Improbable Research weekly podcast, reviewed

March 27th, 2015

Tom Holliman reviewed the Improbable Research weekly podcast. The review appears in the April 2015 issue of The Psychologist:

The Annals of Improbable Research, the magazine dedicated to research that ‘makes people laugh and then think’, has recently launched a weekly podcast, ‘Improbable Research’, which is sure to be a massive hit with anyone interested in the quirky and obscure side of science. Presenter Marc Abrahams’ dead-pan style of reporting is a perfect comedic match for truly improbable research, well suited to discussing papers such as Kees Moeliker’s ‘The first case of homosexual necrophilia in the mallard duck’. However, don’t let this comedy value fool you; ‘Improbable Research’ is a scientific podcast, and the methodology of studies such as Greenway and Garcia’s ‘Designing and testing an improved packaging for large hollow chocolate bunnies’ is treated to rigorous examination, as is an investigation into the economic benefits of Kurt Cobain’s suicide (the tactfully titled paper ‘Artists’ suicides as a public good’), with joyfully entertaining results. ‘Improbable Research’ takes the listener on a hilarious adventure through esoteric, absurd and at times questionable research, and leaves them amused, bemused, and eager for more.

Einstein undergoing fission (a particular philosophical viewpoint)

March 27th, 2015

Einstein-FissionNobel prize-winning physicist Albert Einstein was of course deeply interested in (and concerned with) the implications of splitting the atom, viz. nuclear fission. Philosophers on the other hand, not only consider such things, but can also go on to wonder : What about splitting Albert himself? Such a scenario is examined by Dr. Wolfgang Schwarz of the Australian National University, who ponders a fissionable Einstein in a recent paper for the journal Mind (October 2014). First he sets the scene with a comparatively straightforward illustration : a train. Specifically one which runs from Berlin to Düsseldorf and Cologne. It reaches a station called Hamm, where it divides in two (one half going on to Düsseldorf the other to Cologne). Should it be called the Düsseldorf train or the Cologne train?

Now, what might happen to Albert?

“What if Einstein had undergone fission or fusion? Suppose Einstein fissioned into two people in 1955. There are then three candidates for the reference of ‘Einstein’: the Y-shaped object that was a person before the fission, and the two branches that were persons after the fission. Which of these does the name pick out? I suppose it would be the Y-shaped object, although we might of course also have a name for one of the branches.”

See: ‘Counterpart theory and the paradox of occasional identity’ Mind (2014) 123 (492): A penultimate draft of which can be read in full here.

Also see: ‘Conceivabilism, inconceivabilism and someone with 200 arms and legs

“Neuroscientist honored with Ig Nobel outshines laureates”

March 27th, 2015

The Arizona Daily Star reports:

At UA, neuroscientist honored with Ig Nobel outshines laureates

Neuroscientist Eleanor Maguire seemed surprised when she was introduced Thursday as the most famous member of a panel that included three Nobel-Prize-winning scientists.

Maguire, a professor of cognitive neuroscience at University College London, was awarded an Ig Nobel Prize in 2003 for a study that measured the brain sizes of taxicab drivers during their three-year “knowledge training” required to navigate the 25,000 streets and myriad monuments of central London.

She drew more public attention than the three scientists awarded the Nobel Prize for physiology or medicine in 2014, said Carol Barnes, head of the University of Arizona’s McKnight Brain Institute, who introduced the quartet of neuroscientists to the press before a public talk here.

Maguire’s research, which measured changes in the size and composition of the hippocampus during taxi-driver training, fits in nicely with the work of her Nobel-Prize-winning colleagues, who discovered the “grid” and “place” cells that allow rats to form a mental map.

Ig Nobel winner Eleanor Maguire, right, speaks during a forum with students at the University of Arizona. Renowned brain scientists — from left, Edvard Moser, May-Britt Moser, John O’Keefe and Maguire — are visiting the UA campus to speak about their careers. Photo by Ron Medvescek / Arizona Daily Star.

Ig Nobel winner Eleanor Maguire, right, speaks during a forum with students at the University of Arizona. Renowned brain scientists — from left, Edvard Moser, May-Britt Moser, John O’Keefe and Maguire — are visiting the UA campus to speak about their careers. Photo by Ron Medvescek / Arizona Daily Star.

John O’Keefe, professor at the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience and Department of Anatomy, University College London, located the “place” cells in the tiny, seahorse-shaped hippocampus.

May-Britt Moser and Edvard Moser, both of the University of Oslo, found “grid” cells in the nearby entorhinal cortex….

O’Keefe said the thrill of breakthrough research and the occasional Nobel Prize were not everyday reality. “Most of it is a really hard slog. You have to be good at what you want to do.”

The four scientists were invited by Nadel, Barnes and Mary Peterson, chair of the UA’s School of Mind, Brain and Behavior, to help inaugurate the new multidisciplinary Center for Innovation in Brain Science.

BONUS (kinda-sorta related): Several other Ig Nobel Prize winners are touring Europe, in the 2015 Ig Nobel Euro Tour. Tonight they will do a show at the University of Copenhagen. Monday, they will do two shows in Stockholm, at the Karolinska Institute and then at the Boulevardteatern.

Why mathematicians (some of them) cackle at wobbly tables

March 26th, 2015

Matthias Kreck explains, in this video made by Brady Haran for NumberPhile, a mathematical twist that fixes a wobbly table:


Podcast #4: The rectum of the Bishop of Durham

March 26th, 2015

improbableresearchThe rectum of the Bishop of Durham is on display in this week’s Improbable Research podcast.

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 web site, and on iTunes.

Podcast #3: The Rectum of the Bishop of Durham

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This week, Marc Abrahams tells about: