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Archive for 'Arts and Science'

Scientists barked like dogs at toads to make them pee

Friday, February 28th, 2020

Scientists barked like dogs at toads to make them pee in order to save the species from extinction, according to an Associated Press report by Dánica Coto:

1st in vitro Puerto Rico crested toad gives scientists hope

…Extracting semen from toads that measure up to 4.5 inches (11 centimeters) long is normally easy: they release it in their urine, and they usually pee whenever they’re picked up, Barber [Diane Barber, pictured here, ectotherms curator at the Fort Worth Zoo in Texas] said. But for those toads that did not pee, another tactic was used.

“It’s kind of weird, but if you hold them in your hand and look at them and bark at them like a dog, they will pee,” she said.

(Thanks to Eris Caffee for bringing this to our attention, in vivid wording.)

Is Facial Hair Biologically-Hazardous When a Pandemic Looms?

Wednesday, February 26th, 2020

As a newly discovered corona virus spreads through an increasingly anxious world, advice is being offered—and sometimes mocked—about the mundane-seeming question of facial hair. The basic safety question was investigated more than fifty years ago—and that investigation was honored ten years ago with an Ig Nobel Prize.

Also: Today the Trump administration took a new step—in selecting a leader for its corona-virus-related research and response efforts—that falls in line with another, very different, Ig Nobel-Prize-winning achievement.

The Prize for Investigating the Biological Hazard of Facial Hair

The 2010 Ig Nobel Prize for public health was awarded to Manuel Barbeito, Charles Mathews, and Larry Taylor of the Industrial Health and Safety Office, Fort Detrick, Maryland, USA, for determining by experiment that microbes cling to bearded scientists.

The team described its finding in the study: “Microbiological Laboratory Hazard of Bearded Men,” Manuel S. Barbeito, Charles T. Mathews, and Larry A. Taylor, Applied Microbiology, vol. 15, no. 4, July 1967, pp. 899–906. Those findings, we have been told, then formed the basis of safety regulations adopted by biological-hazard laboratories around the world.

Here are some details from that study:

Trump Administration Withholds Funds from Fort Detrick Lab—and Appoints Well-Coiffed Leader of Corona Virus Research & Response

The Frederick News-Post reported, on February 5, 2020: “Defense Department withholds money from Fort Detrick lab“. Fort Detrick is where the original are-beards-hazardous research was done. The news report says: “It is unclear why the Defense Department is withholding the $104 million from the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases and the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Chemical Defense…”

This new paring of biomedical resources—resources directly aimed at handling infectious diseases— is happening two years after the Trump Administration shut down the CDC’s Pandemic Response team. The acronym CDC stands for the Centers for Disease Control.

Beards, of course, are just one small aspect of this increasingly hairy public health situation.

The Trump administration announced, today, that it is placing an amateur disease enthusiast in charge of the USA’s entire effort to deal with the new disease: “Trump puts Pence in charge of US coronavirus response.” Pence is Mike Pence, Vice President of the United States, who is renowned for his carefully combed hair. Pence is also renowned being the current chairman of the National Space Council and for his recent appointment to head the new US Space Force. In a previous job, as governor of the state of Indiana, Pence was appreciated for his efforts that helped spread the HIV virus.

[UPDATE Feb 27: The New York Times reports: “Pence Will Control All Coronavirus Messaging From Health Officials—…The decision to put Mr. Pence in charge was made on Wednesday after the president told some people that the vice president didn’t “have anything else to do,” according to people familiar with the president’s comments.”]

Pence’s scientifical duties lie squarely in a tradition established thirty years ago, a tradition that was itself honored with an Ig Nobel Prize. The 1991 Ig Nobel Prize for education was awarded to then US Vice President (and first chairman of the National Space Council, ) J. Danforth Quayle, for demonstrating, better than anyone else, the need for science education. Quayle, like Pence, was noted for having well-combed hair.

(The Trump administration honored another Ig Nobel Prize winner just a week ago, when it pardoned Michael Milken, the recipient of the very first Ig Nobel Prize for economics.)

Laughter and Thought

The Ig Nobel Prizes, including the prize awarded a decade ago for the beards research, honor things that make people LAUGH, then THINK.

Some reactions to what’s happening, some of them fanned by much-spun news coverage, illustrate a very different approach to surprising information: LAUGH, then DON’T THINK. Here’s an example of that.

