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Archive for 'Newspaper column'

Why do so many people so often say “so”?

Tuesday, April 7th, 2015
Galina Bolden

Galina Bolden

So … in this era when so many people use the word “so” to begin so many of their sentences, one scholar has written three studies analysing what happens when people begin their sentences with the word. Galina Bolden’s first “so” study, in 2006, explains that sometimes people use the word as a way of “moving on with [a] conversation that has been temporarily stalled” (“So, how are you?”).

Her second “so” study, in 2008, is called “So What’s Up?”: Using the Discourse Marker So to Launch Conversational Business. Bolden, an associate professor of communication at Rutgers University in New Jersey, expands on the earlier idea….

—So begins the latest Improbable Research column in The Guardian.

Beach study suggests tourists like good weather

Tuesday, March 10th, 2015

Do not assume that tourists prefer good weather when they visit a beach. A study published in the International Journal of Biometeorology in 2013 challenges that easy-to-make assumption. The researchers gathered evidence – rather than relying on mere guesses and assumptions – as to what kind of weather brings beachgoers to the beach.

Here is what they discovered: “The conditions preferred by beach users, as found in this study, are no precipitation, higher temperatures, light-to-moderate wind speed (less than 30 km/h) and low wave height (up to 1.25m).”

Thus, you need no longer assume tourists prefer good weather when they visit a beach – now you know they do. At least, you know it to the extent that the study’s findings are accurate….

—So begins the latest Improbable Research column in The Guardian.

Pippa Middleton’s backside – the Freudian and Marxist interpretations

Wednesday, February 11th, 2015

The scholarly community, a portion of it anyway, is diving ever-deeper in the analysis of the rear end of the sister of the wife of the man whose father’s mother sits on the throne of the United Kingdom.

The interest has spread westward, to the Republic of Ireland. Ireland has no monarch, and thus does not have a monarch’s child’s child’s spouse’s sibling’s butt of its own to analyse.

Gavin Wilkinson, who recently obtained a graduate degree from University College Dublin, wrote a treatise called Fetishising Pippa Middleton: Celebrity Posteriors, Whiteness and Class Aspirationalism….

—So begins the latest Improbable Research column in The Guardian.

CONTEXT: Here’s video of the object of the scholarly discussion:

BONUS: The Wilkinson paper extends the scholarly community’s attempt to grasp the essence of the Middleton buttocks.

Toppling of the Pops: A sometimes fatal quest for soda pop

Tuesday, January 20th, 2015

We all know that fizzy drinks can affect the health of people who drink them, especially in super-size quantities, but – even worse – fizzy drinks in a vending machine sometimes bring immediate violent death when the machines are attacked.

This is documented dramatically by Dr Michael Q Cosio in a 1988 research study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. In the summary of his paper, Soda Pop Vending Machine Injuries, Cosio minces no words.

“Fifteen male patients, 15 to 24 years of age, sustained injuries after rocking soda machines. The machines fell on to the victims, resulting in a variety of injuries. Three were killed. The remaining 12 required hospitalisation for their injuries.”

At the time, Cosio was working at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC. He has since died. I have not determined the manner of his passing.

—So begins another Improbable Research column in The Guardian.

BONUS: For context, here is detail from a patent for a beverage vending machine. According to Dr. Cosio’s report, this general class of vending machine dispenses cans and — if attacked — death:


Bird-feather counters exhibited pluck, tediously

Wednesday, December 17th, 2014
hat with feathers 1910

Feathers, on a hat on a person, circa 1910. Photo: Library of Congress.

Many humans have spent days, months or years counting feathers. Here are exciting highlights from some of their reports.

In 1936 Alexander Wetmore, of the US National Museum in Washington, gathered all the published reports he could find about someone or other counting how many feathers were on particular birds. “The work of feather counting is tedious and exacting,” he explained, “and yields small result relative to the labour involved.”

Among Wetmore’s gatherings from his peers: “Dr Jonathan Dwight found 3,235 feathers on a male Bobolink taken in spring. RC McGregor has recorded 1,899 feathers on a Savannah sparrow … and 6,544 on a glaucous winged Gull … Miss Phoebe Knappen has reported 11,903 feathers on an adult female mallard … the bird being one that had died from phosphorus poisoning.”

Wetmore proceeded to have someone he could count on do some do some new counting on his behalf: “The actual labour of counting was done under my direct supervision by Marie Siebrecht (now Mrs James Montroy) who, employed as an assistant, worked carefully and conscientiously at a long and somewhat tedious task”….

—So begins another Improbable Research column in The Guardian.

Improbable Research