Archive for 'Boys Will Be Boys'

Podcast #11: The Knight of the Living Dead

Wednesday, May 13th, 2015

The Association of Dead People figures heavily in this week’s Improbable Research podcast.

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This week, Marc Abrahams tells about:


  • Missing Pieces Research Review. (“Social Perceptions of Individuals Missing Upper Front Teeth,” Mary S. Willis, Cynthia Willis-Esqueda, and Ryan N. Schacht, Perceptual and Motor Skills, vol. 106, no. 2, April 2008, pp. 423–35.  / “The Effect of Broken Exhibits on the Experiences of Visitors at a Science Museum,” Elizabeth Kunz Kollmann, Visitor Studies, vol. 10, no. 2, October 2007, pp. 178–91.  / “The Missing Bones of Thersites: A Note on Iliad 2.212-19,” R. Clinton Simms, American Journal of Philology, vol. 126, no. 1, Spring 2005, pp. 33–40. / “The Mystery of the Missing Toes: Extreme Levels of Natural Mutilation in Island Lizard Populations,” Bart Vervust, Stefan Van Dongen, Irena Grbac, and Raoul Van Damme. Functional Ecology, vol. 23, no. 5, October 2009, pp. 996–1003.  / “Automated Solutions to Incomplete Jigsaw Puzzles,” Robert Tybon and Don Kerr, Artificial Intelligence Review, vol. 32, nos. 1–4, 2009, pp. 77–99. Featuring dramatic readings by Richard Baguley.)
  • Soft Is Hard. (“Mere Exposure to Bad Art,” Aaron Meskin, Mark Phelan, Margaret Moore, and Matthew Kieran, British Journal of Aesthetics, vol. 53, no. 2, 2013, pp. 139–64.  /  “Do Financial Experts Make Better Investment Decisions?” Andriy Bodnaruka and Andrei Simonov, Journal of Financial Intermediation, epub October 5, 2014. /  “The Value of a Smile: Game Theory with a Human Face,” J.P. Scharlemann, C.C. Eckel, A. Kacelnik, and R.K. Wilson, Journal of Economic Psychology, vol. 22, no. 5, 2001, pp. 617–40.  /  “Identifying a Reliable Boredom Induction,” Amanda Markey, Alycia Chin, Eric M. Vanepps, and George Loewenstein, Perceptual and Motor Skills, vol. 119, no. 1, 2014, pp. 237–53. /  “The Fallacy of Personal Validation: A Classroom Demonstration of Gullibility,” Bertram R. Forer, Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, vol. 44, no. 1, January 1949, pp. 118–23. Featuring dramatic readings by Jean Berko Gleason.)

The mysterious John Schedler perhaps did the sound engineering this week.

The 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, both on the new CBS web site, and on iTunes.

The past adventures of Uterus Man and his brother

Thursday, May 7th, 2015

Having recently enjoyed The Adventures of Uterus Man, we turn now to the past adventures of Uterus Man and his brother. Those are detailed in a study:

Two male sibs with uterus and Fallopian tubes. A rare, probably inherited disorder,” S. Armendares, L. Buentello, and S. Frenk, Clinical Genetics, vol. 4, no. 3 (1973): 291-296. The authors, at Instituto Mexicano del Seguro Social, report:

“Two male sibs (46, XY) with normal penis and scrotum as well as bilateral cryptorchidism are reported. Intraabdominal uterus and Fallopian tubes were found. The pathogenesis and the possible inheritance of this developmental defect are discussed.”

(Thanks to investigator Leila Francis for bringing this to our attention.)

Here’s another look at Uterus Man:

Medicine: The curious case of the metallic Cuban cigar sheath

Saturday, May 2nd, 2015

Medical doctors sometimes have to play detective, as happened in this, the curious case of the metallic Cuban cigar sheath:

shamir-cawichColonic Foreign Body Retrieval Using a Modified TAMIS Technique with Standard Instruments and Trocars,” Shamir O. Cawich [pictured here], Fawwaz Mohammed, Richard Spence, Matthew Albert, and Vijay Naraynsingh, Case Reports in Emergency Medicine, Volume 2015 (2015), Article ID 815616. The authors, at University of the West Indies, Trinidad and Tobago, and The Center for Colon and Rectal Surgery, Altamonte Springs, Florida, USA, report:

“[In the case we describe here] a plain radiograph of the pelvis… revealed an unexpected finding… With this unexpected finding, the history was revisited. Only then did the patient confess to his habit of inserting an object into the rectum for self-eroticism. The object used on this occasion was described as a metallic Cuban cigar sheath that had a tapered tip….

“it has been established that many patients with CFB are deceptive historians [2, 3]. As many as 20% of patients will not divulge their history of CFB insertion at presentation [4] because the practice is still considered taboo. To overcome this barrier, clinicians should approach these patients in a candid manner in order to earn their trust during history taking. An accurate history is important to ascertain the diagnosis because any delay increases the risk of complications.”

Here’s further detail from the study:


The Physics of Water-skipping Stones

Tuesday, April 28th, 2015

In stone skipping, one tosses a stone with a flattened surface across water (or other fluid) to try to get it to bounce as many times as possible. (There are also military applications, but let’s stick to the fun stuff.)

A few months ago, mechanical engineer Tadd Truscott and collagues wrote a quick study on the physics of water-skipping stones (and spheres) in Physics Today. Among other things, they examined possible angles of attack and how they affect the subsequent skipping. The series of images below comes from this article.

Illustration of water-skipping spheres.


Bonus: This is far from Truscott’s first improbable study of splashing. For example, he has also studied splash damage in urination.

Earthy, tasty probiotic recipes

Sunday, April 19th, 2015

Probiotic starter cultures come in many different flavors. Here are two that qualify as Not-off-the-shelf.

1. “Characterization of Lactic Acid Bacteria Isolated from Infant Faeces as Potential Probiotic Starter Cultures for Fermented Sausages.” This study was honored with the 2014 Ig Nobel Prize for nutrition.

2. Vaginal bacteria as probiotic starter culture for yogurt. Janet Jay, writing in Motherboard, tells the story of how this recipe came into existence, under the headline “How to Make Breakfast With Your Vagina“. Rosanne Hertzberger ponders the result. (Thanks to Charles Oppenheim for bringing this to our attention.)