Archive for 'Research News'

Eye-beam believers – numbers perhaps not as high as previously thought (new study)

Thursday, February 14th, 2019
According to a new study from the Graziano Lab at Princeton University, US, there has been a sharp drop in the number of US college students who believe that some form of invisible beams are emitted form peoples’ eyes when they look at something (k.a. extramission).

Their research suggests that the figure could now be as low as 5% – falling from around 50% in 2002. This order-of-magnitude drop is not easily explained say the research team.

“Our finding of an ∼5% incidence of extramission beliefs conflicts with previous work suggesting that more than half of US adults, possibly as high as 60 to 70%, explicitly believe in an extramission account. We cannot easily explain this difference. It is possible that education about optics has significantly improved since the 1990s. Another possibility is that our sample was skewed, since it included only participants who could sign up for an online service and complete the study on a computer.”

See: Implicit model of other people’s visual attention as an invisible, force-carrying beam projecting from the eyes in PNAS January 2, 2019 116 (1) 328-333.

The photo is a still taken from a video by Wyatt Scott who ran for parliament as an independent candidate for Mission Matsqui Fraser Canyon, Canada.

A Jaundiced View of Ducks and How to Make Them Pay

Tuesday, February 12th, 2019

The book Ducks, and How to Make Them Pay, by William Cook, published by E. Clarke and Sons, in 1890 and later in other editions, is about how to make ducks pay. Cook instructs his fellow humans on how to make money, one way or another, by utilizing ducks one way or another.

A Latter-day, Jaundiced View of Ducks and How to Make Them Pay

Cook’s book was not the last word on the subject. In 2008, long after Cook’s demise, Jonathan M. Thompson wrote an essay about Cook and the ducks, called “The Orpington Ducks.” Thompson finishes his lengthy diatribe with this paragraph:

Over the years, William Henry Cook claims to have been the originator of many varieties of fowls and ducks; only one, however, deserves any credence. He set out to deceive—for whatever reason—and the authors who follow, and unquestioningly repeat what has gone before, also mislead their reader. It is, therefore, little wonder the precise history of this breed and its colour-forms has appeared in an inaccurate state, following on from the primary accounts, when, prior to the writer’s endeavours, no exact investigation of the facts had taken place.

Here is a portrait of Mr. Cook, from his book. Judge for yourself his merits, if you think that looking at at drawing of someone about whom you have just heard is a good way to judge things:

Perhaps no discussion of Mr. Cook can or should duck the responsibility of mentioning the biology research study called “Homosexual Necrophilia in the Mallard Duck,” and perhaps no discussion of that study can exceed in merit the TED Talk given by its author, Kees Moeliker:

As you likely know, Moeliker was awarded the 2003 Ig Nobel Prize for biology, for this work.

Sports Celebration Injuries – update

Monday, February 11th, 2019

If you thought that ‘Score Celebration Injuries’ (SCIs) were restricted to soccer players – think again. A 2017 report in The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, 57(3 ): 267-71, reviews the medical literature on the subject, reporting that of the 62 SCIs that they found, only 22 involved professional soccer players.

“A total of 62 athletes sustained 62 injuries resulting from various types of celebrations. All but two athletes were males, and the average age was 26.5 years old. […] Common celebration maneuvers included leaping into the air, pile ups, sliding, and somersaults.”

The authors, therefore, give a recommendation  :

“By encouraging athletes to temper excessive celebrations and prohibiting certain types of celebrations, many injuries may be prevented.”

See: When celebrations go wrong: a case series of injuries after celebrating in sports

Further reading : A 2011 report from recounts the occasion when :

“Thomas Levet’s exuberant celebration of jumping into a lake after winning his home tournament in France last weekend has cost him a place in the British Open.”


Learn how a swarm of maggots eats a pizza, in Washington

Saturday, February 9th, 2019

Olga Shishkov will discuss (and maybe demonstrate?) how a swarm of maggots eats a pizza, next Saturday night, February 16, at the Improbable Research session at the AAAS Annual Meeting, in Washington, DC.

Science magazine introduces the research: “If you’ve got the stomach for it, you can watch 10,000 maggots demolish the above pizza in 2 hours. Now, scientists have a better sense of how these fly larvae gobble food so quickly, a possible boon for sustainable food production.”

Details are in the newly published study:

Black soldier fly larvae feed by forming a fountain around food,” Olga Shishkov, Michael Hu, Christopher Johnson, and David L. Hu, Journal of the Royal Society Interface, vol. 16, no. 20180735, 2019. Here’s a snippet from that study:

A single larva is shown in figure 1a. Figure 1b and electronic supplementary material, video S1, show a swarm of larvae consuming a 16-inch pizza in 2 h.

Prior research

David Hu, co-author of the new study (and leader of the lab), shared the 2015 Ig Nobel Prize for physics, for testing the biological principle that nearly all mammals empty their bladders in about 21 seconds (plus or minus 13 seconds).

That urination research is documented in the study “Duration of Urination Does Not Change With Body Size,” Patricia J. Yang, Jonathan Pham, Jerome Choo, and David L. Hu, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 111 no. 33, August 19, 2014, pp. 11932–11937.

Next Saturday night in Washington: Details

Here’s the lineup of speakers at next week’s Improbable Research show, in Washington:

  • Marc Abrahams, founder of the Ig Nobel Prize ceremony
  • Ig Nobel Prize winner David Wartinger (Using roller coaster rides to try to hasten the passage of kidney stones)
  • Ig Nobel Prize winner Abigail Baird (fMRI discovery of brain activity in a dead salmon)
  • Ig Nobel Prize winner Nathaniel Barr (“On the Reception and Detection of Pseudo-Profound Bullshit“)
  • Ig Nobel Prize winner Jiwon (“Jesse”) Han (The physics of walking backwards with a cup of hot coffee)
  • Marguerite E. Matherne (How effective is tail-swishing in large animals?)
  • Eric Schulman (A history of the universe in 100 words, in Czech)
  • Olga Shishkov (The biomechanics of maggots)

It’s at the Omni Shoreham Hotel, in the Diplomat Ballroom, Saturday, February 16, 2019, beginning at 8 pm. This session (unlike most of the AAAS Annual Meeting) is open free to the public. Please join us there!

Postulating a mathematical definition of excitement (study)

Thursday, February 7th, 2019

Can there be a mathematical definition of excitement? Within the realm of sports at least (particularly tennis) an attempt has been made to find out. Dr Graham Pollard BSc, MSC, PhD of the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Canberra, Australia, has written, in the Journal of Sports Analytics, regarding ‘Measuring excitement in sport’.

“The mathematical definition of excitement [see full paper link below] is applicable to a wide range of sports scoring systems. Several examples were given, but a major focus of this paper was on a set of tennis. A methodology for determining the average value and variance of the total excitement in the set was outlined. It is reasonably straight forward to use this methodology to determine whether a particular set had a total excitement level that was above or below its expected level, and by how much.”

It should be noted that the excitement measuring method is not restricted to tennis –

“The method for analyzing excitement […] can be used directly for a wide range of scoring systems as used in racquet sports such as table tennis, squash, and badminton, and other sports such as volleyball.”

For details , see the Journal of Sports Analytics, 3, (2017) 37–43, where the thesis, and the definition can be read in full. ‘Measuring excitement in sport’.

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