Brain size in birds and their deaths in traffic accidents? (new study)

June 15th, 2017

If a species of bird has a relatively small brain [compared to other avian species] is it likely to be less intelligent ? And, if so, might it be more likely to be involved in a traffic accident? A team from Ecologie Systématique Evolution, Université Paris-Sud, CNRS, AgroParisTech, Université Paris-Saclay, France and the House of Birdresearch, Taps, Christiansfeld, Denmark, decided to investigate by looking at the number of birds involved in fatal [i.e. for the bird] traffic accidents and comparing the brain sizes of victims :-

“In conclusion, birds killed by cars have disproportionately small brains for their body size. In contrast, there was no difference in terms of the size of the liver, heart or lungs. Both road kills and birds being shot had disproportionately small brains for their body size. These findings suggest that cognitive differences between dead individuals and survivors may be linked to individual differences in perception and adjustment to movement.”

See: Brain size in birds is related to traffic accidents, Royal Society Open Science, March 2017.

Note. The debate about brain size and intelligence has been going on since Darwin’s time [and probably before]. For a 2017 viewpoint see : Sex differences in brain size and general intelligence (g)

Also see: High-achieving professors’ brains – are they different (to low-achieving professors’)?

The further adventures of Erwin Kompanje: Two-headed dolphin

June 14th, 2017

A two-headed dolphin was rescued — rescued in the sense that the world now knows about it in some scientific detail — by Erwin Kompanje. Kompanje is a physician, medical ethicist, naturalist, and editorial board member of the Annals of Improbable Research.

The Washington Post reports:

Dutch fishermen caught a rare two-headed sea creature. What happened next would horrify scientists.

A photo of the thing began to circulate through the Netherlands — eventually to the inbox of Erwin Kompanje, the curator of mammals at the Natural History Museum in Rotterdam, who was astounded.

He recalled his first thought: “Where??”

Where was it, and how soon could he get it into a lab?

Even today, in an age of science, it might appear to many people to be a two-headed sea monster.

Kompanje knew better, though the truth was no less astounding. He was looking at photos of two conjoined harbor porpoises, newborns sharing a single body, a rarity among rarities in all the oceans in the world….

For a researcher hungry for any morsel of information about man’s aquatic mammalian cousins, it was a one-in-a-billion discovery.

So Kompanje got the boss of the fishing crew on the phone, who was helpful — providing the exact coordinates and details of the catch…. And just then, on the phone with the trawler boss, he learned the true end of this strange tale.

“They thought it was illegal to collect it,” Kompanje said. “They made four photographs and threw it back into the sea. Back into oblivion….”

Kompanje and colleagues wrote a study about the two-headed dolphin. That study has been published in the biology journal Deinsea:

The first case of conjoined twin harbour porpoises Phocoena phocoena (Mammalia, Cetacea),” Erwin J.O. Kompanje , C.J. (Kees) Camphuysen, and Mardik F. Leopold, Deinsea, June 7, 2017.

Deinsea is the same journal that in 2001 published Kees Moeliker’s Ig Nobel Prize-winning study “The First Case of Homosexual Necrophilia in the Mallard Anas platyrhynchos (Aves: Anatidae),” C.W. Moeliker, Deinsea, vol. 8, 2001, pp. 243-7.” Kees Moeliker and Erwin Kompanje and the world recently celebrated the 22nd Dead Duck Day, an event commemorating the incident of the duck.

Your Sensitivity to Smells, and the Size of Your Social Circle

June 14th, 2017

The chant “Correlation Does Not Imply Causation” may come to mind when you read this report:

What does the nose know? Olfactory function predicts social network size in human,” Lai-quan Zou, Zhuo-ya Yang, Yi Wang, Simon SY Lui, An-tao Chen, Eric FC Cheung, and Raymond CK Chan, Scientific Reports, vol. 6, 2016. The authors explain:

“it is not known whether olfactory function is associated with social network size. This study aimed to explore the underlying neural mechanism between olfactory function and social network. Thirty-one healthy individuals participated in this study. Social network size was estimated using the Social Network Index. Olfactory function was assessed with the Sniffin’ Stick Test. The results showed that there is a significant positive correlation between the size of an individual’s social network and their olfactory sensitivity”

How Many Kids Can One Man Father in his Lifetime? [podcast]

June 13th, 2017

The Improbable Research podcast begins life anew, with our new collaborator, Scientific American. Here’s the first new episode:

How Many Kids Can One Man Father in his Lifetime?

Every day was Father’s Day for Ismael the Bloodthirsty, the emperor of Morocco, who reportedly fathered 888 children. Ig Nobel Prize-winning biologist Lisa Oberzaucher tells why Moulay quite possibly had lots more than that. Recorded at Imperial College London.


  • Elizabeth Oberzaucher, Ig Nobel Prize winner (mathematics, 2015), biologist based at the University of Vienna, Austria and at Ulm University, Germany.
  • Marc Abrahams, founder of the Ig Nobel Prize ceremony, and editor of the magazine Annals of Improbable Research


PREVIOUS EPISODES: Dip into the pile of previous Improbable Research podcast episodes! Beginning with today’s episode we’ll be tossing some new formats into the mix.

WE WILL HAVE INFO SOON  about HOW TO SUBSCRIBE  to the podcast. (The gears for that are being put in place, filed to perfection, and lubricated to a nicety.)

The President’s Father and the Sneezing of Cats

June 12th, 2017

Jean-Michel Macron is a neurologist who has published several studies about the sneezing of cats.  His son is the current president of France.

Among Macron’s cat-sneeze studies:

Here’s graphical data pertaining to a sneeze, from the 1994 paper:

For most of his career, Macron has been based at the Université de Picardie Jules-Verne. The Huffington Post published a report about Macron’s scientific exploits, including  some of the cat sneeze research. We were unable to learn from that or any other source how many cats Macron owns at present, or whether he has any notable degree of allergy to cats.