Archive for 'News about research'

Relationship Discerned: Air Travel, Childbirth, Retirement

Sunday, May 22nd, 2016

Here is one of the few studies to probe the relationship between air travel, childbirth, and retirement:

The relationship between air travel behaviour and the key life stages of having children and entering retirement,” Lisa Davison, Tim Ryley [pictured here], Journal of Transport Geography, Volume 26, January 2013, Pages 78-86. The authors are at the University of Ulster and Loughborough University, UK.

(Thanks to investigator Tom Gill for bringing this to our attention.)

Happy words from painful insect stings [podcast 64]

Wednesday, May 18th, 2016

Justin Schmidt, an emotional fellow, took notes when he was notably stung by a different species of ant, bee, or wasp. Schmidt then turned those notes and emotions into little almost-poems, each just 15 or 20 words long. Those sting-pain notes and emotions, read aloud by QI elves, overflow this week’s Improbable Research podcast.

SUBSCRIBE on, iTunes, or Spotify to get a new episode every week, free.

This week, Marc Abrahams  — with dramatic readings by James Harkin, Dan Schreiber, Anne Miller, Steve Colgan, and Alex Bell (elves from QI, the Museum of Curiosity, No Such Thing As a Fish, and No Such Thing As the News) — tells about:

  • Justin Schmidt‘s book, which includes the Schmidt Sting Pain Index with the poetical descriptions — The Sting of the Wild, by Justin O. Schmidt, Johns Hopkins Press, 2016. ISBN: 9781421419282.sting-wild-420pix
  • A short video, by his university, about Justin Schmidt:
  • A fan video, by the San Diego Natural History Museum, about Justin Schmidt and the Schmidt Sting Pain Index:

The mysterious John Schedler or the shadowy Bruce Petschek 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, on the CBS web site, and on iTunes and Spotify).

Much to chew on about many meats

Tuesday, May 17th, 2016

Mark A Jobling [pictured here] of the University of Leicester writes about the genetic underpinnings of exotic meats. His essay, called “Flogging a dead horse“, appears in the journal Investigative Genetics [2013, 4:5]:

joblingPeople eat mules, as well as donkeys and horses, and in meat contamination testing, mule meat would appear to be horsemeat, because of the maternal inheritance of mtDNA.

Horses have 64 chromosomes, and donkeys 62, so mules and hinnies carry the intermediate odd number 63, which leads to infertility in the hybrids because oocytes fail during meiosis. As Thomas Bewick writes in his A General History of Quadrupeds, ‘Nature has providently stopped the further propagation of these heterogeneous productions, to preserve, uncontaminated, the form of each animal; without which, …every creature, losing its original perfection, would rapidly degenerate’. Occasionally, though, a female mule produces a foal after mating with a male donkey; so rare is this event that the Romans used the phrase Cum mula peperit (when a mule gives birth), equivalent to the English ‘once in a blue moon’. One such product, a healthy female in China who could plough a field by herself at 4 years of age, had 62 chromosomes, a mix of horse and donkey with a bias towards the latter [8].

In the global market-place of the internet, obtaining novel and exotic animal food products is becoming ever easier, and if you have a strong stomach and wonder how broad the scope is, just visit, where you’ll find pretty much everything (except horse…). But are these things really what they say? Contributors to Meat Science, take note – there is work for you to do!

BONUS: Joe Staton’s “Tastes Like Chicken


“Overtaken by curiosity” Users Really Do Plug in USB Drives (which) They Find

Monday, May 16th, 2016

“We investigate the anecdotal belief that end users will pick up and plug in USB flash drives they find by completing a controlled experiment in which we drop 297 flash drives on a large university campus. We find that the attack is effective with an estimated success rate of 45–98% and expeditious with the first drive connected in less than six minutes.”

The experiment, which was carried out at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, also investigated the possible motives for such behaviour in memory-stick finders:

USB-baitUsers pick up the drives with altruistic intentions based on the types of the drives that were connected, the files that were opened, and the number of unconnected drives that were returned to us.  However, we simultaneously note that nearly half of users are overtaken by curiosity, first opening vacation photos instead of the prominently placed résumé (which would have reasonably included contact information).”

see: ‘Users Really Do Plug in USB Drives They Find’ by Matthew Tischer (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign), Zakir Durumeric (University of Michigan), Sam Foster, Sunny Duan, and Alec Mori (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign), Elie Bursztein (Google), and Michael Bailey (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign). The paper will be presented next week at the 37th IEEE Symposium on Security and Privacy, Session #4: Call me on usable security, May 23rd 2016, San Jose, California.

Note: The paper focuses on the likelihood that curious finders’ machines could become infected with viruses – but Improbable also has a question about other possibilities:

Question [optional] “Given the high percentage of people who opened the files, would ‘losing’ a bunch of USB drives be a ‘good’ way for a whistleblower to anonymously* divulge data?”


A collection of psychological research concerning beards

Sunday, May 15th, 2016

The British Psychological Society’s Research Digest has digested some of the psychological research concerning beards. Like beards themselves, that research comes in a both impressive and dismaying variety of quality.