Archive for 'Improbable Investigators'

Professor, expert on losing control, loses control and retires instantly

Thursday, June 14th, 2018

Professor Todd Todd Heatherton today lost control. [And if you follow the link attached to his name, you may see that his university web page has lost nearly all mention of him.]

Heatherton is co-author of the book Losing control: How and why people fail at self-regulation [Academic Press, 1994], and co-author of the study  “Self-regulation failure: An overview,” Roy F. Baumeister and Todd F. Heatherton, Psychological Inquiry, vol. 7, no. 1 (1996): 1-15.

The college newspaper The Dartmouth reports, on June 14, 2018:

Heatherton retires following sexual misconduct allegations

Psychological and brain sciences professor Todd Heatherton has elected to retire immediately following a recommendation from Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Elizabeth Smith, upheld by the faculty-elected Review Committee, that his tenure be revoked and his employment terminated. Smith’s recommendation follows a review of Heatherton by an external investigator for sexual misconduct….

The study “Self-regulation failure: An overview” reaches this conclusion:

Our review has led us to reject the model that self-regulatory failure is typically the result of irresistible impulses. Although it would be excessive to say that people freely choose to lose control, they do seem to show considerable active participation and acquiescence in the behaviors that constitute self-regulatory failure….


STILL MORE INFO: Dead Duck Day, June 5th, honoring homosexual necrophilia in the mallard

Friday, June 1st, 2018

Tuesday, June 5th, 2018 is the 23rd edition of Dead Duck Day, arriving precisely one year after last year’s Dead Duck Day. At exactly 17:55 h [Rotterdam time] we will honor the mallard duck that became known to science as the first (documented) ‘victim’ of homosexual necrophilia in that species, and earned its discoverer the 2003 Ig Nobel Biology Prize.

We presented some info about this yesterday. Here are further details.

Dead Duck Day also commemorates the billions of other birds that die from colliding with glass buildings, and challenges people to find solutions to this global problem.

Please join the free, short open-air ceremony next to the new wing of the Natural History Museum Rotterdam (the Netherlands), right below the new Dead Duck Memorial Plaque — the very spot where that duck (now museum specimen NMR 9989-00232) met his dramatic end.

This is what will happen:

  • The traditional Ten Seconds of Silence.
  • Review of this year’s necrophilia news, with (1) applause for Harshil Patel, Pranav Vaghashiya, and Shantilal K. Tank for publishing their paper ‘Necrophiliac Behavior in the Common Asian Toad, Duttaphrynus melanostictus (Schneider 1799) in Western India‘ and (2) the first public appearance of dead duck specimen NMR 9989-05220 a new victim of heterosexual necrophilia in the mallard.
  • The official announcement of ‘Der Entenmann‘ – the long-awaited German edition of ‘De eendenman‘ [The Duck Guy].
  • The reading of the special ‘Dead Duck Day Message’. This years message, a dead duck story, send in by Eva Menasse, author of amongst others the novel ‘Tiere für Fortgeschrittene‘ [Animals for the Advanced] will be read by Kim Zieschang.
  • Presentation of an addition to the Dead Duck Day Fashion Line, designed by Mark Prinsen.
  • A six-course duck dinner, after the ceremony. The traditional six-course (dead) duck dinner at the famous Tai Wu Restaurant is also open to the public (at your own expense). Reserve your seat by e-mailing to: info [at]

UPDATE (June 9, 2018): A few days after Dead Duck Day, the museum director had a fluid dynamics adventure with the police, in connection with a nature television shoot.

Tracking glitter particles from a university building

Tuesday, May 1st, 2018

A team of forensic researchers from Soonchunhyang University in South Korea have determined that glitter can be used to track a person’s location in a university building.

Hong, S., Cho, H., Son, D. and Lee, S. (2015). A study on the distribution of glitter particles from an university building. Analytical Science and Technology, 28(4), pp.288-298.


“A distribution study of glitter was conducted from a local university building. The potential recipient surfaces chosen were the 1,000 chairs kept in 16 separate classrooms of the building. The surface of chairs contacting with buttocks and back of users were tape lifted with commercial adhesive tapes …  the authors could find that the classrooms where the same glitters were found were shared by a group of students who listen to the same class.”

After visual analysis with a microscope, the team used Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy to determine the amount of light absorbed by each piece of glitter, ensuring they could find matches of the same type of glitter. They conclude:

“This result indicates that the possibility of glitter finding from Korean violent crime scene is high.”

Bonus: Glitter can also be used to help act as a pregnancy test for rhinos

Predicting a Scientist’s Future Achievement Is Unpredictable?

Sunday, February 25th, 2018

The drive to measure—in advance!—success gets a whack in the computational knee, in this study about an Ig Nobel Prize (and also Nobel Prize) winner’s career:

Web of Science: Showing a Bug Today That Can Mislead Scientific Research Output’s Prediction,” Pablo Diniz Batista, Igor Marques-Carneiro, Leduc Hermeto de Almeida Fauth, and Marcia de Oliveira Reis Brandão, SAGE Open, January-March 2018, pp. 1-7. The authors, at the Brazilian Center for Research in Physics, explain:

[We] observe that the bibliometric data collected from the Web of Science are not reliable instruments for comparing scientists’ performance because we detected a disregarded subtlety in the database…. To investigate how it can affect scientometric analysis, we have chosen to follow the career of the 2010 winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics, Andre Geim. This is not an arbitrary choice, because his example is an interesting one for [the] major objectives of this work….

In 2000, physicist Andre Geim was awarded the Ig Nobel for his experiments with frog’s levitation (Berry & Geim, 1997). It is important to consider that the Ig Nobel seems to be a kind of joke about scientific activity; however, it is able to provoke profound reflection on many aspects of science. In fact, its motto is “first make people laugh, and then make them think.” Moreover, 10 years later, Geim receives the Nobel Prize in Physics for the isolation of graphene (Novoselov et al., 2004)….

[Jorge] Hirsch proposes an index to predict the future of scientists’ merging quality and quantity into a single number. As far as we are concerned, this proposal of using mathematics probability or statistics, aiming to predict future research achievement, is not possible because the phase transition in a scientist’s career seems not to be predictable by an index or methodology as shown in this work through the example of the Nobel—and Ig Nobel—winner Andre Geim.

Here’s historic video of Andre Geim in his lab levitating a frog (and other things, too):

Improbable Research at AAAS — Saturday Night in Austin

Thursday, February 15th, 2018

Join us for the Improbable Research session at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Annual Meeting, in Austin Texas!

When: Saturday night, February 17, 8:00 pm.
Where: Hilton Austin Hotel— Salon H, Austin, Texas

The event will include will include:

This special session is open to the public, free of charge. This is the twenty-somethingth year we’ve done this kind of event at the AAAS meeting. It always draws an overflow crowd. So… we suggest you arrive a little early, to ensure finding a seat.

Here’s an image from one of the Ig Nobel Prize-winning studies we will discuss. The study asks the question “Can a cat be both a solid and a liquid?”

UPDATE: Nathan Mattise reports his experience of the event, for Ars Technica: “Science after hours: Barney’s aquatic traits and how pregnant women stay upright.”