Archive for 'Ig Nobel'

Beginning of a new epidemic of penile amputations?

Wednesday, July 30th, 2014

A disputed penile amputation in Alabama, USA, faintly echoes an epidemic of penile amputations that happened in the 1970s in Thailand. WVTM television in Birmingham, Alabama, reports:

Attorney for doctors sued in penis amputation lawsuit seeks dismissal, calls case ‘baseless, irresponsible’

BIRMINGHAM, AL - Court documents filed today call into question allegations surrounding the amputation of a Birmingham man’s penis last month. The attorney representing the doctors sued in the case has filed for dismissal after testimonies reveal that neither performed a circumcision on the patient.

The lawsuit was filed July 22, 2014 and alleged that while in for a circumcision procedure that the plaintiff’s penis was amputated without his consent or explanation as to why it occurred….

The 2013 Ig Nobel Prize for public health was awarded to Kasian Bhanganada, Tu Chayavatana, Chumporn Pongnumkul, Anunt Tonmukayakul, Piyasakol Sakolsatayadorn, Krit Komaratal, and Henry Wilde, for the medical techniques described in their report “Surgical Management of an Epidemic of Penile Amputations in Siam” — techniques which they recommend, except in cases where the amputated penis had been partially eaten by a duck. [REFERENCE: "Surgical Management of an Epidemic of Penile Amputations in Siam," by Kasian Bhanganada, Tu Chayavatana, Chumporn Pongnumkul, Anunt Tonmukayakul, Piyasakol Sakolsatayadorn, Krit Komaratal, and Henry Wilde, American Journal of Surgery, 1983, no. 146, pp. 376-382.] At the Ig Nobel ceremony, Nobel laureate Eric Maskin read aloud the acceptance speech sent by the winners, who were unable to travel to Harvard.

BONUS: It is generally believed that, directly or indirectly, publicity about the Thai epidemic inspired the 1993 events in the United States that came to be known as “the Bobbitt case.”

UPDATE (July 30): Investigator Ivan Oransky alerts us to a newly published study:

Penile Prostheses and the Litigious Patient: A Legal Database Review,” Peter L. Sunaryo, Marc Colaco and Ryan Terlecki [pictured here], Journal of Sexual Medicine, epub July 29, 2014. The authors are at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School and Wake Forest School of Medicine. They examined 40 cases:

Terlecki-Ryan“There were 23 (57.5%) cases that were found in favor of the defendant, while 17 (42.5%) cases led to indemnity payment to the plaintiff including two cases (5.0%) that were settled out of court and 15 (37.5%) favoring the plaintiff in front of a jury. The mean settlement received was $335,500 compared with the mean indemnity award of $831,050 for verdicts decided in favor of the plaintiff (P = 0.68). The most common breach of duty was error in surgical decision making, present in 20 cases (48.8%). Informed consent was an issue in 13 filings (31.7%), and postoperative infection was seen in 13 cases (31.7%). In cases that identified the type of implant used, 58.3% were malleable implants, and 41.7% were inflatable devices.”


The tortoise and the touchscreen

Tuesday, July 29th, 2014

wilkinsonIg Nobel Prize winners Anna Wilkinson [pictured here, with a tortoise] and Ludwig Huber have now done an experiment with four tortoises and a touchscreen. (Wilkinson and Huber, together with colleagues Natalie Sebanz and Isabella Mandl, were awarded the 2011 Ig Nobel Prize for physiology, for their study “No Evidence of Contagious Yawning in the Red-Footed Tortoise.”)

The new study is: “Touchscreen performance and knowledge transfer in the red-footed tortoise (Chelonoidis carbonaria),” Julia Mueller-Paul, Anna Wilkinson, Ulrike Aust, Michael Steurer, Geoffrey Hall, Ludwig Huber, Behavioural Processes, vol. 106, July 2014, pp. 187–192. The authors, at the University of Vienna, Austria, the University of Lincoln, UK, the University of York, York, and theUniversity of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia, report:

The present study investigated the ability of the tortoise to learn a spatial task in which the response required was simply to touch a stimulus presented in a given position on a touchscreen…. Four red-footed tortoises learned to operate the touchscreen apparatus… The results show that red-footed tortoises are able to operate a touchscreen and can successfully solve a spatial two-choice task inthis apparatus….

Four juvenile red-footed tortoises (Chelonoidiscarbonaria–formerly Geochelone) with plastron lengths of 13 cm(Esme), 13 cm (Molly), 12 cm (Quinn) and 11 cm (Emily), took part in the study. The tortoises’ sex was unknown, as unambiguous sexual dimorphism develops only later in the life of this species.


Banding-together of breeders: Seven sperm abreast

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014

Ig Nobel Prize winner Mahadevan (2007 Ig Nobel physics prize, for studying how sheets become wrinkled) and colleagues have taken an applied-mathematical look at yet another unanswered question. As happens so often with Mahadevan and his merry, varying band of collaborators, a better-than-anyone-had-before answer appeared. Details are in this study:

The dynamics of sperm cooperation in a competitive environment,” Heidi S. Fisher, Luca Giomi, Hopi E Hoekstra, L. Mahadevan, BioRXiv, 2014. The authors, at Harvard University and the International School for Advanced Studies, Trieste, Italy, report:

“we use fine-scale imaging and a minimal mathematical model to study sperm aggregation in the rodent genus Peromyscus. We demonstrate that as the number of sperm cells in an aggregate increase, the group moves with more persistent linearity but without increasing speed; this benefit, however, is offset in larger aggregates as the geometry of the group forces sperm to swim against one another. The result is a non-monotonic relationship between aggregate size and average velocity with both a theoretically predicted and empirically observed optimum of 6-7 sperm/aggregate.”

Ed Yong, in his Not Exactly Rocket Science blog, has a nice essay about this.

Here’s further detail from the study itself:


BONUS (possibly not strongly related): The 1956 essay “The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on our Capacity for Processing Information

BONUS (probably unrelated): “Researchers find first sign that tyrannosaurs hunted in packs

A searchable database of Ig Nobel Prize winners

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014

Our friends at Silk have put together a searchable database of Ig Nobel Prize winners.

Give it a try!

They have revoked the patent for the wheel

Wednesday, July 9th, 2014

I have begun blogging about Improbable Innovation (a very broad category, that!) for the Boston Globe‘s web site. My first report there begins:

Re-inventing the wheel: Why not? Many do.

Despite the warning “Don’t re-invent the wheel”, people continue to reinvent the wheel. Some of those people file patent applications. Patent offices even approve some of those applications.

I discovered today that the Australian patent office has — quietly — revoked the patent it granted, in the year 2001, for the wheel. The patent office had awarded Innovation Patent #2001100012 to John Keogh of Hawthorn, Victoria, Australia.

I plan to link, here on the Improbable Research web site, to my BetaBoston items that are appropriate.