Archive for 'News about research'

Dirty Books: Quantifying Patterns of Use in Medieval Manuscripts Using a Densitometer

Monday, February 20th, 2017

“The dirt ground into the margins of medieval manuscripts is one of their interpretable features, which can help us to understand the desires, fears, and reading habits of the past.”

– explains researcher Dr Kathryn M. Rudy who is a Senior Lecturer at the School of Art History, of the University of St Andrews, Scotland. She points out, however, that :-

“Cleaning or trimming the dirt from them is tantamount to discarding a provocative cultural witness.“

Dr Rudy proposes instead the use of a densitometer – a machine that measures the darkness of a reflecting surface and which can reveal which texts a reader favoured, but without damaging the dirt.

See: Dirty Books: Quantifying Patterns of Use in Medieval Manuscripts Using a Densitometer in the Journal of Historians of Netherlandish Art. Volume 2, Issue 1-2 (Summer 2010).

Many women have men in the brain

Saturday, February 18th, 2017

The old saying that a woman has “men on the brain” can be accurately supplanted by saying that many women have men IN the brain. This study explains the biological facts:

guthrieMale microchimerism in the human female brain,” William F.N. Chan, Cecile Gurnot, Thomas J. Montine, Joshua A. Sonnen, Katherine A. Guthrie [pictured here], and J. Lee Nelson, PLoS One, vol. 7, no. 9, 2012, e45592. the authors, at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle, and at the University of Washington, report:

“In this study, we quantified male DNA in the human female brain as a marker for microchimerism of fetal origin (i.e. acquisition of male DNA by a woman while bearing a male fetus)…. We report that 63% of the females (37 of 59) tested harbored male microchimerism in the brain. Male microchimerism was present in multiple brain regions…. In conclusion, male microchimerism is frequent and widely distributed in the human female brain.”

BONUS: The 2005 study “Male microchimerism in women without sons: quantitative assessment and correlation with pregnancy history,” which says: “Male microchimerism was not infrequent in women without sons.”

BONUS [only distantly related]: One of the studies honored by the 2015 Ig Nobel Medicine Prize reports how male DNA, obtained via a lengthy, intimate kiss, can sometimes be found in the saliva of the female who engaged in that kiss. That study is “Prevalence and Persistence of Male DNA Identified in Mixed Saliva Samples After Intense Kissing.”

You’re invited to the Improbable Research show at the AAAS meeting Saturday

Thursday, February 16th, 2017

Join us, if you’re in Boston this Saturday night, at the annual Improbable Research session at the AAAS Annual meeting! Here are details:

AAAS Annual Meeting, Sheraton Boston Hotel (in the Prudential Center), in Constitution Ballroom A, Boston, Massachusetts, USA. — February 18, 2017, Saturday, 8:00 pm.  This year’s Improbable Research session will feature:

This evening special session is open free to the public. BUT NOTE: Every year this session fills rapidly, so we suggest you arrive a little early, if you want to get into the room.

This is the research study that introduced the Dunning-Kruger effect:

Sensation Seeking, Sports Cars, and Hedge Funds (new study)

Thursday, February 16th, 2017

“The emerging [hedge fund] manager who goes out and buys a fancy sports car right off the bat is someone you probably want to avoid.”

– informed an article in Business Insider (Singapore), February 2016. But was the statement measurably valid? To find out Stephen Brown, Yan Lu, Sugata Ray and Melvyn Teo set up a research project to empirically investigate the so-called ‘Red Ferrari Syndrome’.

An analysis of 48,778 hedge funds (with reference to the automobile preferences of the funds’ managers, and the funds’ results over time) showed striking results.

“The empirical results are striking. We find that hedge fund managers who purchase performance cars take on more investment risk than do fund managers who eschew performance cars. Specifically, sports car drivers deliver returns that are 1.80 percentage points per annum more volatile than do non-sports car drivers. This represents a 16.61 percent increase in volatility over that of drivers who shun sports cars. Similarly, drivers of high horsepower and high torque automobiles exhibit 1.14 and 1.25 percentage points per annum more volatility, respectively, in the funds that they manage than do drivers of low horsepower and low torque automobiles.”

See: Sensation Seeking, Sports Cars, and Hedge Funds NYU Working Paper, December 2016.

The photo shows the new, red, Ferrari J50

Triskaidekaphobia When People Buy a House (podcast 102)

Wednesday, February 15th, 2017

*** NEWS!! This podcast episode is the FINAL episode that we’ll be doing together with CBS. After this, the Improbable Research podcast will have a NEW broadcast collaborator! (You will always be able to find it here at, of course!) We’ll have details for you soon, about that. ***

IN THIS EPISODE: Does a house fall in value if its street address includes the “unlucky” number 13? A research study explores that very question, and we explore that study, in this week’s Improbable Research podcast.

This week, Marc Abrahams discusses a published triskaidekophobia study. Physicist Melissa Franklin lends her voice, and her scientific expertise, and her opinions —with dramatic readings from a research study you may have overlooked.

For more info about what we discuss this week, go explore:

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.

*** As mentioned above, THIS episode is the FINAL episode we are doing with CBS. We want to thank CBS, and in particular, Greg Herman, for the two happy years we’ve worked together.

We’ll have details soon about our new broadcast home for this podcast. We expect everything will be up and running, with new episodes, a few weeks from now. IF the technology cooperates, your podcast subscription will transfer automatically, and you won’t have to do anything to keep getting new Improbable Research podcast episodes automatically. But technology has its mischievous side, and one never knows when it will do something unexpected, or fail to do anything at all. That’s the magic of technology.  (You will always be able to find the podcast right here at, of course!) ***