Play.it or iTunes (or DOWNLOAD it, and listen later).
SUBSCRIBE on Play.it or iTunes, to get a new episode every week, free.
[NEWS: Soon, the podcast will also be available on Spotify.]

This week, Marc Abrahams tells about:

improbableresearch

The mysterious John Schedler perhaps did the sound engineering this week.

The Improbable Research podcast is all about research that makes people LAUGH, then THINK — real research, about anything and everything, from everywhere —research that may be good or bad, important or trivial, valuable or worthless. CBS distributes it, both on the new CBS Play.it web site, and on iTunes (and soon, also on Spotify).

‘ “God knows who figured this out,” he said. But it worked.’

Monday, May 18th, 2015

Stanford Magazine (the university’s alumni magazine) profiles their latest Ig Nobel Prize winner. Dr. Ian Humphreys, together with three colleagues, was honored for treating “uncontrollable” nosebleeds, using the method of nasal-packing-with-strips-of-cured-pork:

…Typically, doctors would next resort to sealing off the nearby artery. But in this case, doing so could have left the child blind.

Running out of options, Humphreys dug into the medical literature. That’s when he stumbled upon the idea of using salt pork. Evidently, infantrymen during World War I put pork on their wounds to control bleeding until they could find medical care.

Robert Jackler, chair of Stanford’s otolaryngology, head and neck surgery department, said he’s found references to its use against nosebleeds in materials dating back to the 1800s.

“God knows who figured this out,” he said. But it worked.

After a brief discussion, Humphreys and his team decided to try it before resorting to a more dangerous procedure. They crafted two porcine plugs and inserted them into the girl’s nose. To everyone’s relief, the bleeding stopped. When she returned a month later with another nosebleed, the doctors knew just what to do.

Even now, doctors aren’t sure how the pork works. Wanting to spur further research on the subject, Humphreys’s team published a paper about the episode.

For their ingenuity, the group received the 2014 Ig Nobel Prize in Medicine

Here is a detail from the Ig Nobel Prize-winning medical paper by Ian Humphries and his colleagues:

pork-up-the-nose-paper

Divide and concur: A physics paper with 5,154 authors

Saturday, May 16th, 2015

A physics paper with 5,154 authors is the newest reached pinnacle in people’s drive to divide and concur, when there’s credit to be had. Those 5,154 physicists stand a-write on the collective shoulders of the 976 physicians who shared the 1993 Ig Nobel Prize for literature.

topolThat 1993 Ig Nobel prize was awarded to Eric Topol [pictured here], R. Califf, F. Van de Werf, P. W. Armstrong, and their 972 co-authors, for publishing a medical research paper which has one hundred times as many authors as pages. [The study was published in The New England Journal of Medicine, vol. 329, no. 10, September 2, 1993, pp. 673–82.]

The new, 5,154 physicist paper is: “Combined Measurement of the Higgs Boson Mass in pp Collisions at √ s = 7 and 8 TeV with the ATLAS and CMS Experiments,” G. Aad et al. [5,154 authors total] (ATLAS Collaboration), (CMS Collaboration), Physical Review Letters, 114, 191803, published 14 May 2015.

Davide Castelvecci, writing solo in Nature News, gives an appreciation of the 5,154:

Physics paper sets record with more than 5,000 authors
Detector teams at the Large Hadron Collider collaborated for a more precise estimate of the size of the Higgs boson.

A physics paper with 5,154 authors has — as far as anyone knows — broken the record for the largest number of contributors to a single research article.

Only the first nine pages in the 33-page article, published on 14 May in Physical Review Letters, describe the research itself — including references. The other 24 pages list the authors and their institutions.

The article is the first joint paper from the two teams that operate ATLAS and CMS, two massive detectors at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN, Europe’s particle-physics lab near Geneva, Switzerland. Each team is a sprawling collaboration involving researchers from dozens of institutions and countries….

Here is the beginning of the new paper’s list of 5,154 co-authors, most of whom are still alive [according to the paper itself, not all of them are]:

co-authors

 

BONUS: A fun calculation for you to perform with friends: How many minutes it would that take to read aloud the complete list of 5,154 co-authors?

BONUS: Another report in Nature News, published two days earlier than “Physics paper sets record with more than 5,000 authors”): “Fruit-fly paper has 1,000 authors

Podcast #11: The Knight of the Living Dead

Wednesday, May 13th, 2015

The Association of Dead People figures heavily in this week’s Improbable Research podcast.

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

This week, Marc Abrahams tells about:

improbableresearch

  • Missing Pieces Research Review. (“Social Perceptions of Individuals Missing Upper Front Teeth,” Mary S. Willis, Cynthia Willis-Esqueda, and Ryan N. Schacht, Perceptual and Motor Skills, vol. 106, no. 2, April 2008, pp. 423–35.  / “The Effect of Broken Exhibits on the Experiences of Visitors at a Science Museum,” Elizabeth Kunz Kollmann, Visitor Studies, vol. 10, no. 2, October 2007, pp. 178–91.  / “The Missing Bones of Thersites: A Note on Iliad 2.212-19,” R. Clinton Simms, American Journal of Philology, vol. 126, no. 1, Spring 2005, pp. 33–40. / “The Mystery of the Missing Toes: Extreme Levels of Natural Mutilation in Island Lizard Populations,” Bart Vervust, Stefan Van Dongen, Irena Grbac, and Raoul Van Damme. Functional Ecology, vol. 23, no. 5, October 2009, pp. 996–1003.  / “Automated Solutions to Incomplete Jigsaw Puzzles,” Robert Tybon and Don Kerr, Artificial Intelligence Review, vol. 32, nos. 1–4, 2009, pp. 77–99. Featuring dramatic readings by Richard Baguley.)
  • Soft Is Hard. (“Mere Exposure to Bad Art,” Aaron Meskin, Mark Phelan, Margaret Moore, and Matthew Kieran, British Journal of Aesthetics, vol. 53, no. 2, 2013, pp. 139–64.  /  “Do Financial Experts Make Better Investment Decisions?” Andriy Bodnaruka and Andrei Simonov, Journal of Financial Intermediation, epub October 5, 2014. /  “The Value of a Smile: Game Theory with a Human Face,” J.P. Scharlemann, C.C. Eckel, A. Kacelnik, and R.K. Wilson, Journal of Economic Psychology, vol. 22, no. 5, 2001, pp. 617–40.  /  “Identifying a Reliable Boredom Induction,” Amanda Markey, Alycia Chin, Eric M. Vanepps, and George Loewenstein, Perceptual and Motor Skills, vol. 119, no. 1, 2014, pp. 237–53. /  “The Fallacy of Personal Validation: A Classroom Demonstration of Gullibility,” Bertram R. Forer, Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, vol. 44, no. 1, January 1949, pp. 118–23. Featuring dramatic readings by Jean Berko Gleason.)

The mysterious John Schedler perhaps did the sound engineering this week.

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