Archive for 'Boys Will Be Boys'

The man who wants you to realize that reality is unrealistic

Friday, December 2nd, 2016

A professor cooks up some computer simulations, which convince him to try to convince everyone that reality is unrealistic. Amanda Gefter interviewed the professor, for The Atlantic magazine: “The Case Against Reality“.


NEXT POST: Type A personality from a chair?

Chimps Recognize Butts That Are Upside-Down, Too

Friday, December 2nd, 2016

A new study builds on prize-winning do-chimps-recognize-buttocks research, adding an upside-down appraisal:

Getting to the Bottom of Face Processing. Species-Specific Inversion Effects for Faces and Behinds in Humans and Chimpanzees (Pan Troglodytes),” Mariska E. Kret and Masaki Tomonaga, PLOS ONE, November 30, 2016. The authors, at Leiden University, the Netherlands, and Kyoto University, Japan, build on work, by other researchers, that won an Ig Nobel Anatomy Prize:


“In four different delayed matching-to-sample tasks with upright and inverted body parts, we show that humans demonstrate a face, but not a behind inversion effect and that chimpanzees show a behind, but no clear face inversion effect. The findings suggest an evolutionary shift in socio-sexual signalling function from behinds to faces, two hairless, symmetrical and attractive body parts.”


Leiden University issued a press release that gives further colorful details.

The 2012 Ig Nobel Prize for anatomy was awarded to Frans de Waal and Jennifer Pokorny, for discovering that chimpanzees can identify other chimpanzees individually from seeing photographs of their rear ends. They describe that research, in the study “Faces and Behinds: Chimpanzee Sex Perception“, Frans B.M. de Waal and Jennifer J. Pokorny, Advanced Science Letters, vol. 1, 2008, pp. 99–103.

Frans de Waal was pleased to see his Ig Nobel-winning research confirmed by this new study, he told the Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant: ‘Ik ben blij dat deze nieuwe studie dat bevestigt‘.

NEXT POST: Is reality really unreal?

How much saliva does a five-year-old kid produce? (podcast #92)

Wednesday, November 30th, 2016

How do you measure how much saliva a five-year-old kid produces in a day? A Japanese study describes one approach, and we go with that flow (to an extent), in this week’s Improbable Research podcast.

SUBSCRIBE on, iTunes, or Spotify to get a new episode every week, free.

This week, Marc Abrahams discusses a published saliva-filled study, with dramatic readings from Nicole Sharp, creator of FYFD, the internet’s most popular site about fluid dynamics. (She also does research on the Boston Molasses Flood.)

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. CBS distributes it, on the CBS web site, and on iTunes and Spotify).

NEXT POST: Game, seriously?

Galam’s Work on Galam Models (Reviewed by Galam)

Saturday, November 26th, 2016

In 2008, French physicist Serge Galam wrote a review article about “Galam models,” in which he cited 71 papers, all of which were written or cowritten by him.

                Serge Galam

Galam specializes in a topic known as “social physics” (or “sociophysics” for short), an area of complex systems that concerns the use of ideas and tools from physics to study collective social phenomena. Amidst the modern data deluge, sociophysics has become a very popular research area during the past decades, although the idea dates back multiple centuries and the term was first used more than two hundred years ago by French philosopher August Comte (1798–1857, credited as the founder of sociology).

There are numerous models in the physical study of social phenomena, and Galam reviewed the specific family of them known as “Galam models” in the article Sociophysics: A Review of Galam Models (available in published form at this website). The first sentence of the abstract provides a terse summary of the article’s contents: “We review a series of models of sociophysics introduced by Galam and Galam et al. in the last 25 years.” Below we excerpt the reference list (from the arXiv preprint of the paper) and show about half of the references.

The second half of the 71 references, each authored or coauthored by Serge Galam, in Serge Galam's review article on Galam models.

The second half of the 71 references, each authored or coauthored by S. Galam, in Serge Galam’s review article on Galam models.

Thanks to investigator Renaud Lambiotte for bringing this paper to our attention.

NEXT POST: Mistaken hell on a shoe?

Female Brain Size and Male Genitalia Length [new study]

Thursday, November 24th, 2016

Researchers in Sweden and Australia published a new study exploring how the length of males’ genitalia affects the size of females’ brains. Anyone who reads the study discovers that

  1. it’s about a species of tiny fish; and
  2. the effect, if it happens, occurs over the span of many generations, possibly not so much with individual females and individual males.

sbuec_aboutThe study is: “Artificial Selection on Male Genitalia Length Alters Female Brain Size,” Séverine D. Buechel [pictured here], Isobel Booksmythe, Alexander Kotrschal, Michael D. Jennions, and Niclas Kolm, Proceedings of the Royal Society B, vol. 283, no. 1843, November 2016, 20161796. The authors, at Stockholm University, Sweden and The Australian National University, report:

“We analysed the brains of eastern mosquitofish (Gambusia holbrooki), which had been artificially selected for long or short gonopodium, thereby mimicking selection arising from differing levels of male harassment. By analogy to how prey species often have relatively larger brains than their predators, we found that female, but not male, brain size was greater following selection for a longer gonopodium.”

Here’s further detail from the study: