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The mystery of how some animals lock themselves into place

January 22nd, 2020

Benno Meyer-Rochow, who won an Ig Nobel Prize in 2005 for calculating the pressures produced when penguins poo [see diagram, below] is now investigating a different kind of biological mystery.

Meyer-Rochow wrote an essay that begins:

You can lock arms with someone, you can lock on to something or be locked in or even be locked up or locked out. But this essay is about animals that possess locking mechanisms. In the tropical waters of Ascension Island in the South Atlantic Ocean, for example, I once caught a pair of matchbox-sized trigger fish and observed their behaviour in my aquarium on board of the research vessel “Walter Herwig”. These denizens of the tropical seas as well as their cousins, the file fishes, can wedge themselves into rock cracks and coral crevices in such a way that it is virtually impossible to dislodge them by pulling at their tails.

You might think that these fish must be mighty strong, but in reality they hardly use any energy at all in this process of “locking in”. Their first dorsal fin ray is a spine that possesses a groove on the backside; but when fully erect a smaller second spine behind the first one is pushed home into the groove of the spine in front, so that the first bigger spine cannot be depressed by external forces, except when the second smaller one is retracted first. A very fine and effective device that is….

Sad news: Terry Jones is dead

January 22nd, 2020

Terry Jones has died. His achievements as a Monty Python, and as a writer, director, and actor in other realms, are well and duly celebrated. He was a very nice and good person. And rather funny.

We were lucky to have collaborated with him on some small things. Here are two performances of bad poetry by William McGonagall. The second video features Terry with Dr. Elena Bodnar, Ig Nobel Prize-winning inventor of the Emergency Bra, a device that in an emergency can be quickly separated into a pair of protective face masks:

Terry was going to be the English language narrator on the Ig Nobel Operas television series, a project that was launched with great excitement about eight years ago but (in the tradition of the television industry!) disintegrated for nonsensical business reasons.

Podcast Episode #202: “Sneezing and a Full Stomach”

January 22nd, 2020

Sneezing on a Full Stomach, Mustache Wax, Red Hippo Sweat, The Impossible Expertise of Self-Perceived Expertise, some 2012 Ig Nobel Prize Winners, and Walking in the City.

In episode #202, Marc Abrahams shows some unfamiliar research studies to Melissa Franklin, Richard Baguley, Robin Abrahams, Jean Berko Gleason, and Nicole Sharp. Dramatic readings and reactions ensue.

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

1. Melissa Franklin encounters:

“Autosomal Dominant Sneezing Disorder Provoked by Fullness of the Stomach” A.S. Teebi and Q.A. Al-Saleh, Journal of Medical Genetics, vol. 26 , 1989 , pp. 539-40.

“An Unusual Finding on Routine Dental Pan-Oral Tomography,” S. Lloyd, V.R. Talati, and J.P. Ward, British Dental Journal, vol. 176, no. 4, February 19, 1994, pp. 144-6.

“Perioral Dermatitis Secondary to the Use of a Corticosteroid Ointment as Mustache Wax,” E.K. Edwards Jr. and E.K. Edwards Sr., International Journal of Dermatology, vol. 26, no. 10, December 1987, p. 649.

“Islam, Teaching Dermatologic Surgery, and Porcine Parts,” Lawrence M. Field, Dermatologic Surgery, vol. 27, no. 6, June 2001, pp. 608-9.

2. Richard Baguley encounters:

“Refined Structure of Hipposudoric and Norhipposudoric Acids, Pigments of the Red Sweat of the Hippopotamus,” Takatoshi Matsumoto, Yoko Saikawa, Masaya Nakata, and Kimiko Hashimoto, Chemistry Letters, epub 2015.

3. Robin Abrahams encounters:

“When Knowledge Knows No Bounds — Self-Perceived Expertise Predicts Claims of Impossible Knowledge,” Stav Atir, Emily Rosenzweig, David Dunning, Psychological Science, vol. 26 no. 8, 2015, pp. 1295-1303.

“Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments,” David Dunning and Justin Kruger, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, vol. 77, no. 6, December 1999, pp. 1121-34.

