An effect of croquet on predator/parasite author order

August 18th, 2014

Scientists sometimes find clever ways to decide contentious questions. Witness the method mentioned in this paper:

Aggregation of predators and insect parasites and its effect on stability,” M.P. Hassell and Robert M. May, Journal of Animal Ecology, 1974, pp. 567-594. (Thanks to investigator Betsy Devine for bringing this to our attention.)  In the 1974 predators/parasites paper, May and his coauthor wrote:

“The order of authorship was determined from a twenty-five-game croquet series held at Imperial College Field Station during summer 1973.”

[A CURIOUS HISTORICAL NOTE: Two decades after this paper appeared, Robert May held the post of Chief Scientific Advisor to the UK government. In 1995 he asked the Ig Nobel Board of Governors to stop giving Ig Nobel Prizes to British scientists — even if those scientists wanted to be awarded the prizes. The incident was celebrated in the science journalism world at the time, and years later was celebrated in a popular Japanese manga.]

A celebration of Italy’s Ig Nobel Prize winners

August 18th, 2014

NanoPress published a fond profile of all the Italian winners of the Ig Nobel Prize: “IG Nobel italiani: i vincitori di tutte le edizioni“.

Here is one of them, 2013 Ig Nobel Physics Prize co-winner Alberto Minetti:


Throughout Italy, people will be staying up late to watch the live webcast of this year’s Ig Nobel Prize ceremony, on September 18 — to see the new crop of Ig Nobel Prize winners. (In Italy, the webcast will be happening during the magical middle-of-the-night hours as Thursday, September 18 becomes Friday, September 19).

The smell of macaroni [part 1: snakes]

August 18th, 2014

Q. Are garter snakes attracted to the smell of macaroni?

A. Probably not, in general – though things can change dramatically if it’s coated in frog skin mucus.

Snake_and_MacaroniThe picture shows a checkered garter snake (Thamnophis marcianus) enthusiastically attacking a macarono which has a light coating of frog skin mucus sauce.

See:Identification and Characterization of New Protein Chemoattractants in the Frog Skin Secretome* (in: Molecular & Cellular Proteomics, 5, November 2006, 2114-2123)

Note: * “The costs of publication of this article were defrayed in part by the payment of page charges. This article must therefore be hereby marked ‘advertisement’ in accordance with 18 U.S.C. Section 1734 solely to indicate this fact.”

Coming soon: The smell of macaroni [part 2]

Human energy expenditure, in bread-slice units

August 17th, 2014

Human energy expenditure can be measured in meaningful units, is one possible message of this May 1938 article in Popular Science:

Meter Gauges Work in Bread-Slice Units
How rapidly exercise uses up the energy in the food you eat is graphically demonstrated by a device called the “bread-o-meter” at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, Pa. When a visitor mounts a bicycle frame and pedals vigorously, a generator produces electricity in proportion to his effort, and figures on a board show how many slices or loaves of bread would be needed to furnish this energy.

The article does not specify the type of bread, or give specific clues as to its composition and approximate energy content.

Effect of clock ticking on how people answered a quick questionnaire

August 16th, 2014

Some psychologists interpret subtle clues, thus to deepen their understanding of human nature. Here are two examples.

manerThe Clock Is Ticking,” Justin H. Moss and Jon K. Maner [pictured here], Human Nature, epub April 2014. The authors, at Florida State University [Professor Maner has since moved to Northwestern University], explain:

The “biological clock” serves as a powerful metaphor that reflects the constraints posed by female reproductive biology. The biological clock refers to the progression of time from puberty to menopause, marking the period during which women can conceive children. Findings from two experiments suggest that priming the passage of time through the sound of a ticking clock influenced various aspects of women’s (but not men’s) reproductive timing….

Participants were randomly assigned to complete measures in either the presence or absence of a ticking clock (a small white kitchen timer). The clock was located on a table and was both visible and audible to the participant. Participants in the control condition completed the survey in a silent room… [They then answered four survey questions]: (1) “How old do you think you’ll be when you get married?” (2) “If you were to get married, in how many years from now do you think you’ll want to get married?” (3) “How old do you think you’ll be when you have your first child?” (4) “If you were to have children, in how many years from now do you think you’ll want to have your first child?”

… In conclusion, the current research suggests that priming the passage of time via the sound of a ticking clock affects important aspects of social decision-making.

Professor Maner is also an expert on the significance of the relative lengths of a person’s second and fourth fingers:

Confronting intrasexual rivals: 2D:4D digit ratio predicts behavioral and endocrinological responses to infidelity threat,” Jon K. Maner, S. L. Miller, J. M. Coyle and M. P. Kaschak, Social Psychological and Personality Science, vol. 5, 2014, pp. 119-128.