An answer to the duck-quack-doesn’t-echo conjecture

August 20th, 2016

Certain persons at the University of Salford decided it was necessary to answer an old supposition:

duck_santa_hat_medwe proved that a duck’s quack does echo

(Thanks to investigator Dany Adams for bringing this to our attention.)

Slime moulds prefer right turns (new study)

August 19th, 2016

Slime moulds (Physarum polycephalum for example) are quite dexterous when it comes to solving complex 2-D puzzles – their skills having been documented in research which led to the double Ig Nobel prizes (2008 & 2010) awarded to Toshiyuki Nakagaki [full details via here]. Now a new study performed by Alice Dimonte and Victor Erokhin (IMEM-National Research Council, Parma, Italy), Andrew Adamatzky (Unconventional Computing, UWE, Bristol, UK) and Michael Levin (Tufts University, Medford, MA, USA) have made a discovery that could, if replicated, have large scale implications for those involved in such fields. Slime moulds strongly prefer right turns.


In a series of 120 experiments in which moulds made their way up a T-shaped junction, the team found that they turned right in no less than 74% of trials. As yet, the team don’t have a firm explanation for the phenomenon, and call for further research to clarify :

“[…] the role of gravity and other geophysical parameters (such as geomagnetic field, hemisphere location, etc.) in this phenomenon remains to be explicitly tested in Physarum asymmetry.”

See: On chirality of slime mould  BioSystems, 140 (2016) 23–27.

Also see: Which way do sheep turn? [JER research] Improbable Research, May 2012.

And: ‘Ants show a leftward turning bias when exploring unknown nest sites’ Biology Letters, December 2014.

Coming soon: Can Physarum  successfully apply its embodied intelligence to rationalise motorway topology?

Ig Nobel winner Justin (sting pain index) Schmidt profiled in NY Times

August 18th, 2016

Justin Schmidt, whose thorough love of insects led him to many good things, including an Ig Nobel Prize, is profiled in the New York Times Magazine:


The 2015 Ig Nobel Prize, in the combined category of Physiology and Entomology, was awarded jointly to two individuals: Justin Schmidt, for painstakingly creating the Schmidt Sting Pain Index, which rates the relative pain people feel when stung by various insects; and to Michael L. Smith, for carefully arranging for honey bees to sting him repeatedly on 25 different locations on his body, to learn which locations are the least painful (the skull, middle toe tip, and upper arm). and which are the most painful (the nostril, upper lip, and penis shaft).

BONUS: QI Elves do dramatic readings from the Schmidt Sting Pain Index:

‘Functional Stupidity’ – updated (new study)

August 18th, 2016

Back in 2013, Improbable reported on the emergence of a new organisational concept – ‘Functional Stupidity’, see  ‘A Stupidity-Based Theory of Organizations’. Now, the idea of ‘Functional Stupidity’ has been refined by Roland Paulsen, who is a researcher at the Department of Business Administration, Lund University, Sweden.

“I distinguish 10 ‘stupidity rationales’ emanating from reflective types of compliance with which employees can motivate the practice of functional stupidity.”

• Healthism
• Constructiveness
• Defeatism
• Ethical empiricism
• Agentic shift
• Work ethic
• Adaptationism
• Machismo
• Ego-essentialism
• Fun

see: Slipping into functional stupidity: The bifocality of organizational compliance in the journal Human Relations June 7, 2016.


The author also points to an enigmatic aspect of thoughts about ‘Functional Stupidity’

“Functional stupidity in itself is unreflective in the sense that one cannot think about it without being reflective, thus suspending the stupidity.”

Note: The author reminds us too that ‘Dumbness’ and ‘Functional Stupidity’ should not be confused :

“Surpassing the everyday connotations of the word ‘stupidity’, Alvesson and Spicer make it difficult to separate functional stupidity from functional intelligence. Their formal definition of stupidity lacks an ethical dimension. Not being ‘reflexive’, asking for justifications, and so forth, may be highly intelligent in certain situations. It is in ethically ambiguous situations, and particularly when the purpose of one’s job is under debate, that the unreflective instrumentality becomes stupid. This ethical aspect distinguishes ‘stupidity’ from ‘dumbness’. As Ronell (2002: 42) puts it: ‘whereas dumbness might be part of the irreparable facticity of existence, there is an ethics of stupidity, or let us say simply that it calls for an ethics’.”

Hugging — What Does It Mean? [podcast 77]

August 17th, 2016

A scientifical Swedish attempt to get a mental grasp on hugging — that’s the central thing in this week’s Improbable Research podcast.

SUBSCRIBE on, iTunes, or Spotify to get a new episode every week, free.

This week, Marc Abrahams  — with dramatic readings by Harvard chemist Daniel Rosenberg — tells about:

The mysterious John Schedler or the shadowy Bruce Petschek perhaps did the sound engineering this week.

The Improbable Research podcast is all about research that makes people LAUGH, then THINK — real research, about anything and everything, from everywhere —research that may be good or bad, important or trivial, valuable or worthless. CBS distributes it, on the CBS web site, and on iTunes and Spotify).

BONUS: “How to get Ötzi’s look“, in Science News: