Archive for 'Improbable investigators'

April Fools: Justified or Not Justified?

Monday, March 31st, 2014

smith_moiraShould well-respected journalistic outlets publish ‘April Fools’ items? For Dr. Moira Smith, writing in the scholarly journal Folklore, Volume 120, Issue 3, 2009, such media hoaxes flout journalistic ethics.

“On April Fools’ Day, journalists from every media take advantage of the occasion to pass off fabricated stories as news. While entertaining, these media hoaxes flout journalistic ethics and disappoint the public’s expectation that the media are reliable arbiters of truth.“

So, are they :

[1] Unwarranted puerile pranks which can not only undermine hard-won credibilities and divert attention from serious subjects deserving our full-time concentration, but also further confuse our already overstretched ability to distinguish truth from fiction?

Or, alternatively,

[2] Only a bit of harmless irreverent fun, which for just one (or half a) day a year might draw a fake moustache on the face of over-earnestness, drop a plastic fly in the soup of institutional gravitas, or ring the doorbell of acquired faux respectability and then run off?

Or neither, or both?

With all this in mind, may we nevertheless, rightly or wrongly, go on to recommend either : Evolutionary Basis of Stapler-Induced Human Aggression and Psychopathology

or : Tinky Winky’s got a Brand New Bag : The Year’s Work in Teletubbies Studies


Note: The cartoon by A. J. Finberg is from The King of Schnorrers (Grotesques and Fantasies), By Israel Zangwill (Heinemann, London, 1894) Chapter: The Memory Clearing House


Mishmash Mishmash: Ball Inventor

Tuesday, March 25th, 2014

Mishmash: the word is defined as “A collection or mixture of unrelated things; a hodgepodge“. Mishmash is also a name.  This is the next in a series of  little reports — a mishmash — of items about Mishmashes.

Roland Mishmash of Pueblo, Colorado, is coinventor of the device described in European Patent EP1825155A2, called a “Ball Transfer Device“. Here’s a technical drawing from the patent document:

Ig Nobel tour of Denmark and Sweden

Thursday, March 20th, 2014

Join us at one (or more than one, if you like and can) of the Ig Nobel events in Denmark and Sweden:

denmark-mapDENMARK (Special thanks to Carlsbergs Mindelegat for supporting this tour!) —

sweden-mapSWEDEN—two shows in STOCKHOLM on the same day, Thursday, March 27:


All these events feature Marc Abrahams, and these Ig Nobel Prize winners who will explain and perhaps demonstrate their prize-winning achievements:

BONUS: FULL SCHEDULE of Improbable events.

Novel Mode of Capturing a Heron (1866)

Thursday, March 6th, 2014

hardwickes-science-gossipHardwicke’s Science-Gossip was a monthly publication that brought science (mostly botany, zoology and geology) to the masses. Science-Gossip provided short summaries of scientific studies (mostly botany and zoology); advice to the hobbyist on raising reptiles, catching rare butterflies, building a microscope, etc; and most interesting, pages and pages of correspondence, answering readers’ questions and reprinting readers’ anecdotes.

Though it did not seek to publish real scientific studies, on occasion Science-Gossip could be the venue for new discoveries. For example, the March 1866 edition recounts one young investigator’s novel technique for capturing a bird. Like all the best breakthroughs, it occurred unexpectedly, in the process of trying to do something else.


Novel Mode of Capturing a Heron. – Whilst visiting, in the autumn of 1865, at a small Northamptonshire market-town, situated intermediately in the flat district called the Nene Valley, which stretches from Northampton to Peterborough on each side of the river Nene, an incident of rather a ludicrous character, which may interest some of your readers, came under my notice.

A boy, having one night set some eel lines in a shallow part of the river… was surprised and somewhat alarmed on approaching the place next morning, for the purpose of examining his lines, by hearing the water in a state of violent commotion; advancing carefully, and parting the bulrushes with his hands, he peered cautiously through into the river, and discovered to his terror, that the cause of the splashing and dashing was an unlucky heron, who had gobbled up one of the baits, and… now found himself held a prisoner by the line. The boy, still frightened, warily drew up the peg, and dragging the unfortunate and reluctant bird the full length of the line in his rear, marched toward home.

He experienced considerable difficulty when crossing the meadows which lay between the river and the town, in persuading the heron to get over the stiles; but at last they reached the town, and I need scarcely say that in marching up the street the pair created quite a sensation: the boy walking sideways, staring in an excited manner alternately at the people at the doors, from which the sight elicited so much merriment and laughter, and at the heron, who averse to being drawn in such a manner from his favorite haunts… with body drawn back, and legs planted forward in a determined manner, slid, rather than walked, after his captor.

Captive birds can do many jobs.

A typical workplace environment for captive birds

–E. Parkins, Luton.

E. Parkins is not clear on whether the young fisherman used this technique to recruit an army of captive birds, which could then be used to catch a multitude of fish, ukai style.

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Marketing opportunity for Death Is Wrong?

Saturday, March 1st, 2014

Gennady Stolyarov II, author of the book Death Is Wrong, is missing a marketing opportunity. He has not even tried to consult with the most influential person who would agree with him on the letter of that sentiment, if not in the details.

That influential person is Lal Bihari, founder and president of the Association of Dead Persons. Mr. Bihari was awarded the 2003 Ig Nobel Peace Prize for a triple accomplishment: First, for leading an active life even though he has been declared legally dead; Second, for waging a lively posthumous campaign against bureaucratic inertia and greedy relatives; and Third, for creating the Association of Dead People. This photo shows Mr. Bihari and several of his dead colleagues:


Mr. Bihari, who is no longer dead, but is still president of the association, recently convened with several of his fellow Ig Nobel Prize winners, at an event in Goa, India.

Meghan Neal wrote a profile, in Motherboard, of Mr. Stolyarov and his book.



Neal summarizes the book and its creator:

Gennady Stolyarov… strongly believes that human beings don’t have to die, or at least, will live much, much longer in the future. A writer and transhumanist activist, Stolyarov sees death as something that can be “solved” by technology and science, and one day it will possible to extend life indefinitely. To that end, he’s trying to buck the cultural perception that mortality is inevitable, and he’s starting with kids.

Stolyarov published the children’s book Death Is Wrong in November and is now promoting it with an Indiegogo campaign, trying to crowdfund $5,000 to print and distribute 1,000 copies of the book and get the anti-death word out.