Podcast #8: The scientists who taste-tested tadpoles

April 22nd, 2015

The scientists who taste-tested tadpoles figure heavily in this week’s Improbable Research podcast.

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This week, Marc Abrahams tells about:

The mysterious John Schedler did the sound engineering this week.

The podcast is all about research that makes people LAUGH, then THINK — research about anything and everything, from everywhere —research that’s good or bad, important or trivial, valuable or worthless. CBS distributes it, both on the new CBS Play.it web site, and on iTunes.

“No shit Sherlock science – why it’s still worth it”

April 22nd, 2015

No shit Sherlock science – why it’s still worth it, ” politely screams the headline on an essay by Justin Waring, Professor of Organisational Sociology at University of Nottingham, in The Conversation. Waring begins:

One of the great fears for scientists is that their work will be met with derision, especially when someone has been handed a sizeable sum of money to confirm what the man and woman in the street already knows full well. You only have to look at the annual Ig Nobel awards to get the idea. Driving while using a mobile phone is more dangerous than without one. Men don’t like to go bald. We’re likely to wear more clothes when we’re cold. All of these fall within what we might call, with apologies to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the “No shit, Sherlock” category of science.

But there are often valid reasons for studies of this kind. For instance, it’s not wholly inconceivable that experiments might just show, contrary to all gut instinct and common sense, that driving while using a mobile phone is actually remarkably safe. Granted, it seems unlikely; but the point is that we can’t completely rule out the possibility. However much we think we know something, we have to be as sure as we can….


Future Sock

April 22nd, 2015

“Why do people need to keep on buying so many socks? Given the technological capabilities available, the creation of socks that do not wear out would not seem to be beyond our collective productive capacities. Indeed, […] they already exist, but the space to make this choice has not been opened up. They are not made readily available because it is not profitable to do so.”

– says Dr. Damon Taylor , who is a Senior Lecturer in Design at the University of Brighton, UK. His paper ‘Spray-On Socks: Ethics, Agency, and the Design of Product-Service Systems’ (in : DesignIssues, Summer 2013, Vol. 29, No. 3, Pages 52-63.) not only looks at the possibilities which might be offered by spray-on-socks, but also socks made of Kevlar™ (“hard wearing, yet warm and yielding”).

“To design a system in which people spray on their socks in the morning is to propose that such a scenario offers an acceptable way to live. By becoming more than the shaper of an individual material artifact and envisioning and constructing systems of provision, the designer necessarily takes on a more explicitly ethical role. Such a position operates at the level of problem setting, of identifying the product and the telos—or final cause—of the process, of establishing the ‘why’ of the system. Such justifications will then depend upon certain values that come to act protologically in the action of the system’s operation.”

Note: Although Spray-on-Socks might currently remain, for many, a purely conceptual thought-experiment, a close analogue, Spray-on-Stockings, have been commercially available for some time.

A look back at contagious yawning in tortoises

April 21st, 2015

This 2011 BBC TV News report profiled Ig Nobel Prize winner Anna Wilkinson:


A Nobel prize may be the most sought after gong in the scientific world, but a lecturer from the University of Lincoln has picked up the next best thing.

Dr Anna Wilkinson has won an Ig Nobel prize, to honour achievements that first make people laugh and then make them think.

The award was given for her experiments into whether yawning among tortoises is contagious.

Anne-Marie Tasker reports.

Ig Nobel Prize winner Oppenheimer named the #1 business school professor

April 20th, 2015

Fortune magazine tells how an Ig Nobel Prize winner was named the top young business school professor:

The 10 top B-school professors under 40

Business school professors come in all stripes and colors. But the very best of the lot share a few common qualities: They are all supremely well educated, highly talented researchers, exceptional teachers, and, perhaps most important of all, they inspire students and their students inspire them.

With these qualities in mind, Poets&Quants has compiled its 2015 list of the very best business school professors under 40. Winning an Ig Nobel Prize is not enough to get a spot on this list. Neither is taking students to the Amazon. Or getting a class to show up wearing beer helmets. Or having your research featured on the John Oliver show. Or applying neuroscience to the negotiating process. But all of those things help….

Number one on the list is Danny Oppenheimer:


Danny Oppenheimer was awarded the 2006 Ig Nobel Prize for literature, for his report “Consequences of Erudite Vernacular Utilized Irrespective of Necessity: Problems with Using Long Words Needlessly” (published in the journal Applied Cognitive Psychology, vol. 20, no. 2, March 2006, pp. 139-56).

BONUS: A new essay by Danny Oppenheimer, in Time magazine: “The problem’s not the NCAA. It’s players’ expectations of their peers