Winningly cute animals of science

December 17th, 2014

Nature magazine assembled this video of the alleged Year’s Ten Cutest Animals in Science.

Number 9 was awarded the 2014 Ig Nobel Prize for biology:

When you watch and listen to the video, pay special attention to the narrator’s very first sentence. It’s a not-so-subtle, friendly dig at Nature‘s rival journal, Science.

(Thanks to Connie Villalba for bringing this to our attention.)

Bird-feather counters exhibited pluck, tediously

December 17th, 2014
hat with feathers 1910

Feathers, on a hat on a person, circa 1910. Photo: Library of Congress.

Many humans have spent days, months or years counting feathers. Here are exciting highlights from some of their reports.

In 1936 Alexander Wetmore, of the US National Museum in Washington, gathered all the published reports he could find about someone or other counting how many feathers were on particular birds. “The work of feather counting is tedious and exacting,” he explained, “and yields small result relative to the labour involved.”

Among Wetmore’s gatherings from his peers: “Dr Jonathan Dwight found 3,235 feathers on a male Bobolink taken in spring. RC McGregor has recorded 1,899 feathers on a Savannah sparrow … and 6,544 on a glaucous winged Gull … Miss Phoebe Knappen has reported 11,903 feathers on an adult female mallard … the bird being one that had died from phosphorus poisoning.”

Wetmore proceeded to have someone he could count on do some do some new counting on his behalf: “The actual labour of counting was done under my direct supervision by Marie Siebrecht (now Mrs James Montroy) who, employed as an assistant, worked carefully and conscientiously at a long and somewhat tedious task”….

—So begins another Improbable Research column in The Guardian.

Multiplicity of Authors: Quisquaters and Guillous

December 16th, 2014

This entry in our Multiplicity of Authors collection features several Quisiquaters and several Guillous:

JJ-QHow to Explain Zero-Knowledge Protocols to Your Children,” Jean-Jacques Quisquater [pictured here], Myriam Quisquater, Muriel Quisquater, Michaël Quisquater, Louis C. Guillou, Marie Annick Guillou, Gaïd Guillou, Anna Guillou, Gwenolé Guillou, Soazig Guillou, Thomas A. Berson, Proceedings of the 9th Annual International Cryptology Conference, Santa Barbara, California, USA, August 20-24, 1989, pp. 628-631.

(Thanks to Jean-Jacques Quisquater for bringing this to our attention.)

Tax demands – the funny side (he makes ‘em LAUGH, then PAY)

December 15th, 2014

John Morreall (pronounced Mor-el), is not only professor of religion and department chair at the College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, Virginia, US, he also runs Humorworks, which, amongst other things, conducts corporate seminars on the subject of humor, with clients such as the Internal Revenue Service, The World Bank, and Ernst & Young.

Thus he investigates the possibilities for things that make people LAUGH and then PAY. Here’s a suggestion regarding IRS tax-demands :

“If you can get people to laugh, and realize that they owe you money, and pay up [that’s] much more successful.”

BONUS: Some say the human condition is a tragedy, others say it’s a comedy – or perhaps a comic tragedy, or maybe a tragicomedy. In either, all, or no cases, the professor presents a paper for the April 2014 edition of the British Journal of Aesthetics, (Volume 54, Issue 2) entitled : The Comic Vision of Life.

“Tragedy has traditionally been ranked higher than comedy, and critics often valorize the ‘tragic vision of life’. Using twenty contrasts between tragedy and comedy, I argue that there is a ‘comic vision of life’ which is superior to the tragic vision, especially in the post-heroic era in which we live.”

Lots and lots of bits of copying in scientific literature

December 14th, 2014

A new study indicates that lots of bits of old studies turn up, verbatim, in lots of newer scientific studies. The new study (which I have not checked to see whether it contains uncredited copied text) is:


Patterns of text reuse in a scientific corpus,” Daniel T. Citron  and Paul Ginsparg [pictured here], Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, epub December 8, 2014. The authors at Cornell University, report:

“We consider the incidence of text ‘reuse’ by researchers via a systematic pairwise comparison of the text content of all articles deposited to from 1991 to 2012. We measure the global frequencies of three classes of text reuse and measure how chronic text reuse is distributed among authors in the dataset. We infer a baseline for accepted practice, perhaps surprisingly permissive compared with other societal contexts, and a clearly delineated set of aberrant authors. We find a negative correlation between the amount of reused text in an article and its influence, as measured by subsequent citations.”

Co-author Ginsparg is the creator of arXiv.

John Bohannon gives further details and comment, in Science magazine.

(Thanks to investigator Scott Langill for bringing this to our attention.)