Archive for 'Boys Will Be Boys'

Magazine: The special FEATHERS issue is out

Sunday, November 9th, 2014

The special Feathers issue (vol. 20, no. 5) of the magazine (the Annals of Improbable Research) is now out!

Articles include:

…and more, more, more, including new helpings of “Improbable Medical Review”, “Boys Will Be Boys”, “Soft Is Hard”, and other outstandingly improbable research snippets from many fields and countries.

We encourage you to subscribe.

Mel (right) says it’s swell.


Bourbaki and the Oulipo

Sunday, November 9th, 2014

The group of self-chosen elite, somewhat secretive mathematicians called Bourbaki have become the subject, or perhaps the object, of a study in a journal about romance. The study is:

Bourbaki and the Oulipo,” Jacques Roubaud [pictured here], Journal of Romance Studies, Volume 7, Number 3, Winter 2007 , pp. 123-132. The author, himself a profesor of poetry and former professor of mathematics, explains:

“This article presents the Oulipo or Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle [Workshop of Potential Literature], its founders, concerns, rules and members. It situates Oulipo in relation both to other literary groups which preceded it, notably the Surrealists, and to the mathematical collective Bourbaki, and gives examples of oulipian work done using mathematical structures.”

BONUS: The Wikipedia page for the word “Oulipo” says:

Oulipo (French pronunciation: [ulipo], short for FrenchOuvroir de littérature potentielle; roughly translated:“workshop of potential literature”) is a loose gathering of (mainly) French-speaking writers andmathematicians which seeks to create works using constrained writing techniques.

That Wikipedia page includes this passage as an example of Oulipian writing:

Singular Pleasures by Harry Mathews describes 61 different scenes, each told in a different style (generally poetic, elaborate, or circumlocutory) in which 61 different people (all of different ages, nationalities, and walks of life) masturbate.

Reinforcing stereotypes: Are men more mechanically adept? [with condoms]

Tuesday, November 4th, 2014

richard_crosbyThis study stands to reinforce several stereotypes, one of which deals with women’s vs. men’s mechanical abilities:

Condoms are more effective when applied by males: a study of young black males in the United States,” Richard A. Crosby [pictured here], et al., Annals of Epidemiology, vol. 24, 2014, pp 868-70. The authors, at the University of Kentucky, the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction, the University of Guelph, Indiana University, and the University of Southampton, explain:

“When it comes to contraception, leave it to the men!
Couples may often argue over whose responsibility it is to ‘take precautions’, but it’s fair to say the blame falls on both. Research published in Annals of Epidemiology investigated whether the female application of male condoms during intercourse is associated with higher or lower rates of breakage or slippage. In just under half (43.5%) of cases, young males who regularly let their female partners apply condoms reported one or more instances of breakage or slippage, compared with just 27% of those males who more regularly chose to apply it themselves. The findings suggest the need for education to focus on improving young women’s application and use of condoms.”

Is the thumb a finger? The medical danger of numbering digits

Tuesday, November 4th, 2014

Is the thumb a finger? How many fingers does a person have on one hand? Difficult questions? People have had the wrong finger(s) amputated because some health care workers refer to the digits of the hand by number e.g. first finger, second finger, etc and this can be confusing. Would it not be safer and simpler to refer to digits by thumb, index, middle, ring and little fingers?


This debate has been going on for at least 60 years. See these three papers:

While this debate has been raging, in this digital age, wrong digits have been lost.

Bonus: There are at least 27 finger counting methods.

Local Management for Sustainable Agronomic Development of ‘Himalayan Viagra’

Thursday, October 30th, 2014

In the case of so-called “Himalayan Viagra,” farmers in Tebet are devising their own way to protect a suddenly valuable, scare local crop, suggests this study:

Indigenous Management Strategies and Socioeconomic Impacts of Yartsa Gunbu (Ophiocordyceps sinensis) Harvesting in Nubri and Tsum, Nepal,” Geoff Childs, Namgyal Choedup, Himalaya, the Journal of the Association for Nepal and Himalayan Studies: Vol. 34: No. 1, Article 7, 2014.

The authors, at Washington University in St. Louis, write:

“Today yartsa gunbu is widely traded as a powerful tonic in Chinese medicine, is often referred to as ‘Himalayan Viagra’ in the media, and has become such an important commodity that scholars nominated it to be China’s national fungus… This paper describes the situation in Nubri and Tsum where yartsa gunbu has been collected by local medical practitioners for centuries, but only became a critical part of people’s household economies within the last decade…. We use Nubri and Tsum as case studies to illustrate how some communities are dealing with a phenomenon that is transforming people’s lives faster than any development scheme could envision.”


BONUS: Richard Conniff, in the Strange Behaviors blog, has some commentary on the matter.

BONUS: An NPR report from 2011: “Caterpillar Fungus: The Viagra Of The Himalayas“. It says, in part: “Britt Bunyard, a professor at the University of Wisconsin and editor of Fungi Magazine, explains that this fungi (Cordyceps Sinensis) makes its living by getting inside a host insect and ultimately killing and consuming it. In this case, the insect that’s invaded is the caterpillar of the ghost moth.”