Archive for 'News about research'

Assessing the sameness and non-rarity of hipsters

Thursday, October 30th, 2014

Hipsters are becoming more common, in both major senses of the word common, suggests this study:

touboulThe hipster effect: When anticonformists all look the same,” Jonathan Touboul, arXiv:1410.8001, October 29, 2014.

The author explains:

“In such different domains as statistical physics and spin glasses, neurosciences, social science, economics and finance, large ensemble of interacting individuals taking their decisions either in accordance (mainstream) or against (hipsters) the majority are ubiquitous. Yet, trying hard to be different often ends up in hipsters consistently taking the same decisions, in other words all looking alike. We resolve this apparent paradox studying a canonical model of statistical physics, enriched by incorporating the delays necessary for information to be communicated. We show a generic phase transition in the system: when hipsters are too slow in detecting the trends, they will keep making the same choices and therefore remain correlated as time goes by, while their trend evolves in time as a periodic function. This is true as long as the majority of the population is made of hipsters. Otherwise, hipsters will be, again, largely aligned, towards a constant direction which is imposed by the mainstream choices. Beyond the choice of the best suit to wear this winter, this study may have important implications in understanding dynamics of inhibitory networks of the brain or investment strategies finance, or the understanding of emergent dynamics in social science, domains in which delays of communication and the geometry of the systems are prominent.”

Touboul is, in his own words: Principal Investigator “of the Mathematical Neuroscience Team, part of the Center for Interdisciplinary Research in Biology of the Collège de France. I am researcher at Inria (Paris), in the MYCENAE Team.” He writes, in this paper, in the royal we. He does not explicitly self-identify as a hipster.

(Thanks to investigator Leah Branch for bringing this to our attention).

Ig Nobel winner David Dunning surveys recent research about incompetent people

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014

Ig Nobel Prize-winning Cornell psychology professor David Dunning — he of the Dunning-Kruger effect — tells the majestic story of incompetent people, in this essay in Pacific Standard:

We Are All Confident Idiots

BY DAVID DUNNING • October 27, 2014 • 4:00 AM

The trouble with ignorance is that it feels so much like expertise. A leading researcher on the psychology of human wrongness sets us straight.

The 2001 Ig Nobel Prize for psychology was awarded to David Dunning and Justin Kruger, for their modest report, “Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments.” [Published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, vol. 77, no. 6, December 1999, pp. 1121-34.]

Here’s a link to a full copy of the prize-winning study.

Here is a curious interview, conducted in the year 2012 by opinionated interviewer George Galloway, with David Dunning. The interviewer, a former politician, keeps asking whether voters are stupid:

Dr. Schwab explains why woodpeckers don’t get headaches

Tuesday, October 28th, 2014

Dr. Ivan Schwab explains why woodpeckers don’t get headaches, in this Discovery Channel video:

He explains it in more detail, in this TEDx Talk:

Dr. Schwab, of the University of California Davis, and the late Philip R.A. May of the University of California Los Angeles, were awarded the 2006 Ig Nobel Prize for ornithology, for exploring and explaining why woodpeckers don’t get headaches.

REFERENCE: “Cure for a Headache,” Ivan R Schwab, British Journal of Ophthalmology, vol. 86, 2002, p. 843.
REFERENCE: “Woodpeckers and Head Injury,” Philip R.A. May, JoaquinM. Fuster, Paul Newman and Ada Hirschman, Lancet, vol. 307, no. 7957, February28, 1976, pp. 454-5.
REFERENCE: “Woodpeckers and Head Injury,” Philip R.A. May, JoaquinM. Fuster, Paul Newman and Ada Hirschman, Lancet, vol. 307, no. 7973, June 19,1976, pp. 1347-8.

If you come to the Improbable Research show at the AAAS Annual Meeting, on February 14, 2015, in San Jose, California, you can see and hear and meet Dr. Schwab, and learn the latest on his work.

This video from the University of Southern California (USC) explains how USC researchers are following in the path laid out by Dr. Schwab, to better understand how the woodpecker insights might be applied to protecting the brains of human football players:

BONUS: Dr. Schwab also wrote the book Evolution’s Witness: How the Eye Evolved.

The Testicular Fortitude of Urbexers

Monday, October 27th, 2014

Following our recent Improbable article on the male bias in military bunker enthusiasts, may we recommend a follow-up paper by Carrie Mott at the Department of Geography, University of Kentucky, and Susan M. Roberts University of Kentucky; Department of Geography, and University of Turku, Finland; which examines (amongst much more) the ‘testicular fortitude’ of ‘urbexers’.Bunker

“Urbex means different things to different people. For some, it’s about in filtrating a city’s storm drains and subway tunnels. For others, it’s climbing bridges and radio towers. Generally speaking, though, Urbex is the exploration of TOADS (Temporary, Obsolete, Abandoned and Derelict Spaces). Industrial complexes, military installations, junkyards, asylums, hotels — you name it (Troy Paiva, 2008:9).”

see: ‘Not Everyone Has (the) Balls: Urban Exploration and the Persistence of Masculinist Geography’ in: Antipode, Volume 46, Issue 1, pages 229–245, January 2014.

Bonus : A video explaining the research project

[Illustration above adapted from photo courtesy Wikipedia]



Friday, October 24th, 2014

Dr. Luke Bennett, a Senior Lecturer & Course Leader at the Department of the Built Environment at Sheffield Hallam University, UK, is a leading, perhaps the leading ‘Bunkerologist’. In fact it was he who created the term – meaning ‘the study of bunkers’. For a recent publication on the subject, see : Who goes there? Accounting for gender in the urge to explore abandoned military bunkers’ in: Gender, Place and Culture (A Journal of Feminist Geography), Volume 20, Issue 5, 2013.

The author points out that the vast majority (though not all) bunker enthusiasts are male, and offers some ideas on why that might be the case. For example:

“From a Freudian psychoanalytic perspective, there is perhaps much that could be made of the focus, within this culture, of the shelter-as-womb and the preoccupation with penetration and return to that protective space.”

and/or possibly because of, or connected with:

“[...] a peripatetic nostalgia borne of a medley of factors: a primal urge to retreat to a place of (defensive) shelter, a nostalgia for a time where male roles had more clarity and importance (e.g. as ‘defender’), the alienation of deindustrialisation, the move away from a culture of ‘making things’ and a desire in retirement or redundancy to return to or to protect the working-life material places and artefacts that formerly gave life (and male identity) meaning.”

For further info., the author maintains a blog called ‘lukebennett13 ‘Tracing the spectacular within the humdrum of the built environment’ which features a number of bunkerological posts.

Note: Improbable apologises for the late notice regarding an event in a (somewhat) related field which is cited in the paper : Shedism. The International Men’s Sheds Festival 2014 was held October 3rd – 5th, 2014, Dublin, Ireland,

Coming soon : The testicular fortitude of urbexers

[many thanks to Dr. Bennett for his assistance]