Punch back from the anti-anti-alcohol forces

December 8th, 2019

Having endured punch after punch, the anti-anti-alcohol forces rally once more against the anti-alcohol forces.

A press release from the University of Exeter proclaims:

Alcohol tolerance may have saved our ancestors from extinction

The ability to process alcohol may have saved humanity’s ancestors from extinction, a new book suggests.

About ten million years ago, our African ape ancestors were eating fallen fruits on the forest floor—many of which would have begun to ferment and become alcoholic.

At the time, ape populations were crashing in the face of competition with monkey species which were able to eat unripe fruit—which apes, like humans, struggle to digest.

What seems to have saved at least one line of apes, the book says, was a genetic adaptation that allowed them to process alcohol, meaning they could begin eating overripe fruits….



The Fox Cat-Bobcat Test

December 4th, 2019

Karen A. Fox and friends developed a new way to test whether—or not—a bobcat has a goodly amount of domestic cat inside it. They (Fox and friends) tell the story in a newly published study:

A Novel Test for Determination of Wild Felid-Domestic Cat Hybridization,” E.S. Chiu,  K. Fox, L. Wolfe, and S. Vandewoude, Forensic Science International: Genetics (2019): 102160. Fox and friends, based at Colorado State University and Colorado Parks and Wildlife, explain:

“In October 2018, Colorado Parks and Wildlife seized an animal believed to be an illegally possessed bobcat. The owner claimed the animal was a bobcat/domestic cat hybrid, exempted from license requirements. Burden of proof lay with CPW to determine the lineage of the animal. Commercial microsatellite arrays and DNA barcoding have not been developed for identification of bobcat/domestic cat hybrids, and limited time and resources prevented development of such tests for this application. Instead, we targeted endogenous feline leukemia virus (enFeLV) to quickly and inexpensively demonstrate the absence of domestic cat DNA in the contested animal. Using this assay, we were able to confirm that the contested animal lacked enFeLV, and therefore was not a domestic cat hybrid.”

Referee Height Influences Decision Making in British Football Leagues

December 2nd, 2019

Do referees who are short punish players more than referees who are not so short do? A new study by Ig Nobel Prize winner Minna Lyons and colleagues probes that question. The study is:

Referee Height Influences Decision Making in British Football Leagues,” Dane McCarrick, Gayle Brewer, Minna Lyons, Thomas V. Pollet, and Nick Neave, psyarxiv, 2019. The authors, at the University of Liverpool and Northumbria University, explain:

Male height is positively associated with social dominance, and more agonistic/competitive behaviours. However, the ‘Napoleon complex’ or ‘small man syndrome’ suggests that smaller males are more assertive and punitive to compensate for lack of height and social dominance. Here, we assess possible relationships between height and punitive behaviours in a real-world setting…. we analysed data on 61 male association football referees from four professional leagues in England, and explored relationships between their height and punitive behaviours in the form of yellow cards, red cards and penalties given during an entire season….

Results: Overall there was no effect of referee height on fouls awarded. However, there was a main effect of height on yellow cards awarded, with shorter referees issuing more yellow cards. The same effect was found for red cards and penalties, though this was moderated by league. In the lower leagues, more red cards and penalties were awarded by relatively shorter referees, but in the higher leagues more red cards and penalties were awarded by relatively taller referees.

Conclusions: These findings from real-life public dominance encounters show that height is associated with punitive behaviours, but is sensitive to context.

Lead author Dane McCarrick is a football referee, and a psychologist.

Earlier, Psychopaths

In 2014, Minna Lyons, together with colleagues Amy Jones and Peter Jonason, was awarded an Ig Nobel Prize, for amassing evidence that people who habitually stay up late are, on average, more self-admiring, more manipulative, and more psychopathic than people who habitually arise early in the morning.

That psychopath research is documented in the study “Creatures of the Night: Chronotypes and the Dark Triad Traits,” Peter K. Jonason, Amy Jones, and Minna Lyons, Personality and Individual Differences, vol. 55, no. 5, 2013, pp. 538-541.

