Improbable Research at AAAS — Saturday Night in Austin

February 15th, 2018

Join us for the Improbable Research session at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Annual Meeting, in Austin Texas!

When: Saturday night, February 17, 8:00 pm.
Where: Hilton Austin Hotel— Salon H, Austin, Texas

The event will include will include:

This special session is open to the public, free of charge. This is the twenty-somethingth year we’ve done this kind of event at the AAAS meeting. It always draws an overflow crowd. So… we suggest you arrive a little early, to ensure finding a seat.

Here’s an image from one of the Ig Nobel Prize-winning studies we will discuss. The study asks the question “Can a cat be both a solid and a liquid?”

A flash fire caused by a hospital hand sanitizer

February 15th, 2018

It sometimes happens that a solution to a problem ends up creating a new problem. As an example, here’s a case in which the solution was a 70% alcohol-based gel in a wall-mounted dispenser in a hospital. The gel was intended to resolve so-called nosocomial problems associated with poor hand hygiene in hospitals. Unfortunately, a health care worker (HCW) removed a 100% polyester isolation gown shortly after using the sanitiser, causing a static electricity spark (at least 3000 volts) which then ignited the gel on her hands and arms :

The report of the incident lead to the temporary removal of alcohol-based hand santisers in some hospitals, including those where  healthcare professionals had been found repetitively licking their fingers while reviewing hospital charts. 

Coming Soon: Even more problems with hand sanitizers . . .


February 14th, 2018


will be announced
at the Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS),
in the special Improbable Research session.
WHERE: Hilton Austin Hotel, Austin, Texas — in Salon H.
WHEN: Saturday night, February 17, 2018, 8:00 pm.

Selected by the
Committee of Reporters who Receive and Appreciate Press Releases
(Rosie Mestel, Bob Finn, Maggie Fox, Michael Newman,
Bethany Brookshire, Marc Abrahams)

Nominees: The OUTSTANDING PRESS RELEASE of the Year is selected from amongst all the press releases considered by the selection committee.

Selection criterion: The OUTSTANDING PRESS RELEASE of the Year exemplifies a singular quality: it stands out.

Admission to the event: The OUTSTANDING PRESS RELEASE of the Year announcement event is open to all accredited journalists, all registered attendees of the Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), and to the public, free of charge.


PLEASE DOWNLOAD a printable promotional PDF for this outstanding event.

Finger licking bad (in rehabilitation units)

February 12th, 2018

The nosocomial problems associated with healthcare professionals repetitively licking their fingers while reviewing hospital charts was first formally documented by Myron M. LaBan, MD FAAPMR – the lead author of a 2004 brief report for the American Journal of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation (Volume 83, Issue 1, pp. 75-78). The report encouraged healthcare professionals to :

1) Wash their hands before and after reviewing medical charts.

2) Become aware of (and ideally refrain from) licking their fingers.

See: • ‘Pertinacious Habit on a Rehabilitation Unit: Repetitive Finger Licking While Paging Through the Clinical Chart’

Also see: (from Dr. LaBan)

• “Numb Chin” Syndrome

• Lessons Learned Through Leadership: How to Avoid Looking Like an Onion With Your Head Stuck in the Ground and Your Feet Above

• Airport induced “cervical traction” radiculopathy: the OJ syndrome

Coming Soon:  Problems associated with solutions to problems associated with healthcare professionals repetitively licking their fingers while reviewing hospital charts.


Associations : LED street-lighting and breast cancer (new study)

February 10th, 2018

Some things might help in preventing cancer. Some things might be found to be causing cancer.  And yet other things might be ‘associated’ with cancer – that’s to say they might occur along with rising cancer rates, and yet may, or may not, be a cause. For example, could there be a previously overlooked statistical association between breast cancer mortality rates in Los Angeles County and the recent introduction of high-efficiency LED street-lighting in the area? A new paper for the Journal of Environmental Economics and Management finds, surprisingly perhaps, that there is.

“[…] the LED program was associated with increased breast cancer mortality in LA County after a latency period. This result was robust to several validity checks.”

– explains Professor Benjamin Jones, of the Department of Economics at the University of New Mexico, US, who has discovered the association. The reasons behind a possible breast cancer association remain unclear – but the professor suggests that the blue-rich spectrum of the LED light might warrant further investigation. Reminding us however that :

“ […] the results from this work should be interpreted as being consistent with a causal spillover health effect story, if in fact one does exist, but are not proof of causation nor a demonstration of causal mechanisms by which LED light is linked to health.“

See: ‘Spillover health effects of energy efficiency investments: Quasi-experimental evidence from the Los Angeles LED streetlight program’ in Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Volume 88, March 2018, Pages 283-299. A full copy of which may be found here.

BONUS: Those interested in the implications of statistical associations might also like to see ‘Tim Harford’s guide to statistics in a misleading age’ in the Financial Times, 8th Feb 2018 (Note: if paywalled, a summary can be found here)