4. Jean Berko Gleason encounters:

“Leaning to the Left Makes the Eiffel Tower Seem Smaller: Posture-Modulated Estimation,” Anita Eerland, Tulio M. Guadalupe and Rolf A. Zwaan, Psychological Science, vol. 22 no. 12, December 2011, pp. 1511-14.

The SKN Company (Details.)

“SpeechJammer: A System Utilizing Artificial Speech Disturbance with Delayed Auditory Feedback,” Kazutaka Kurihara, Koji Tsukada, February 28, 2012.

“Neural correlates of interspecies perspective taking in the post-mortem Atlantic Salmon: An argument for multiple comparisons correction,” Craig M. Bennett, Abigail A. Baird, Michael B. Miller, and George L. Wolford, poster, 15th Annual Meeting of the Organization for Human Brain Mapping, San Francisco, CA, June 2009. It was later published as: “Neural Correlates of Interspecies Perspective Taking in the Post-Mortem Atlantic Salmon: An Argument For Multiple Comparisons Correction,” Craig M. Bennett, Abigail A. Baird, Michael B. Miller, and George L. Wolford, Journal of Serendipitous and Unexpected Results, vol. 1, no. 1, 2010, pp. 1-5.e

Johan Pettersson (see various news reports).

5. Nicole Sharp encounters:

“Walking and rhythmicity: Sensing urban space,” by Filipa Matos Wunderlich, published in the Journal of Urban Design, in 2008.

Bruce Petschek, Audio Engineer
Jon Shedler, Audio Engineer
Seth Gliksman, Production Assistant
Available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Overcast, Google Podcasts, AntennaPod, BeyondPod and elsewhere!

“Big Men” in leadership roles [new study]

January 20th, 2020

How does body weight and size affect the perceived persuasiveness of ‘leaders’ (when the ‘leader’ is a man) ? This question has recently been examined by three professors from the Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, Cornell University, US. Professor Kevin Kniffin and Professor Vicki  Bogan, along with faculty colleague Professor David Just (also now at Universita degli Studi di Catania, Italy), present a series of six studies :

“[…] in which we find that the anthropological concept of “big men” can carry literal meaning–in relation to “big”ness and “men”– in contemporary settings.”

Alongside the finding, the authors caution that prospective ‘leaders’ should exercise restraint with the idea of deliberately putting on more weight in order to enhance their gravitas.

“Our findings do not suggest that men should acquire more weight to be viewed as more persuasive; […]”

As can clearly be seen in the graph below :

Reference : “Big men” in the office: The gender-specific influence of weight upon persuasiveness in PLOS ONE, Nov., 2019.

Note : PLOS ONE is a rebranded version of the journal previously known as PLoS ONE. The diminutive ‘o’ in the original logo having been replaced, in 2012, by a more imposing big ‘O’.

Research research by Martin Gardiner

Ig Nobel Prize-winning Black Hole / Hell Expert Jack Van Impe Is Dead

January 19th, 2020

Dr. Jack Van Impe, who discovered the link between black holes and Hell, has crossed the event horizon. He has died, according to news reports.

In 2001, Dr. Van Impe and his wife, Rexella, were awarded the Ig Nobel Astrophysics prize, for their discovery that black holes fulfill all the technical requirements to be the location of Hell. They revealed their discovery on the March 31, 2001 television and Internet broadcast of the “Jack Van Impe Presents” program. (If you can track down the video, you will see it at about the 12 minute mark).


The Van Impes could not or would not attend that year’s Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony. They tentatively planned to come, but eventually informed us, via their secretary, that they had a pre-existing commitment to appear at an event elsewhere.

And so, MIT astrophysicist Walter Lewin accepted custody of the Prize on behalf of the Van Impes. Lewin hailed the Van Impes’ “breakthrough contributions to astrophysics.” He then remarked that, to astrophysicists, “Black holes go beyond our wildest expectations, fantasies and dreams,” that “black holes are heaven to us.”

Here’s video of the prize announcement and the acceptance speech:

Jack Van Impe conducted a long series of scientific and technical research projects, many of which he described during his television broadcasts. In 2007, he announced another grand discovery: that the basic design of the automobile was published in The Bible.

Always, the announcements were made with verve:

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