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Your advice about anti-boredom Improbable episodes?

March 20th, 2020

With so many people cycling between worry and boredom, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, maybe we can help, a little, to crack that boredom. We’re thinking about doing a series of quick Improbable Research podcast episodes about studies that make people laugh, then think. We have a goodly supply. Some of the first might even come from the special BOREDOM issue of the magazine.

I would appreciate your advice, if you have any, about:
how often, how short, and how anything else (should they be audio, or video?) we should make these new little things. You can reach me at <marc attttt improbable dotttt com>.

Good luck and good health to you, and to all of us, in these queasily improbable times!


A high concept design for a killer roller coaster

March 19th, 2020

Different engineers have different ways of having fun. This is one way:

The design engineer, Julijonas Urbonas, gives it a simple description: “Euthanasia Coaster is a hypothetic death machine in the form of a roller coaster, engineered to humanely – with elegance and euphoria – take the life of a human being.”

Mathematics and the end of the world, predictably

March 19th, 2020

A prize-winning profession confidently confronts a new challenge.

Some professionals—professionals who professionally calculate a date on which the world will end—have calculated that the COVID-19 pandemic is not a goodbye-everyone harbinger. The Washington Post reports, on March 17, 2020:

This is not the end of the world, according to Christians who study the end of the world

The worldwide upheaval caused by the fast-spreading novel coronavirus pandemic has many people reaching for their Bibles, and some starting to wonder: Could this be a sign of the apocalypse?

It sure might feel apocalyptic. But not if you ask Christian writers and pastors who have spent years focusing their message on the Book of Revelation — the New Testament’s final book…. Most of these Revelation-focused prophesiers don’t see coronavirus as heralding the Second Coming and the end of life on Earth as we know it….

A Prize-Winning History for the Profession

The profession as a whole—the profession of calculating when the world will cease—has a celebrated history.

The 2011 Ig Nobel Prize for mathematics was awarded to Dorothy Martin of the USA (who predicted the world would end in 1954), Pat Robertson of the USA (who predicted the world would end in 1982), Elizabeth Clare Prophet of the USA (who predicted the world would end in 1990), Lee Jang Rim of KOREA (who predicted the world would end in 1992), Credonia Mwerinde of UGANDA (who predicted the world would end in 1999), and Harold Camping of the USA (who predicted the world would end on September 6, 1994 and later predicted that the world will end on October 21, 2011), for teaching the world to be careful when making mathematical assumptions and calculations.

Predicting whether to rely on public health predictions

March 19th, 2020

About predictions:

(1) There are still lots of unknown numbers plugged into any calculation about public health.

(2) Any calculation necessarily ignores other aspects happening simultaneously with what the calculation calculates is happening.

(3) You can also, always, do this ancient calculation: Plan for the worst (do NOT neglect Murphy’s Law), AND hope for the best.

Podcast Episode #206: “Flatulence in Dogs”

March 18th, 2020

Flatulence in Dogs, the Real-Life Wizard of Oz, Triskadekaphobia When People Buy a House, Boys Will Be Boys, Why Your Doctor Should Smell, Soft is Hard, You Bastard, and Personal Space at the Beach.

In episode #206, Marc Abrahams shows some unfamiliar research studies to Nicole Sharp, Robin Abrahams, Melissa Franklin, Chris Cotsapas, Jean Berko Gleason, Bill Hoston and Andrew Berry. Dramatic readings and reactions ensue.

Remember, our Patreon donors, on most levels, get access to each podcast episode before it is made public.

1. Nicole Sharp encounters:

Flatulence in Pet Dogs,” by B.R. Jones, K.S. Jones, K. Turner, and B. Rogatski, New Zealand Veterinary Journal, 1998 Oct;46(5):191-3.

