Archive for 'Improbable investigators'

Podcast #9: Psychotic security guards

Wednesday, April 29th, 2015

Psychotic security guards 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.

This week, Marc Abrahams tells about:

the-psychotic-guard-study

  •  Extracting the wrong tooth. (“The Case of the Wrong Tooth,” Laurance Jerrold and Mary Romeo, American Journal of Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics, vol. 100, no. 4, October 1991, pp. 376–81. / “Ethics Case Analysis: The Extraction of the Wrong Tooth,” Gary Chiodo, Susan Tolle, and Laurance Jerrold, American Journal of Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics, vol. 114, no. 6, 1998, pp. 721–3. / “Effectiveness of an Educational Program in Reducing the Incidence of Wrong-Site Tooth Extraction,” Hao-Hueng Chang, Jang-Jaer Lee, Shih-Jung Cheng, Puo-Jen Yang, Liang-Jiunn Hahn, Ying-Shiung Kuo, Wan-Hong Lan, and Sang-Heng Kok, Oral Surgery, Oral Medicine, Oral Pathology, Oral Radiology, and Endodontology, vol. 98, no. 3, 2004, pp. 288–94. / “Wrong Tooth Extraction: Root Cause Analysis,” Oren Peleg, Navot Givot, Tali Halamish-Shani, and Shlomo Taicher, Quintessence International, vol. 41, no. 10, November–December 2010, pp.  869–72. /  “Experience of Wrong-Site Tooth Extraction Among Nigerian Dentists,” Wasiu L. Adeyemo, Olabisi H. Oderinu, Akanbi C.O. Olojede, Azeez A. Fashina., and Adeshina O.S. Ayodele, Saudi Dental Journal, vol. 23, no. 3, 2011, pp.153–6.)

improbableresearch

Featuring dramatic readings by psychologist Jean Berko Gleason.

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 Play.it web site, and on iTunes.

Farewell, Robert W. Dickerman, the biologist who coined ‘Davian Behavior’

Wednesday, April 29th, 2015

RW_Dickerman_1926-2015_250Sad news. ‘Ornithology Exchange’ reported the death of Dr. Robert W. Dickerman (1926). Dickerman was the biologist who gave necrophilia a good name.

Chiefly known as a specimen-based ornithologist and tireless collector of scientific specimens, Bob Dickerman has enriched the collections of natural history museums, from Alaska to New Mexico, and described dozens of new subspecies of mostly Mexican birds. He is depicted here with a Helmeted Guineafowl (in South Africa, 2011) that soon became specimen RWD #27413 in his personal catalogue.

As noted in a biographical sketch that introduced a special volume of Western Birds (43 [2012]) honoring his contribution to biology, Bob Dickerman had ‘… a naturalist’s eye and [was] keenly interested in the world around him’.

I did not know him personally, but we had a short and memorable e-mail correspondence about my Ig Nobel winning paper ‘The first case of homosexual necrophilia in the mallard’. He had noticed my paper, and responded to it on 23 March 2009:

” … neither you nor the “Board of Governors” at Harvard, knew of the very scattered, but plentiful, American literature on “Davian Behaviour”. The history of this behavior began when on 26 April 1959, I was driving down a dirt road [in Dakota County, Minnesota (KM)] , and stopped to look at a dead 13-striped ground squirrel (Citellus tridecimlineatus) lying dead in the middle of the road. As we stopped, another ran out from the side of the road and laid down and seemingly copulated with it! I published this observation in Journal of Mammalogy, naming it Davian Behavior. It became a “claus celebre” (spelling), and my next two notes [probably about the same subject (KM)] were rejected out-of-hand [because] two fellow graduate students sent the editor the limerick from which I got the name:

There was on old miser named Dave
who kept a dead whore in a cave.
He said “I’ll admit, I’m a bit of a shit”
but look at the money I save.”

Dr Dickerman was right. Back in 2001, I was unaware of both Dave (the old miser) and ‘Davian Behavior’ and so I completely missed two published cases of animal necrophilia – his own encounter with the 13-striped ground squirrel (published as “Davian Behavior Complex” in Ground Squirrels) – and even one involving a dead female mallard in Fort Collins, Colorado, witnessed and published (‘Avian Davian Behavior‘) by Philip N. Lehner in The Wilson Bulletin (1988).

Below is the most important part of his now classic ‘Davian Behavior’ paper:

Dickerman_1960_J_Mammalogy

By stressing the position of the dead ground squirrel, Bob Dickerman showed great insight in the true nature of this behavior and did not call it necrophilia.

