Archive for 'Research News'

Philosophical disagreements on possible reason(s) ‘Why Flatulence is Funny’ – Professor Sellmaier v. Professor Spiegel

Thursday, January 17th, 2019
If you want a reliable method of raising laugh, you can always resort to references of flatulence – a comedic ploy that goes back (at least) 2000 years. But the question as to why it’s considered funny, remains, to this day, a hotly debated subject.

In 2013, Professor James Spiegel of the Philosophy Department at Taylor University in Upland, Indiana, US, took a stab at explaining the phenomenon in issue 35 of the journal ‘Think’ (a journal of The Royal Institute of Philosophy, UK)

“[…] flatulence is a phenomenon that prompts a sudden sense of superiority, is incongruous with many aspects of human social life, and creates a constant exertion of mental energy from which we all need relief from time to time.”

4 years later, however, in the same journal, Prof. Dr. Stephan Sellmaier of the Graduate School of Systemic Neurosciences at Ludwig Maximilian-Universität, München., Germany, gave a blow by blow account of no less than five ‘problematic issues’ with Prof. Spiegel’s essay,

• (1) His claim that laughter always results from a pleasant psychological shift is false.
• (2) His argumentative move from what makes paradigm cases funny to what makes flatulence funny is unwarranted.
• (3) His notion of a psychological shift is not specific enough and lacks explanatory power.
• (4) The claim that funniness of flatulence involves superiority is doubtful.
• (5) His talk about ‘nervous energy’ is questionable and has implausible implications

The illustration is a detail from the He-Gassen scroll (c. 1603–1868)
[ Research research by Martin Gardiner ]

Recent progress in Quantum Geography

Monday, January 14th, 2019
It was back in 1994 that Dr William Peterman (then at the University of Illinois at Chicago) mooted the idea of ‘Quantum Geography’ (QG) with an article for the journal The Professional Geographer, Volume 46, 1994 – Issue 1, entitled : ‘Quantum Theory and Geography: What Can Dr. Bertlmann Teach Us’. Dr. Peterman examined the possibilities of attaining objectivity in “quantum-diffracted social sciences” suggesting that :

“By exploring the implications of modern physics, geographers may be able to develop better ways of describing and understanding social space and to incorporate meaning and values as important dimensions.”

The “Dr. Bertlmann” [see Fig. 1] cited in the title had been thrown into the limelight 13 years earlier by the world-renowned particle physicis  John Stewart Bell FRS of CERN, in his paper for Journal de Physique Colloques, 1981, 42 (C2), pp.C2-41-C2-62, BERTLMANN’S SOCKS AND THE NATURE OF REALITY.

“The case of Bertlmann’s socks is often cited. Dr. Bertlmann likes to wear two socks of different colours. Which colour he will have on a given foot on a given day is quite unpredictable. But when you see (Fig. 1) that the first sock is pink you can be already sure that the second sock will not be pink. Observation of the first, and experience of Bertlmann, gives immediate information about the second.”

It’s fair to say that since the introduction of the Quantum Geography concept in 1994, the flow of academic papers devoted to the subject could be described, at best, as a trickle. A factor that may have been responsible for prompting a critical review, in 2016, by Dr. Thomas S J Smith, of the University of St Andrews, Scotland, who tracked Quantum Geography’s progress, asking : ‘What ever happened to quantum geography? Toward a new qualified naturalism‘  (in Geoforum, Volume 71, Pages 5-8)

“Geographers have long been aware that spatial imaginaries matter and these developments are thus concluded to be of profound interest, not least with implications for key reconceptualisations of subjectivity, consciousness, objectivity, space, time and causality. It is put forward that the implications of quantum research may well provide fertile ground for engagement with qualified naturalism, and new, explicitly post-classical spatial imaginaries.”

UPDATE: Since the publication of ‘What ever happened to quantum geography?’ A new paper on the subject has been published – hinting not just at its resurgence, but its re-invention.
Professor Thomas Bittner of the Departments of Philosophy and Geography, State University of New York, Buffalo, US, is the author of ‘Towards a Quantum Theory of Geographic Fields

“The non-commutative nature of certain operations is the hallmark of Quantum Mechanics. For example, Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle is a consequence of the noncommutativity of operators that determine the position and the momentum of a particle. It is the aim of this paper to present an adequate theory of geographic fields by applying ideas and techniques from quantum mechanics to geographic fields. This set of ideas and techniques applied to geographic phenomena will be called Quantum Geography (QG).”

Which, the author says, will allow for “ ontological vagueness” – which could be applicable to the study of geographic fields.

“QG allows for geographic fields that are in indeterminate states and thereby provides means for the expression of ontological vagueness. According to QG ontological vagueness has two interrelated aspects: quality indeterminacy and localization indeterminacy.”

