Archive for 'News about research'

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!) ***

Centrifugal duration: An almost sure-fire way to lose weight (and other things)

Tuesday, February 14th, 2017

If someone put you in a centrifuge — for an entire year — would you lose weight?

An essay by someone named Sarah argues, that “Centrifugation makes animals smaller, leaner, more muscular, and denser-boned.” The essay gives many examples. Here are two of those examples:

Female rats exposed to 3.5 or 4.7 G for one year showed “marked depletion of body-fat depots” and “significant decrease in kidney and liver lipids.”[2]…

The drop in body fat from centrifugation can be quite large; chickens went from 13% body fat to 3% body fat at 3G, and mice have a 55% drop in total body fat after 8 weeks of 2G exposure.[18]

Here are the studies that produced those, uh, results:

[2] Oyama, J., and B. Zeitman. “Tissue composition of rats exposed to chronic centrifugation.” American Journal of Physiology–Legacy Content 213.5 (1967): 1305-1310.

[18]Fuller, Patrick M., et al. “Neurovestibular modulation of circadian and homeostatic regulation: vestibulohypothalamic connection?.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 99.24 (2002): 15723-15728.

A question raised, but not stated, by these studies: If you rode in a centrifuge for a year, or even for eight weeks, would you inevitably lose not just weight, but also all hope? Would a rat, or a chicken?

Achievements in pepper spicelessness: First the jalapeno, now the habanero

Monday, February 13th, 2017

Eighteen years after the creator of the spiceless jalapeno pepper was awarded an Ig Nobel Prize, a different plant-breeding scientist has achieved spicelessness in a different variety of chile pepper, say reports.

Dr. Paul Bosland, director of The Chile Pepper Institute at New Mexico State University, was awarded the 1999 Ig Nobel biology prize for breeding a spiceless jalapeno chile pepper.

Today, in 2017, NPR’s “The Salt” blog reports about the new, second-spiceless-pepper, achievement:

This Heatless Habanero Packs All Of The Flavor With None Of The Burn

[A] pepper — an aromatic, orange habanero without any heat…

“We selected the habanero for heat because that’s what was coveted. But what if you wanted to experience the melon-like experience of a pepper?” Barber asks. “You can’t do it with a habanero — you can with a Habanada.”

Cornell plant breeder Michael Mazourek created the Habanada as part of his doctoral research. He got the idea after discovering a rogue heatless pepper whose genetics behaved very differently from a naturally sweet pepper like the Bell.

The man behind the Habanada is a Cornell University plant breeder named Michael Mazourek, who created it as part of his doctoral research….