The Physics of Water-skipping Stones

Tuesday, April 28th, 2015

In stone skipping, one tosses a stone with a flattened surface across water (or other fluid) to try to get it to bounce as many times as possible. (There are also military applications, but let’s stick to the fun stuff.)

A few months ago, mechanical engineer Tadd Truscott and collagues wrote a quick study on the physics of water-skipping stones (and spheres) in Physics Today. Among other things, they examined possible angles of attack and how they affect the subsequent skipping. The series of images below comes from this article.

Illustration of water-skipping spheres.

 

Bonus: This is far from Truscott’s first improbable study of splashing. For example, he has also studied splash damage in urination.

Podcast #6: Trinkaus: The man who counts what annoys him

Wednesday, April 8th, 2015

The happily annoyed works of Professor John Trinkaus — who counts things that annoy him — bubble forth 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:

brussels sprouts study

  • Some topics that annoyed Trinkaus. (The reading is performed by Ross MacFarlane of the Wellcome Trust Library and James Harkin and Stevyn Colgan of QI, The Museum of Curiosity, and No Such Thing As a Fish)
  • Opening an Attaché Case: An Informal Look. improbableresearch(“Opening an Attaché Case: An Informal Look,” J. Trinkaus, Perceptual and Motor Skills, vol. 69, October 1989, p. 618. / The dramatic reading is by Dany Adams, associate professor of biology at Tufts University)
  • “Taste Preference For Brussels Sprouts: An Informal Look. ( “Taste Preference For Brussels Sprouts: An Informal Look,” J. Trinkaus, K. Dennis, Psychological Reports, vol. 69, no. 3, part 2, special issue, December 1991, pp. 1165-6./ The dramatic reading is by Dany Adams.)
  • The mini-opera “The Blonsky Device”,  act 2. (The opera premiered as part of the 2013 Ig Nobel Prize ceremony. Henry Akona orchestrated and directed. The opera starred Maria Ferrante (as Charlotte Blonsky), Martin Kelly (as George Blonsky), Philip Lima (as the zookeeper), and Miles Rind (as the patent examiner), with an orchestra of biomedical researchers directed by Dr. Thomas Michel. Karen Hopkin narrates. The opera also featured, in non-singing roles: Melissa Franklin, Peaco Todd, Alex Nemiroski, and Nobel laureates Roy Glauber, Dudley Herschbach, Frank Wilczek, and Eric Maskin.)

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 Play.it web site, and on iTunes.

Professional Football Player by Day, Spectral Graph Theorist by Night

Saturday, March 21st, 2015

urschelJohn Urschel is not your ordinary National Football League offensive lineman. He may be a professional football player by day, but by night he is a spectral graph theorist (and numerical linear algebraist). His latest paper has now been accepted for publication in Journal of Computational Mathematics. Urschel announced via Twitter that his paper had been officially accepted for publication. (Based on my googling, the final version of the paper hasn’t yet appeared.)

Here is the paper’s abstract as it appears in the preprint:

In this paper, we develop a cascadic multigrid algorithm for fast computation of the Fiedler vector of a graph Laplacian, namely, the eigenvector corresponding to the second smallest eigenvalue. This vector has been found to have applications in fields such as graph partitioning and graph drawing. The algorithm is a purely algebraic approach based on a heavy edge coarsening scheme and pointwise smoothing for refinement. To gain theoretical insight, we also consider the related cascadic multigrid method in the geometric setting for elliptic eigenvalue problems and show its uniform convergence under certain assumptions. Numerical tests are presented for computing the Fiedler vector of several practical graphs, and numerical results show the efficiency and optimality of our proposed cascadic multigrid algorithm.

You can read a draft of Urschel’s paper, called A Cascadic Multigrid Algorithm for Computing the Fiedler Vector of Graph Laplacians, on the arXiv preprint server. I just wish that he used his current affiliation on the paper, because that would have been fantastic.

(Thanks to investigator Francis Su for bringing this to our attention.)

Bonus: Many other famous people who are more traditionally associated with non-scientific walks of life have also contributed to science. The people on this list include Danica McKellar, Natalie Portman, Mayim Bialek, and Hedy Lamarr.

Another Bonus: Using the MathSciNet website for examining publication paths between mathematical scientists, you can see that John Urschel’s Erdős number is at most four.

A Third Bonus: Here is Urschel’s academic website at Penn State. He previously published a paper about a topic in celestial mechanics. Urschel also has at least one more paper on spectral graph theory.