[ Research research by Martin Gardiner ]

The Gendering of the Ear in Early Modern England (new study)

Thursday, January 10th, 2019

“While critics discuss the link between female speech and sexual looseness, and silence and chastity, many have overlooked the prerequisite for obedience – hearing and its agent, the ear. The link between the ear and vagina is often ignored because of the proneness to perceive ears as passive orifices (Kilgour 131; Woodbridge 256). However, ears are vulnerable holes subject to penetration by external tongues.”

– explains Bilal Hamamra who is professor of English Literature at the Department of English Language and Literature, An-Najah National University, Nablus, Palestine, in a shortly to be published note for the scholarly journal ANQ: A Quarterly Journal of Short Articles, Notes and Reviews.
See: ‘The Gendering of the Ear in Early Modern England‘ in ANQ: A Quarterly Journal of Short Articles, Notes and Reviews, ahead-of-print, pp. 1–2 (available to purchase at £30 from the Taylor & Francis Group).
Also see (ear canal insertions related) : The iPod — a shield, weapon, or both?
[ Research research by Martin Gardiner ]

Nude Photos of College Students, for Research or Other Purposes

Wednesday, January 9th, 2019

Many people like to study the nude bodies of other people. This study studied some of those students of student bodies:
Using the student body: College and university students as research subjects in the United States during the twentieth century,” Heather Munro Prescott, Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences, vol. 57, no. 1, 2002, pp. 3-38. (Thanks to Ben Wurgaft for bringing this to our attention.) The author explains:

Among the major results of these efforts were the infamous “posture pictures” collected at many elite men’s and women’s colleges around the country. The practice of photographing students in the nude started in the late nineteenth century, and continued well into the 19705. The original purpose of these photographs was to assess the physical health of students at admission, since many believed that poor posture was a sign of illness, particularly tuberculosis. Students were photographed every year to demonstrate the positive impact of physical education programs and other preventive health measures in college.
Physicians soon realized that these data could do more than demonstrate the effectiveness of physical education programs: they could also be used to show the physical superiority of young people from the white, native-born, upper-middle classes.

A Look in the Brains of Publication-Hungry Brain Scientists

Tuesday, January 8th, 2019

The idea that one can study scholar journal publishing behavior by looking at their brain’s fMRI response to the ‘journal impact factor‘ of the journal is, to an academic serials librarian at least, incredibly funny. I suppose this is the serious-professor version of hooking up a child to an fMRI and offering them their favorite candy.” That’s the word from Melissa Belvadi, Collections Librarian at the University of Prince Edward Island, who alerted us to this study:
Journal impact factor shapes scientists’ reward signal in the prospect of publication,” Frieder Michel Paulus, Lena Rademacher, Theo Alexander Jose Schäfer, Laura Müller-Pinzler, and Sören Krach, PloS One, vol. 10, no. 11, 2015, e0142537. The authors, at the the University of University of Lübeck, Germany, explain:

The incentive structure of a scientist’s life is increasingly mimicking economic principles. While intensely criticized, the journal impact factor (JIF) has taken a role as the new currency for scientists. Successful goal-directed behavior in academia thus requires knowledge about the JIF. Using functional neuroimaging we examined how the JIF, as a powerful incentive in academia, has shaped the behavior of scientists and the reward signal in the striatum. We demonstrate that the reward signal in the nucleus accumbens increases with higher JIF during the anticipation of a publication and found a positive correlation with the personal publication record (pJIF) supporting the notion that scientists have incorporated the predominant reward principle of the scientific community in their reward system….
Thus, the JIF as a novel and powerful paradigm in academia has already shaped the neural architecture of reward processing in science.

Here’s visual detail from the study:

NOTE: Some people might suggest that this study was intended to be a joke.

“Pernickety” – tracing a word’s origin(s)

Monday, January 7th, 2019
The exact origin(s) of the word ‘Pernickety’ are lost in the mists of time. In particular, the Scottish mists of time. Clues nevertheless exist.  And have been painstakingly investigated by Professor William Sayers, B.A., fil. kand., M.A., Ph.D., of the Medieval Studies Program, College of Arts and Sciences, at Cornell, who notes that :

“In Scotland are found such forms as pirnicky, pernicky, pernicked, pernicket, pernickett, pirnickerie, pernigglety, pick-nickerties, and pernicketies, while in America a major variant appeared (from 1892 onwards) in persnickety and comparable forms.”

Several questions about ‘pernickety’ apparently remain unanswered though :

“How to account for the–s–of the North American form? Can per–again have been sensed as a perfective prefix and–nick-recast as snick ‘a small, quick, and neat cut’, thus a discriminating actor statement?”

