Archive for 'News about research'

Do Cats Sometimes Pay Some Attention to Their Owners? [Podcast 73]

Wednesday, July 20th, 2016

The whether and when and how often of cats possibly paying attention to their owners is the main thing in this week’s Improbable Research podcast. Oh, and lots of Jean Berko Gleason and her cat, Foster.

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This week, Marc Abrahams  — with dramatic readings by Boston University psychologist Jean Berko Gleason — tells about:

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).

Waterside properties – the financial ups and downs.

Monday, July 18th, 2016

The question : ‘If your house is at risk of flooding, does that make it worth less?’ – has been answered by investigators at the Department of Economics, East Carolina University, US. The research team used a Semiparametric Hedonic Price Function Model combined with Geographic Information System data on National Flood Insurance Program flood zones to evaluate hazards in the coastal housing market of Carteret County, North Carolina. The results were clearcut :

“[…] location within a flood zone lowers property value.“

The team’s paper was presented in the March 2008 issue of the Journal of Risk & Insurance.


Before jumping (in)to any financially-significant conclusions though, property owners and potential buyers might like to see a previous study – from the same (lead) author, Profesor Okmyung Bin. Back in 2005, he carried out a somewhat related research project – again examining the effects of proximity to water (in particular open water wetlands) on property values.

“The results indicate that proximity to open water wetlands has a positive association with property values […]“

See: A semiparametric hedonic model for valuing wetlands in: Applied Economics Letters, Volume 12, Issue 10.

[The illustration depicts the devatating Burchardi flood of 1634.]

A Phylogeny and Evolutionary History of the Pokémon

Saturday, July 16th, 2016

Pokémon scholarship reached its height with the study “A Phylogeny and Evolutionary History of the Pokémon“,  by Matan Shelomi, Andrew Richards, Ivana Li, and Yukinari Okido, which was published in the Annals of Improbable Research, vol. 18, no 4, June/July 2012. Here’s a bit of detail from that study (click on the image to see the entire study):


Aggie TV interviewed three of the researchers:

Their institution, The University of California, Davis, wrote about the study and its impact.

Pokémon is the latest once-obscure academic topic to become wildly popular (thanks in this case to the Pokémon Go app) with the public.

Thanks to the Pokémon Go app, Pokémon characters now inhabit many academic institutions. Here is an action photo taken this week at the Natural History Museum in Rotterdam (the institution famed for its role in Dead Duck Day):



Sharp shaped vegetation lifts property prices (new study)

Friday, July 15th, 2016

Residential property owners who want increase the sale price of their property can try a new way of adding value – plant some palm trees out front. See: ‘Money in your palm: Sharp shaped vegetation in the surroundings increase the subjective value of houses.’ Journal of Environmental Psychology, Volume 46, June 2016, Pages 176–187

“We demonstrated that houses surrounded by sharp leaf vegetation (SLV) were evaluated as more expensive than houses surrounded by round leaf vegetation (RLV)”

Sharp-Beats-RoundThus, the house shown above right was rated (by non-expert experimental raters recruited through Amazon MTurk) as being worth less than the same house when shown surrounded by palm-like vegetation.  But, you may ask, “Why?” In which case, the authors have an explanation for you :

“The perceived higher values and safety of houses surrounded by palms is attributed to the association of palms with suitable and stable living environments. Furthermore, preference for palm habitats may have deep roots of human evolution in African savannas.”

Coming Soon : The ups and downs of waterside properties

Evaporation of a Drop of Ouzo

Thursday, July 14th, 2016

If you dribble a drop of ouzo  (which ouzo vendors assure us is Greece’s most popular drink) a dribbling that can easily happen if you have drunk many drops of ouzo, what happens to that drop? A newly published study peers tightly at that question:

“Evaporation-triggered microdroplet nucleation and the four life phases of an evaporating Ouzo drop,” Huanshu Tan, Christian Diddens, Pengyu Lyu, Hans Kuerten, Xuehua Zhang, and Detlef Lohse, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, July 15, 2016. (And there’s a shorter, downloadable version.) The ouzo researchers are at University of Twente, The Netherlands, Eindhoven University of Technology, The Netherlands; Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology University, Australia; and eMax Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization, Germany. Here’s a bit of detail from the study:

“[There are] four life phases: In phase I, the spherical cap-shaped droplet remains transparent while the more volatile ethanol is evaporating, preferentially at the rim of the drop because of the singularity there. This leads to a local ethanol concentration reduction and correspondingly to oil droplet nucleation there. This is the beginning of phase II, in which oil microdroplets quickly nucleate in the whole drop, leading to its milky color that typifies the so-called “Ouzo effect.” Once all ethanol has evaporated, the drop, which now has a characteristic nonspherical cap shape, has become clear again, with a water drop sitting on an oil ring (phase III), finalizing the phase inversion. Finally, in phase IV, all water has evaporated, leaving behind a tiny spherical cap-shaped oil drop.”


The University of Twente produced a celebratory press release. A couple of videos illustrate these goings on:

BONUS: An old video of how ouzo is said to be made:

BONUS: A look back at an effect of too much whisky and candlelight. (This, too, was Dutch research.)