Administration of Charcoal, Yucca Schidigera, and Zinc Acetate to Reduce Malodorous Flatulence in dogs,” Catriona J. Giffard, Stella B. Collins, Neil C. Stoodley, Richard F. Butterwick, and Roger M. Batt, The Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, vol. 218, no. 6, March 15, 2001, pp. 892-6.

2. Robin and Marc Abrahams encounter:

The Enigmatic Dr. Nakamats.

3. Melissa Franklin encounters:

Triskaidekaphobia and North American Residential Real Estate Prices,” James E. Larsen, International Real Estate Review, vol. 18, no. 3, 2015, pp. 317-329.

4. Chris Cotsapas encounters:

The Adaptive Function of Masturbation in a Promiscuous African Ground Squirrel,” Jane M. Waterman, PLoS ONE, vol. 5, no. 9, 2010.

Differences in Breast Shape Preferences Between Plastic Surgeons and Patients Seeking Breast Augmentation,” H.C. Hsia and G.J. Thomson, Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery, vol. 112, no. 1, July 2003, pp. 312–20.

Changes in Pornography-Seeking Behaviors Following Political Elections: An Examination of the Challenge Hypothesis,” Patrick M. Markey and Charlotte N. Markey, Evolution and Human Behavior, vol. 31, no. 6, November 2010, pp. 442–6.

5. Jean Berko Gleason encounters:

Scratch and Sniff. The Dynamic Duo,” W.Z. Stitt and A. Goldsmith, Archives of Dermatology, vol. 131, no. 9, September 1995, pp. 997-9.

6. Bill Hoston encounters:

The Physical Burdens of Secrecy,” M.L. Slepian, E.J. Masicampo, N.R. Toosi, and N. Ambady, Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, vol. 141, 2012, pp. 619–24.

Big Secrets Do Not Necessarily Cause Hills to Appear Steeper,” Etienne P. LeBel and Christopher J. Wilbur, Psychonomic Bulletin and Review, 21(3), 2014, 696-700.

Passing Encounters: Patterns of Recognition and Avoidance in Pedestrians,” Miles L. Patterson, A. Webb, and W. Schwartz, Basic and Applied Social Psychology, vol. 24, 2002, pp. 57–66.

Through a Glass Darkly: Effects of Smiling and Visibility on Recognition and Avoidance in Passing Encounters,” Miles L. Patterson and Mark E. Tubbs, Western Journal of Communication, vol. 69, no. 3, July 2005, pp. 219–31.

7. Robin Abrahams encounters:

You Bastard: A Narrative Exploration of the Experience of Indignation within Organizations,” David Sims, Organization Studies, vol. 26, no. 11, 2005, pp. 1625-40.

8. Andrew Berry encounters:

Territorial Spacing on a Beach,” Sociometry, Julian J. Edney and Nancy L. Jordan-Edney, vol. 37, 1974, pp. 92-104.

Territorial Spacing on a Beach Revisited: A Cross-National Exploration,” H.W. Smith, Social Psychology Quarterly, vol. 44, no. 2, 1981, pp. 132-7.

Personal Space and Stimulus Intensity at a Southern California Amusement Park,” Paul D. Nesbitt and Girard Steven, Sociometry, vol. 37, no. 1, 1974, pp. 105-15.

How are Distances Between Individuals of Grazing Cows Explained by a Statistical Model?” Masae Shiyomi, Ecological Modelling, vol. 172, 2004, pp. 87–94.

How are distances between grazing cows determined: A case study,” Masae Shiyomi, Applied entomology and zoology 39, no. 4 (2004): 575-581.

Islam, Tamanna, Eiki Fukuda, Masae Shiyomi, Molla Rahman Shaibur, Shigenao Kawai, and Mikinori Tsuiki. “Effects of Feces on Spatial Distribution Patterns of Grazed Grassland Communities.” Agricultural Sciences in China 9, no. 1 (2010): 121-129.

Bruce Petschek, Audio Engineer

John Shedler, Audio Engineer

Seth Gliksman, Production Assistant

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