See: ‘Pernickety’ by William Sayers, in Scottish Language, 29 (Annual 2010): p87+
Bonus : Professor Sayers has also written extensively on Cant, Rant, Gibberish, and Jargon  in ANQ: A Quarterly Journal of Short Articles, Notes and Reviews, Volume 28, 2015 – Issue 1.
[ Research research by Martin Gardiner ]

The Meaning of Shoes—Specifically, of the Word "Shoes"

Friday, January 4th, 2019

Shoes can be meaningful, sure. The word “shoes” is full of meaning, as are words for particular varieties of shoe. This study tries to make that clear:
A Look at the World Through a Word ‘Shoes’: A Componential Analysis of Meaning,” Miftahush Shalihah, Journal of Language and Literature, vol. 15, no. 1, 2015, pp. 81-90. The author, at Sanata Dharma University, Indonesia, explains:

“Shoes” is a word which has many synonyms as this kind of outfit has developed in terms of its shape, which is obviously seen. From the observation done in this research, there are 26 kinds of shoes with 36 distinctive features. The types of shoes found are boots, brogues, cleats, clogs, espadrilles, flip-flops, galoshes, heels, kamiks, loafers, Mary Janes, moccasins, mules, oxfords, pumps, rollerblades, sandals, skates, slides, sling-backs, slippers, sneakers, swim fins, valenki, waders and wedge. The distinctive features of the word “shoes” are based on the heels, heels shape, gender, the types of the toes, the occasions to wear the footwear, the place to wear the footwear, the material, the accessories of the footwear, the model of the back of the shoes and the cut of the shoes.

The study includes a detailed chart of shoe characteristics. Here is the top part of that chart:

The study concludes with a flourish:

CONCLUSION—The theory that is served in the discussion is used to analyze the distinctive features of the word shoes. By having this analysis, the writer hopes that the reader can have a better understanding on the differences of each type of the shoes. The writer also provides a table so that the reader can see the differences more clearly.

BONUS: The author’s master’s thesis looked for meaning elsewhere, as is clear from the document’s title: “A Pragmatic Study of Humor in Asterix at the Olympic Games Comic.”

Natesto®. What Else? (drug-naming study)

Thursday, January 3rd, 2019
If you’re a manufacturer of medicines, thinking up a suitably snappy name for (2S)-1-[(2S)-6-amino-2-{[(1S)-1-carboxy-3-phenylpropyl]amino}hexanoyl]pyrrolidine-2-carboxylic acid [generic name Lisinopril] might not be an easy task.
And, according to a recent paper in the journal Names : A Journal of Onomastics, Volume 66, Issue 2, 2018, picking the ‘wrong’ name can make a huge difference to your sales figures.

“Considering the huge amount of money devoted to the marketing of new drugs, drug sponsors cannot take the risk of releasing a drug that will not sell. As seen with the contrasting stories of the two brands of lisinopril, both launched in the late 1980s: “ICI Pharmaceuticals called its lisinopril Zestril. Its competitors marketed the same molecule as Carace. Whereas Zestril became one of the medical world’s most successful brands, Carace sank pretty much without trace.”

The author of the study, Dr Pascaline Faure, who is a director of the Département d’Anglais Médical de la Faculté de Médecine Pierre et Marie Curie (Pitié-Salpêtrière/Saint-Antoine), France, points out that although the US regulatory body, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has ‘recommended’ that “unsubstantial beneficial” connotations in names should be banned, manufacturers continue to concoct imaginative new tradenames in the hope that they will encourage sales.*

“In our study, we have shown that the commonly used letters X and Z are giving way to A and O endings so as to attract Romance languages speaking clients and conquer other markets such as the Latin American and the European markets. We have demonstrated that this trend matches a less recent ploy in food and automotive marketing. We focused on the “Vowel/Consonant+lexeme” matrix that is found almost exclusively in the drug industry because it permits to create a name shorter in writing – an advantage for prescribers. Although the FDA recommended that “unsubstantial beneficial” connotations be banned, we have uncovered the presence of promotional affixes as well as hidden emotional contents that are meant to be persuasive.”

