Archive for 'Improbable Investigators'

Sad News: Daedalus (David Jones) is gone

Thursday, July 27th, 2017

We’ve just seen reports that our friend David Jones — best known in the science world as “Daedalus” — died. “Daedalus” was the name of the column David created and wrote, in which he did something that, as far as I am aware, was a unique way to make people laugh, then think.

Each Daedalus column would describe an imagined invention. Usually there would be something quite intentionally wrong in the details — a violation of some law of nature, typically — but in a way that was not immediately obvious. The greatest pleasure, should you the reader care to indulge, came in figuring out what exactly made that invention so very odd or impossible. (He waxed on, a bit, about one of his favorite specialties — perpetual motion machines — in a 1983 piece in New Scientist.)

The column ran for many years in New Scientist magazine, and then moved to Nature. Some of the best Daedalus columns were collected and made into two books: The inventions of Daedalus: A Compendium of Plausible Schemes; and The Further Inventions of Daedalus.

David was fond of pointing out, later in life, that many of the ideas he presented in the column accurately foreshadowed things later honored with Nobel Prizes, and a few with Ig Nobel Prizes. That and other musings are in David’s book The Aha! Moment.

Wikipedia has a partial summary of some of the things David did. Better: Conor Lawless visited David in 2010, then produced a writeup with lots of photos.

The photo here shows David at the 2001 Ig Nobel Prize ceremony. He was not in the best of health, having lost most his ability to walk — but said he would come to demonstrate to himself and the world that he could still do things he wanted to do. David traveled from his home in England to the Ig Nobel ceremony at Harvard University, in the US (and that was in the weeks just after the September 11 attack on New York — travel was not simple for anyone).

In the ceremony, David did one of the first 24/7 lectures. This photo shows that moment. You can read his words, and see video of his actual performance.

While David was in town, he and I and Jerry Lettvin and our families had dinner together. The meal featured a spectacular competition: David Jones and Jerry Lettvin — two of the most inventive, science-loving minds on the planet — gleefully shooting each other’s musings full of holes.

 

Nose-Raising, Nose-Lengthening and Grimacing (facial actions study)

Monday, May 22nd, 2017

Researcher Paul Zeichner (artist, illustrator and educator) adds to the literature regarding the documented lists of human facial actions, with the observation that “Seldom-mentioned facial movements referred to here as nose-lengthening and grimacing should also be recognized in related patterns of expression.”

See: Nose-Raising, Nose-Lengthening and Grimacing : Expressions of Arousal, Vigilance, Confusion, Aversion and Aggression

 

Eye-poking, fish swallowing, burnt hair and dead ducks: Ig Nobel Spring Tour ends in Rotterdam

Wednesday, April 5th, 2017

The final stop of the ‘Ig Nobel Spring Euro Tour’ is the Natural History Museum Rotterdam, the Netherlands, home of the famous ‘Dead Animal Tales’ exhibition. Saturday April 8, 2017 at 20:00h Marc Abrahams speaks about recent Ig Nobel prize winners and he introduces some Dutch improbable researchers, including:

Lara & Richard Zegers – Eye trauma in Laurel and Hardy movies: another nice mess

Bram Langeveld – Burnt hair and colliding particles: The hunt for the CERN ‘weasel’

Erwin Kompanje & Ben van der Hoven -‘Do not swallow’: How and why a catfish and its predator ended up at the Intensive Care Unit, and in the museum

Kees Moeliker – Homosexual necrophilia in the mallard duck: what’s new?

Program starts: April 8, 2017, 20:00h (doors open at 19:30h)
Program ends: around 21:30h, followed by drinks
TICKETS: Euro 10,- including museum admission and a beverage
Reservations: make sure you have a seat, buy an e-ticket here

Address: Natural History Museum Rotterdam, Westzeedijk 345 (Museumpark), 3015 AA Rotterdam, the Netherlands

The Likely Obscurity of Famous Psychologists

Saturday, February 11th, 2017

“The most famous psychologists today will be forgotten in less than a century”, says this study:

Varieties of Fame in Psychology,” Henry L. Roediger III, Perspectives on Psychological Science, vol. 11, no. 6, November 2016, pp. 882-887. The author, at Washington University, St. Louis, explains:

“Fame in psychology, as in all arenas, is a local phenomenon. Psychologists (and probably academics in all fields) often first become well known for studying a subfield of an area (say, the study of attention in cognitive psychology, or even certain tasks used to study attention). Later, the researcher may become famous within cognitive psychology. In a few cases, researchers break out of a discipline to become famous across psychology and (more rarely still) even outside the confines of academe. The progression is slow and uneven. Fame is also temporally constricted. The most famous psychologists today will be forgotten in less than a century, just as the greats from the era of World War I are rarely read or remembered today. Freud and a few others represent exceptions to the rule, but generally fame is fleeting and each generation seems to dispense with the lessons learned by previous ones to claim their place in the sun.”

Here’s further detail from the study:

psychologistsquiz

(Thanks to Christian Jarrett for bringing this to our attention.)

BONUS QUESTION: How famous is Henry L. Roediger III?

roediger

BONUS: “Should this essay about fame become famous?

BONUS: “MEASURING FAME QUANTITATIVELY. V. WHO’S THE MOST FAMOUS
OF THEM ALL? (PART 2)”

We are informed that Donald J. Trump won an Ig Nobel Prize…

Wednesday, January 25th, 2017

We were informed today that the author of a mathematics paper has been awarded an Ig Nobel Prize. This is a surprise to us, because we award the Ig Nobel Prizes, and we are unaware that we ever awarded anything to this person, Donald J. Trump. The Ig Nobel Prizes honor achievements that make people laugh, then think.

The mathematics paper is called “Proof of the Riemann Hypothesis utilizing the theory of Alternative Facts“. Donald J. Trump is credited as the author.

The paper carries the publication date January 24, 2017. The most recent Ig Nobel Prize ceremony was held four months earlier, on September 22, 2016, at Harvard University. Donald J. Trump was not among the winners that day, nor in any of the previous 25 Ig Nobel Prize ceremonies.

We did some research, comparable in depth and value to the research described in the paper. We learn that Donald J. Trump is credited with authorship of other documents. Here is a much-self-circulated photo of Donald J. Trump, in which he is credited with authoring a document:

All we can say, having received the unexpected news, is this — Congratulations, in theory, to Mr. Donald J. Trump, no matter what his achievement is or isn’t, and no matter what he may be or not be.

BONUS: Some background info about the Riemann Hypothesis.

BONUS: A related historical note: The 2002 Ig Nobel Prize for economics was awarded (by us) to the executives, corporate directors, and auditors of twenty-some-odd corporations, for adapting the mathematical concept of imaginary numbers for use in the business world.

UPDATE (January 25, 2017, 11:20 am): We have just been informed that we are “not permitted, under United States law” to “publicly disclose” certain details of this matter. We are, as the saying goes, taking this under advisement.