Swaggering in the performance of root canal procedures

October 30th, 2014

dr-michael-j-scianambloSwaggering could be of importance when one has to perform a root canal procedure. This patent shows one way to introduce—and guarantee—that swaggering will be part of the fun:

Swaggering endodontic instruments,” US patent 8454361 granted June 4, 2013 to Michael J. Scianamblo [pictured here]. The patent document explains:

Endodontic instruments are described which have at least a section with a center of mass offset from an axis of rotation so that when the instrument is rotated, the section bends away from the axis of rotation.”

Here’s detail from the patent:


Ig Nobel winner David Dunning surveys recent research about incompetent people

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:

Pop music: extant and market taxonomized

October 29th, 2014

Pop music – does it really exist? Yes it does. For a statistical analysis, see: Does pop music exist? Hierarchical structure in phonographic markets by Andrzej Buda of the Uniwesytet Jagielloński w Krakowie, Poland, and reproduced in Physica A: Statistical Mechanics and its Applications, Volume 391, Issue 21, 1 November 2012, Pages 5153–5159

“I find a topological arrangement of assets traded in phonographic markets which has associated a meaningful economic taxonomy.“


The full article can be read online for $35.95, or, if you prefer, a summary of the findings can be seen here :

Note: Green Day, featuring in the Basket Case video, appear in the expert diagram above, between U2 and Bruce Springsteen,


Dr. Schwab explains why woodpeckers don’t get headaches

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.

A talk about writing about improbable stuff, on Tuesday night

October 28th, 2014

I‘ll be doing a talk about writing about improbable things, on Tuesday, October 28, at the Barker Center (12 Quincy Street, Harvard University), starting at 7:30 pm. It’s free, and open to the public.

This event is part of the Harvard Writers at Work series. Despite what the series name implies, I will not sit on a stage and type for an hour, to the acclaim or disdain of the audience. I will just talk.

2014-10 Barker talk poster