Some CDC General Info about About Facial Hair Precautions

As many facial-hairy people contemplate the prospect of whether and how to wear a face mask, the CDC has long provided some general information and guidance, beginning with an attention-inviting pair of posters:

The reaction now from some people, with a newly possible pandemic lurking, has been to mock the posters and the advice, and mock even the idea of asking questions.


Factorizations in the Chicken McNugget monoid

Wednesday, February 26th, 2020

A new study serves up new nuggets of mathematical insight from Chicken McNuggets:

Distances between factorizations in the Chicken McNugget monoid,” Scott Chapman, Pedro Garcia-Sanchez, Christopher O’Neill, arXiv 1912.04494v1, 2019.

The authors explain:

We use the Chicken McNugget Monoid to demonstrate various factorization properties related to relations and chains of factorizations. We study in depth the catenary and tame degrees of this monoid….

So what is the Chicken McNugget Monoid? We briefly review some background material… Chicken McNuggets were originally sold in packages of size 6, 9, or 20 pieces, and the question of how many Chicken McNuggets can be bought without breaking apart a package became a popular recreational mathematics question. More specifically…

(Thanks to Mason Porter for bringing this to our attention.)

Monkeys and the Uncanny Valley [study]

Monday, February 24th, 2020

“The concept of the uncanny valley suggests that humanoid objects which imperfectly resemble actual human beings provoke uncanny or strangely familiar feelings of eeriness and revulsion in observers.” Source: Wikipedia

Since its discovery in 1970, many follow-up studies have confirmed the effect in human observers. But what about other animals, say, monkeys? Are they also perturbed by almost-but-not-quite-realistic images of themselves?

A 2009 study from Shawn A. Steckenfinger and Asif A. Ghazanfar of the Neuroscience Institute, Departments of Psychology and Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, at Princeton University, US, suggested that the answer is probably ‘yes’.

Five macaque monkeys, (Macaca fascicularis) were shown real and computer-generated pseudo-real images of fellow monkeys – while their gaze was tracked. With the finding that :

“They preferred to look at unrealistic synthetic faces and real faces more than to realistic synthetic faces.”

See: Steckenfinger, Shawn A., and Asif A. Ghazanfar. 2009. “Monkey Visual Behavior Falls into the Uncanny Valley.” , Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 106 (43): 18362–18366.

Research research by Martin Gardiner

Benefits of Tapping on an Un-Opened Beer Can?

Friday, February 21st, 2020

[NOTE: The researchers will describe and demonstrate their work at the Ig Nobel show, on Wednesday, April 15, at the University of Southern Denmark.]

Can you retrieve more beer from a can if you tap on the can before you open it? A Danish team ran some tests, and published a study about what they found:

To beer or not to beer: does tapping beer cans prevent beer loss? A randomised controlled trial,” Elizaveta Sopina, Irina E. Antonescu, Thomas Hansen, Torben Hoejland, Morten M. Jensen, Simon V. Pedersen, Wade Thompson, Philipp Weber, Jamie O Halloran, Melissa G. Beach, Ryan Pulleyblank, and Elliot J. Brown, arXiv:1912.01999, 2019.

The authors, at the University of Southern Denmark and the Technical University of Denmark, report:

Objective: Preventing or minimising beer loss when opening a can of beer is socially and economically desirable. One theoretically grounded approach is tapping the can prior to opening, although this has never been rigorously evaluated. We aimed to evaluate the effect of tapping a can of beer on beer loss….

Main outcome measure: The main outcome measure was beer loss (in grams). This was calculated as the difference in the mass of the beer after the can was opened compared to before the can was opened.

Results: For shaken cans, there was no statistically significant difference in the mass of beer lost when tapping compared to not tapping. For unshaken cans, there was also no statistically significant difference between tapping and not tapping.

Conclusion: These findings suggest that tapping shaken beer cans does not prevent beer loss when the container is opened. Thus, the practice of tapping a beer prior to opening is unsupported. The only apparent remedy to avoid liquid loss is to wait for bubbles to settle before opening the can.

The authors used locally produced beer. They specify that: “No funding was received for this study. The materials for the experiment (beer cans) were provided by Carlsberg Breweries A/S, who had no vested interest in the outcome of the study and were not involved in any part of the study conception, design, analysis or manuscript writing.”

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