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Archive for 'Research News'

Just saying ‘No’: citrus juice then, Covid-19 vaccines now

Thursday, January 14th, 2021

When almost any new medical treatment has been proved effective, many people resist using it. Here’s one of many examples. This one is juicy. Andrew J.T. George wrote about it, in The Conversation:

How the British defeated Napoleon with citrus fruit

Everyone knows that Britain’s conclusive victory over Napoleon was at Waterloo. The story of that day – the squares of infantry repulsing cavalry charges, the Imperial Guard retreating under murderous musket fire delivered by a red line of soliders, the just-in-time arrival of Field Marshal Blücher’s Prussian army – is one of excitement, horror and heroism. However, Britain’s biggest contribution to Napoleon’s defeat was much less romantic. It involved the first randomised controlled trial….

The ability of the sailors of the Royal Navy to operate for such long periods at sea was remarkable. For most of the 18th century, ships could only stay at sea for relatively short periods (six to eight weeks), without the sailors developing scurvy….

In 1753, Lind wrote a treatise describing [the] crucial experiment. While others had previously used citrus fruit to treat scurvy, this trial proved its effectiveness….

Delayed recognition
The story isn’t so simple, however. It involved big admiralty egos and political infighting. Lind’s treatise was largely ignored when it was published. It took decades of work by others – notably Thomas Trotter and Gilbert Blane – to fight for the adoption of lemon juice by the navy.

It was not until 1795, after Lind’s death, that his findings were fully adopted. Other countries were also slow to follow the British example. Even though Americans knew that British sailors drank lemon juice (the origin of the slang-term “limey”), scurvy remained a major problem for soldiers in the American Civil War.

One lesson is that it is not enough to do good science and assume any finding will be instantly adopted….


Shipway’s Shipworm Sex Frenzy Film

Wednesday, January 13th, 2021

SHIPWORMS’ COMPETITIVE SEX FRENZY CAUGHT ON FILM” is the headline on a press release from the University of Portsmouth.

Below the heated headline, the body of the text begins:

A competitive sexual frenzy in which bigger appendages have the most success of reproducing might sound like the briefing for a porn film, but instead, it’s the finding of a new study examining a clam.

Scientists, led by Dr Reuben Shipway, at the University of Portsmouth, studying the sex life of the giant feathery shipworm may be the first to have witnessed the wrestling and sparring between individuals during copulation.

The shipworm is a gender fluid, worm-like, wood-eating clam common throughout the world’s oceans and notorious for causing billions of pounds in damage by eating wooden ships, docks, piers and sea defences….

Details are in a paper published in the journal Biology Letters: “Mate competition during pseudocopulation in shipworms,” by J. Reuben Shipway, Nancy C. Treneman, and Daniel L. Distel.

The authors are, one way and another, at the University of Portsmouth, UK; the University of Massachusetts; the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology; and Northeastern University. Here’s some of their stimulating video:

Alligators Bellowing in Heliox [Ig Informal Lecture]

Friday, January 8th, 2021

Here is the Ig Informal Lecture by the winners of the 2020 Ig Nobel Acoustics Prize.

The Ig Nobel Prizes honor achievements that make people LAUGH, then THINK. In the Ig Informal Lectures, some days after the ceremony, the new Ig Nobel Prize winners attempt to explain what they did, and why they did it. [In non-pandemic years, the lectures happen at MIT, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, two days after the Ig Nobel Prize ceremony. But in the pandemic year 2020, it’s all happening online.]

The 2020 Ig Nobel Prize for Acoustics was awarded to Stephan Reber, Takeshi Nishimura, Judith Janisch, Mark Robertson, and Tecumseh Fitch, for inducing a female Chinese alligator to bellow in an airtight chamber filled with helium-enriched air. They documented that research, in this study:


We are releasing The Ig Informal Lectures, one at a time, here on, and on YouTube. Here are the release dates:

  • November 26th, 2020: Economics
  • December 3rd, 2020: Psychology
  • December 17th, 2020: Medicine
  • December 24th, 2020: Physics
  • December 31st, 2020: Entomology
  • January 7th, 2021: Acoustics
  • February 4, 2021: Materials Science

Smiling and grimacing can reduce needle injection pain [study]

Monday, January 4th, 2021

Bearing in mind that the number of medical injections might soon be increasing, and that some find them painful, a question can arise – ‘What are the options for minimizing the pain of a medical injection?’ Have you considered holding a chopstick in your mouth (to induce a fake smile) or maybe grimacing?

Sarah Pressman,  [not pictured, see note 1 below] who is Professor of Psychological Science at the University of California, Irvine, and Principal Investigator of the Stress, Emotion & Physical Health Lab (STEP) has co-authored a recent paper which describes experiments aimed at reducing needle injection pain – by manipulating facial expressions.

“Expression was covertly manipulated via cover story and chopstick placement in the mouth.”

The experiments also investigated ‘grimacing’.

“Together, these findings indicate that both smiling and grimacing can improve subjective needle pain experiences, but Duchenne smiling may be better suited for blunting the stress-induced physiological responses of the body versus other facial expressions.”

See: Smile (or grimace) through the pain? The effects of experimentally manipulated facial expressions on needle-injection responses  Emotion, Pressman, S. D., Acevedo, A. M., Hammond, K. V., & Kraft-Feil, T. L. (2020)


[1] The photo is from a previous study also involving chopstick smiles, and also co-authored by Professor Pressman : Contrasting Experimentally Device-Manipulated and Device-Free Smiles  Front. Psychol., 15 October 2019.

[2] SmileSticks™ (an hygienic alternative to a chopstick, which were evaluated in the study above) can be purchased here

[3] The 2010 Ig Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Richard Stephens, John Atkins, and Andrew Kingston of Keele University, UK, for confirming the widely held belief that swearing relieves pain.

Research research by Martin Gardiner

The Enduring Appeal of Crunchiness

Friday, January 1st, 2021

“Outside the academy, the paper [“The Role of Auditory Cues in Modulating the Perceived Crispness and Staleness of Potato Chips“] failed to generate any interest until 2008, when its authors were awarded the Ig Nobel Prize for Nutrition. The Ig Nobels are intended to “honor achievements that make people laugh, and then think,” but media coverage of Spence’s win focussed mostly on the former, with headlines that ranged from “boffin gives eaters sound advice” to “why research that?!” At first glance, the “sonic chip” experiment, as Spence fondly refers to it, does seem trivial. In reality, it was an elegant psychological trick, offering insight into the way the brain combines two separate sensory inputs—the crunching sound and the tactile oral sensation of a potato chip—into one multisensory perception. Spence lists the honor at the top of his curriculum vitae.”

—from the report “Accounting for Taste,” by Nicola Twilley, in The New Yorker magazine,  October 26, 2015

Here is some detail from the study:

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