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“The most viewed medical video in the world” [sex in an MRI]

Friday, December 20th, 2019

French medical journalist Marc Gozlan reminds us that the most viewed article in the history of the British Medical Journal led to the creation of what became “The most viewed medical video in the world“.

Here is that video:

Where did that come from?

Here’s the story of how that video came to be, and how it came to be seen. We are not unhappy at having played a part in that story: “Sex and videotape“.

“MRI Sex: The most viewed article in BMJ”, after 20 years

Thursday, December 19th, 2019

An editor of the British Medical Journal (The BMJ) told us a few years ago that one particular BMJ paper, published in 1999, has—from the moment that paper was awarded an Ig Nobel Prize in the year 2000— consistently drawn more web visitors—many, many more—than anything—anything—else published in the history of The BMJ. Everything every published in The BMJ, dating back to 1840; is accessible on the BMJ web site.

Th 20th anniversary of of that paper being published is being celebrated around the world, as well as in The BMJ itself:

This Christmas marks the 20th anniversary of the publication of “Magnetic resonance imaging of male and female genitals during coitus and female sexual arousal.” Why did it become one of the most downloaded BMJ articles of all time?

The BMJ greeted the prize, in 2000, with an essay that begins:

The BMJ gloried in new laurels last week when its article on the imaging of male and female genitals during coitus, published in last year’s Christmas issue, won the prize for medicine at the annual Ig Nobel prizegiving at Harvard University (BMJ 1999;319:1596-600).

The Spanish newspaper ABC reports:

MRI Sex: The most viewed article in BMJ

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the publication of, possibly, the most downloaded scientific article in the British Medical Journal. “Magnetic resonance imaging of male and female genitals during intercourse and female sexual arousal,” it was titled…

Although in its first year the research picked up the Ig Nobel prize for medicine, at that time, nobody in “The BMJ” thought the study was particularly useful clinically or scientifically, but it contained “a striking image using a new technology, and everyone was I agree that readers might be interested in seeing it,” writes Tony Delamothe, former editor of the magazine.

Here’s another of the many reports, this one in the German newspaper Bild:

Ig Nobel Prizes and The BMJ

The Ig Nobel Prize for medicine, in the year 2000, was awarded to Willibrord Weijmar Schultz, Pek van Andel, Eduard Mooyaart, and Ida Sabelis, for their report, “Magnetic Resonance Imaging of Male and Female Genitals During Coitus and Female Sexual Arousal.”

Other studies published in The BMJ, too, have been honored with Ig Nobel Prizes. Navjoyt Ladher, The BMJ‘s clinical editor discussed this in an essay in December 2016, saying:

The [MRI sex] paper also has the honour of being the recipient of an Ig Nobel award. The prize is given each year by the Annals of Improbable Research for studies that are particularly unusual and imaginative. In her acceptance speech for the award, author and research participant Ida Sabelis described seeing the MRI images for the first time: “Not so much a passport photo for daily use but surely a shot that shows so much that it makes me speechless.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the focus on quirky research questions, several other Christmas BMJ papers have also received the prize (box 1). These papers have examined the effect of different foods on the appetite of leeches, explored the occupational hazards of sword swallowing, and assessed the predictive value of abdominal pain in people with appendicitis when they go over speed bumps.

Since then, The BMJ has continued wracking up Ig Nobel wins, as you can discover (or re-discover) for yourself, by looking at the list of all Ig Nobel Prize winners.

Here’s a short documentary made ten years or so ago about the MRI sex study:


The shape of a vibrated earthworm?

Wednesday, December 18th, 2019

What shape does an earthworm take if someone vibrates the worm? Arnaud Hemmerle alerts us to an experimental attempt to find out.

Hemmerle says:

A few words about this wonderful paper, which tackles a deep and puzzling question: what is the shape of a vibrated earthworm?

Back in 2015, we published a paper entitled “Worm-like instability of a vibrated sessile drop“, in which we studied the shape of a vibrated liquid drop and a particular hydrodynamic instability. It turns out that the drop elongates for a certain range of frequencies and amplitudes, and takes a shape close to what an earthworm looks like. Until then, nothing very funny, I have to admit.

But it seems that Maksymov and Pototsky read our paper and thought: “Ok, fine, a vibrated drop may look like a worm … BUT WHAT ABOUT A REAL EARTHWORM???”

And it turns out that a vibrated earthworm (sedated first with ethanol, of course) shows some kind of sub-harmonic oscillations, similar in a way to what has been seen on vibrated liquid droplets.

The paper makes you laugh, and then think. They actually modeled the vibrated earthworm as an elastic cylinder, and the theoretical model seems to fit the observations. Oh and of course they have also built an earthworm mimicking phantom made of a finger of a latex glove filled with water. Because why not.

I do not know personally anyone involved in this paper, including the worms.

The study is: “Excitation of Faraday-like body waves in vibrated living earthworms,” Ivan S. Maksymov and Andrey Pototsky, bioRxiv 10.1101/868521, December 8, 2019. The authors, at Swinburne University of Technology, Australia, report:

Biological cells and many living organisms are mostly made of liquids and therefore, by analogy with liquid drops, they should exhibit a range of fundamental nonlinear phenomena such as the onset of standing surface waves. Here, we test four common species of earthworm to demonstrate that vertical vibration of living worms lying horizontally of a flat solid surface results in the onset of subharmonic Faraday-like body waves, which is possible because earthworms have a hydrostatic skeleton with a flexible skin and a liquid-filled body cavity. Our findings are supported by theoretical analysis based on a model of parametrically excited vibrations in liquid-filled elastic cylinders using material parameters of the worm’s body reported in the literature.

The insect sex research adventures of Yoshitaka Kamimura

Wednesday, November 13th, 2019

This insect-sex-reversal-centric profile of 2017 Ig Nobel Biology Prize co-winner Yoshitaka Kamimura appeared a year ago in the Keio Times:

Sex-Role Reversal Research in Insects Wins Ig Nobel Prize for Keio Professor Yoshitaka Kamimura

…In 2012, Prof. Kamimura was first invited to join a research team led by Kazunori Yoshizawa, an associate professor at Hokkaido University, whose award-winning research focuses on cave-dwelling species of insect from Brazil that belongs to the genus Neotrogla. In most insects, the male penetrates the female reproductive organ to transfer seminal fluid, but for Neotrogla, it is the female that has a penis, which it uses to penetrate the male in order to receive seminal fluid and nutritional substances.

“Neotrogla are small, 3mm-long insects that inhabit caves in Brazil. Our first face-to-face encounter with these fascinating creatures was in 2016, when we donned headlamps and explored the caves in search of them. The caves they inhabit are quite dry and food is scarce, which forces them to rely on bat guano and mouse droppings to survive….”



Wearing High Heels as Female Mating Strategy [research study]

Tuesday, September 24th, 2019

Comes a major advance, possibly, in the understanding of why some women wear high heeled shoes. A new study presents details:

Wearing High Heels as Female Mating Strategy,” Pavol Prokop and Jana Švancárová, Personality and Individual Differences, vol. 152, January 2020, 109558. The authors, at Comenius University and at the Slovak Academy of Science, Slovakia, explain:

This suggests that females strategically wear high heels when anticipating an interaction with an attractive male and in all probability avoid wearing high heels when anticipating an interaction with a relatively unattractive male….

The results of the present research are based on a specific homogeneous sample of young Slovak females. Future research should further investigate the preference for high heels with data from larger, more diverse samples, because the more divergent the cultures being considered, the stronger the case for universality.

BONUS (possibly unrelated): High Heels and Schizophrenia

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