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Archive for 'Arts and Science'

Dead Reckoning at a Top Medical Journal

Wednesday, February 24th, 2021

The BMJ, formerly named The British Medical Journal, published this notice today, in which they regretfully bury a recent new policy:

Reversing our decision to charge for placing a BMJ obituary 
February 23, 2021

At the beginning of February, we introduced a new policy to charge a fee for people wishing to place an obituary in The BMJ. The response on social media has been overwhelmingly negative, with comments suggesting that both the idea and the timing were ill judged. We have listened to readers and we will not now be introducing the fee. No contributors have been charged. We recognise and apologise for the upset this episode has caused.

One of only two bits of advice from my predecessor-but-one, Steven Lock, who edited The BMJ between 1975 and 1991, was “Don’t mess with the obituaries.” …

Update on Didgeridoo and Snoring

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2021

A fairly recent Swiss TV report about the results of the didgeridoo / snoring research that won an Ig Nobel Prize:


The 2017 Ig Nobel Peach Prize was awarded to Milo Puhan, Alex Suarez, Christian Lo Cascio, Alfred Zahn, Markus Heitz, and Otto Braendli, for demonstrating that regular playing of a didgeridoo is an effective treatment for obstructive sleep apnoea and snoring.

They documented their research, in the study “Didgeridoo Playing as Alternative Treatment for Obstructive Sleep Apnoea Syndrome: Randomised Controlled Trial,” Milo A. Puhan, Alex Suarez, Christian Lo Cascio, Alfred Zahn, Markus Heitz and Otto Braendli, BMJ, vol. 332 December 2006.


COVID Vaccination and Fried-Chicken-Craving

Sunday, February 21st, 2021

A colleague in El Paso, Texas, writes:

“I received a COVID vaccination today. By the time I was released to go home after receiving the shot, I had an unusual and insatiable desire for fried chicken. I had to make a detour to a chicken place on the way home. This [the video, of Doug Zongker‘s “Chicken, Chicken, Chicken” presentation at the Improbable Research session at the 2007 AAAS Annual Meeting in San Francisco] was literally going through my head on the way to pick up the chicken dinner:”

A vivid new telling of the herring farts / Soviet sub history

Friday, February 19th, 2021

The story of how the sound of herring expelling gas through their rear ends became mistakenly taken, by Swedish government officials, as evidence of invading Soviet submarines, gets a new, beautifully stylish telling in a new episode of the RadioLab podcast:

Red Herring

It was the early 80s, the height of the Cold War, when something strange began happening off the coast of Sweden. The navy reported a mysterious sound deep below the surface of the ocean. Again, and again, and again they would hear it near their secret military bases, in their harbors, and up and down the Swedish coastline.

After thorough analysis the navy was certain. The sound was an invasion into their waters, an act of war, the opening salvos of a possible nuclear annihilation.

Or was it? …

Magnus Wahlberg and Håkan Westerberg, the scientists who discovered that the supposed submarines were in fact herring were awarded an Ig Nobel Prize, together with a group of scientists in Scotland and Canada who had independently been researching the ways of herring. The prize centered on the biology of the discovery.

The submarines aspect of the story was top secret at that time, and only years later was revealed to the public. The first public presentation of the submarine facts happened at an Ig Nobel event at the Karolinska Institute in March 2012, with Magnus Wahlberg and Håkan Westerberg, aided by a dead herring, demonstrating the biological mechanism that produces the sound.

That Ig Nobel Prize

The 2004 Ig Nobel Prize for biology was awarded to Ben Wilson of the University of British Columbia, Lawrence Dill of Simon Fraser University [Canada], Robert Batty of the Scottish Association for Marine Science, Magnus Whalberg of the University of Aarhus [Denmark], and Hakan Westerberg of Sweden’s National Board of Fisheries, for showing that herrings apparently communicate by farting.

Here are the research studies produced by the two groups, cited when the prize was awarded:

Sounds Produced by Herring (Clupea harengus) Bubble Release,” Magnus Wahlberg and Håkan Westerberg, Aquatic Living Resources, vol. 16, 2003, pp. 271-5.

REFERENCE: “Pacific and Atlantic Herring Produce Burst Pulse Sounds,” Ben Wilson, Robert S. Batty and Lawrence M. Dill, Biology Letters, vol. 271, 2003, pp. S95-S97.

Magnus Wahlberg has since done several other public talks about the incident. Here’s a TEDX talk he gave in 2012:





Surgical Robotics via Internet: What could go wrong?

Wednesday, February 17th, 2021

That’s the title of a talk being given tomorrow by Blake Hannaford (pictured here). Here’s some detail:


SPEAKER:   Blake Hannaford, University of Washington
TITLE:     Surgical Robotics via Internet: What could go wrong?

DATE:      Thursday, February 18, 2021
TIME:      11:30 am
HOST:      Shyam Gollakota

The vision of a remotely operated surgical robot is surprisingly old. The first remotely operated surgery on a human was performed by Dr. Jacques Marescaux between New York and Paris in 2001 via a hardened ISDN connection. Internet-based approaches must confront the realities and stochastic guarantees of the modern internet (I’m looking at you Zoom calls.) Although bandwidth and latency of the internet are now sufficient for remote surgery, guaranteeing a safe outcome for the patient requires robust automation added to teleoperation which can guarantee the robot and patient go into a contextually dependent safe state upon loss or degradation of the connection. Most of the cybersecurity issues are similar to other high stakes domains like banking, but there are a few that are especially important to consider for surgery.

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