See: ‘Natesto®. What Else? New Trends in Drug Naming’
* Bonus Assignment [optional] : Are the names designed to appeal to patients, or doctors (or both)?
Note: Bearing in mind that the patent on Lisinopril has long since expired, patients should be able to buy a chemically identical generic version of Lisinopril at a lower price than a branded version – but for those who insist on a named brand, there are quite a few on offer –  here is a partial list :
Acebitor®, Acemin®, Acepril®, Acerdil®, Acetan®, Acinopril®, Adco-Zetomax®, Adicanil®, Agimexpharm®, Agimlisin®, Alapril®, Albigone®, Axelvin®, Biopril®, Bpmed®, Cardiostad®, Cipril®, Cotensil-GMP®, Dapril®, Dikepril®, Diroton®, Diyiluo®, Doneka®, Dosteril®, Doxapril®, Ecapril®, Enlisin®, Eucor®, Fisopril®, Forsine®, Gamalizin®, Genopril®, Glopril®, Gnostoval®, Hipril®, Hyporil®, Icoran®, Ikapril®, Inhitril®, Interpril®, Iricil®, Irumed®, Laaven®, Leruze®, Likenil®, Linipril®, Linopril®, Linoxal®, Linvas®, Lipril®, Liscard®, Lisdene®, Lisi-Hennig®, Lisidigal®, Lisigamma®, Lisigen®, Lisihexal®, LisiHEXAL®, LisiJenson®, Lisinal®, Lisino®, Lisinocor®, Lisinoratio®, Lisinospes®, Lisinovil®, Lisipril®, Lisiprol®, Lisiren®, Lisitril®, Lisodinol®, Lisodura®, Lisopress®, Lisopril®, Lisoril®, Lispril®, Listril®, Lithium-Chlorid®, Lizinopril®, Lizopril®, Lizro®, Lokopool®, Longes®, Lopril®, Loril®, Lysin®, Maxipril®, Nafordyl®, Neopril®, Nivant®, Noperten®, Nopril®, Noprisil®, Odace®, Omace®, Optimon®, Perenal®, Pressamea®, Pressuril®, Prinivil®, Quadrica®, Ranolip®, Ranopril®, Rilace®, Safepril®, Sinopren®, Sinopril®, Sinopryl®, Skopryl®, Stril®, Tensikey®, Tensinop®, Tensiphar®, Tensopril®, Tersif-MD®, Thriusedon®, Tivirlon®, Tonolysin®, Tonotensil®, Vastril®, Vercol®, Veroxil®, Vitopril®, Yi-Mai-Ou®, Yijikang®, Z-Bec®, Zesger®, Zestan®, Zestril®, Zinopril®. [source]
[ Research research by Martin Gardiner ]

Virtual Reality ‘Teabagging’ – an 'unlaughing' matter for hardcore gamers (study)

Monday, December 31st, 2018

First popularized within Halo 2 multiplayer competitive matches, teabagging is a controversial practice where the player’s avatar repeatedly crouches over a defeated player’s ‘body’ in order to simulate rubbing his or her genitals over the avatar’s body” [our hyperlink]

By way of a recent essay for the academic journal Games and Culture, the first (and quite probably as yet the only) critical scholarship study of Virtual Reality Teabagging is provided by Brian Hunt Myers, who a doctoral student at the Department of Communication, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Amherst, MA, US.
He informs that some ‘hardcore’ First Person Shooter (FPS) enthusiasts are often not amused by such practices – quoting a comment from a player :

“I think teabagging represents a lower level of FPS play. Time spent teabagging a player could otherwise be used to reach the next objective, defend the area, or go on the offense once more. Many times a second or two counts, so the player engaged in teabagging isn’t thinking of the big picture.”

Thus, when confronted with VR teabagging, it’s not uncommon, says the author, for ‘serious’ players to resort to ‘unlaughter’.

“Unlaughter is more than just the absence of laughter but is instead the conscious withholding of laughter in response to an invitation or demand to laugh.”

In conclusion, he adds, however :

“Alongside the derisive sneer or the silence of unlaughter, then, I optimistically assert that perhaps another kind of laughter exists, one that is gentler and more receptive. If nothing else, the example of teabagging demonstrates that those moments of laughter are not beyond the realm of possibility and that allowing for those moments can offer critical inquiry resources for new alliances and reparative practices.”

See: ‘Friends With Benefits : Plausible Optimism and the Practice of Teabagging in Video Games’ which is awaiting publication in a future issue of the journal Games and Culture. (A full copy may be found here courtesy of the University of Massachusetts Amherst.)
Note: For an overview of real-world (as opposed to virtual-world) ‘teabagging’ see John Waters’ 1998 film Pecker.
Also See: Teabagging in the Name of Science
[ Research research by Martin Gardiner ]

Whithering commentary about misconduct

Sunday, December 30th, 2018

Whither, oh why, do some researchers misconduct themselves professionally, and what is to be done about it? This study wants you to wonder about that:
Whither research integrity? Plagiarism, self-plagiarism and coercive citation in an age of research assessment,” Ben R. MartinResearch Policy, Volume 42, Issue 5, June 2013, Pages 1005-1014. The author laments:
“This extended editorial asks whether peer-review is continuing to operate effectively in policing research misconduct in the academic world. It explores the mounting problems encountered by editors of journals such as Research Policy (RP) in dealing with research misconduct.”

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