A Short Talk about Short Referees, in London on March 21

Minna Lyons and Gayle Brewer will do a short talk about this new study on short referees, and answer questions about it, in the Ig Nobel show at Imperial College London on March 21, 2020. That show is part of the 2020 Ig Nobel EuroTour.

Untangling Unknots

December 2nd, 2019

When is a knot not a knot?

• Take a piece of string. Tangle it, and thread it though itself, in any way you choose. Glue the ends together. You may well have created a KNOT.

• Take a piece of string. Glue the ends together, tangle it, and thread it though itself, in any way you choose. You may well have created an UNKNOT.

For a succinct introduction to unknots, the simplest possible version of which is illustrated above right, see : Untangling the Unknot, authored for Colby (College) Liberal Arts Symposium by Amar Šehić in 2015.

Further reading : Visual algebraic proofs for unknot detection

Research research by Martin Gardiner

An end at the Apostrophe

December 1st, 2019

The founder of the Apostrophe Protection Society, who in 2001 was awarded an Ig Nobel Prize for that achievement, has announced that the Apostrophe Protection Society will come to an end.

He made the announcement with a tinge of happy bitterness. A December 1, 2019 news report in the Evening Standard says:

A society dedicated to preserving the correct use of the apostrophe has shut down because “ignorance has won”.

Retired journalist John Richards, 96, started the Apostrophe Protection Society in 2001 to make sure the “much-abused” punctuation mark was being used correctly.

But Mr Richards has now announced: “With regret I have to announce that, after some 18 years, I have decided to close the Apostrophe Protection Society.

“There are two reasons for this. One is that at 96 I am cutting back on my commitments and the second is that fewer organisations and individuals are now caring about the correct use of the apostrophe in the English Language.” …

The Ig Nobel Prize for Literature

The 2001 Ig Nobel Prize for literature was awarded to John Richards of Boston, England, for his efforts to protect, promote, and defend the differences between plural and possessive.

You can watch recorded video of the 2001 announcement, and Mr. Richards’ acceptance speech.

News organizations, especially in Mr. Boston’s neck of the world, have greeted the shutdown news with headlines, among which are:

  • “‘The barbarians have won!’ Boston’s Apostrophe Protection Society closes down after 18 years” [Boston Standard]
  • “‘Laziness has won’: apostrophe society admits its defeat” [The Guardian]
  • “Apostrophe Protection Society comes to a full stop” [The Irish Times]

The End Is Not The End

The end times announcement is not the end of the story. The Apostrophe Protection Society web site carries this announcement by John Richards:

With regret I have to announce that, after some 18 years, I have decided to close the Apostrophe Protection Society.

There are two reasons for this. One is that at 96 I am cutting back on my commitments and the second is that fewer organisations and individuals are now caring about the correct use of the apostrophe in the English Language.

We, and our many supporters worldwide, have done our best but the ignorance and laziness present in modern times have won!

This web site, masterminded by John Hale, will however remain open for some time for reference and interest.

A World of Caring

The depth of human caring about apostrophe usage is still evident, despite the imminent self-demise of the official group. One sees this in a letter published in the Wiltshire Times, on November 29, from one man, who says:

This is not wrong

IN fairness to the owner of the building, I write in response to the letter from Dawn Cleaver (Wiltshire Times 22 November). She states that the new signage on St George’s Works has an errant apostrophe. It does not.

Rather than used to indicate a contraction (the missing letter ‘I’ she suggests), the apostrophe indicates possession and is perfectly correct. Rather than ‘a shocking misspelling on a very prominent building’ I am pleased to see the correct use of a grammatical rule.

Tim Angell, Trowbridge

Our curiosity piqued about this particular apostrophe question, which pertains to a specific site in Trowbridge, Wiltshire, UK, we consulted the UK’s National Archives. The indication there is that an apostrophe is indeed properly needed in this case. Witshire’s government web site concurs. Thus, in propriety, governmentally as well as Societally, at least for now, Tim Angell triumphs over Dawn Cleaver.


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