A Jaundiced View of Ducks and How to Make Them Pay

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

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 Golf.com 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.”


In-depth examination of the Ig Nobel Prizes, for German doctors

February 10th, 2019

Ärtze Zeitung, the German newspaper for doctors, has a loving, long appreciation of the Ig Nobel Prizes. It begins [here translated into English]:

Winking and improving the world

The research results, for which the Ig Nobel Prize is awarded annually, often tease the laughing muscles – and then make you think. Many results are now available in the collective memory. An overview of what has been awarded so far….

The essay finishes with this:

… The sophistication of the decisions of the Ig Nobel Prize Committee illustrates hardly any work better than the study “From junior to senior Pinocchio” by the Belgian psychologist Evelyne Debey and colleagues, who did not receive the award alone, 1000 liars according to their frequency To have questioned lying, but above all their willingness to “believe their answers”.

Some of Cambridge’s acknowledged findings are now anchored in the collective consciousness. These include insights into Murphy’s Law (1996 and 2003), the exposition of the Dunning Kruger Effect, which states that the difficulty of perceiving one’s own incompetence leads to exaggerated self-assessment (2000), and the related phenomenon that people who believe to be drunk, also believe that they are particularly attractive (2013).

On April 12, 2019, German doctors—and anyone else who is in Berlin that night—will be able to explore firsthand the world of the Ig Nobel Prizes, at the Ig Nobel Night in Berlin event at Tempodrom Berlin. Tickets are available online.



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

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)

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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