Hows and Whys of There’s a Fly in My Wine

February 15th, 2019

Alex Dainis explains videographically the inner workings of the Ig Nobel Prize-winning experiment that demonstrates some people’s ability to tell—by smelling!—whether there was a fly in a glass of wine:

The people-can-sniff-out-a-fly study

The published study is: “The Scent of the Fly,” Paul G. Becher, Sebastien Lebreton, Erika A. Wallin, Erik Hedenstrom, Felipe Borrero-Echeverry, Marie Bengtsson, Volker Jorger, and Peter Witzgall, bioRxiv, no. 20637, 2017.

A fly-by-day public demonstration, in April

The study authors, who shared the 2018 Ig Nobel Prize in biology, will themselves publicly demonstrate their work twice—at the Karolinska Institute on Tuesday, April 9, and at Stockholm University on Wednesday, April 10—as part of this year’s Ig Nobel EuroTour.

Come see them, and talk with them, and smell the fly!


Eye-beam believers – numbers perhaps not as high as previously thought (new study)

February 14th, 2019
According to a new study from the Graziano Lab at Princeton University, US, there has been a sharp drop in the number of US college students who believe that some form of invisible beams are emitted form peoples’ eyes when they look at something (k.a. extramission).

Their research suggests that the figure could now be as low as 5% – falling from around 50% in 2002. This order-of-magnitude drop is not easily explained say the research team.

“Our finding of an ∼5% incidence of extramission beliefs conflicts with previous work suggesting that more than half of US adults, possibly as high as 60 to 70%, explicitly believe in an extramission account. We cannot easily explain this difference. It is possible that education about optics has significantly improved since the 1990s. Another possibility is that our sample was skewed, since it included only participants who could sign up for an online service and complete the study on a computer.”

See: Implicit model of other people’s visual attention as an invisible, force-carrying beam projecting from the eyes in PNAS January 2, 2019 116 (1) 328-333.

The photo is a still taken from a video by Wyatt Scott who ran for parliament as an independent candidate for Mission Matsqui Fraser Canyon, Canada.

Family Name Frequency and Abundance of the Chemical Elements?

February 13th, 2019


by E. R. Schulman and E. A. Schulman, Alexandria, Virginia


Yes (provided radioactive gasses are ignored).

1. Introduction

This year (2019) marks the 150th anniversary of Dmitri Mendeleev publishing the first recognizable periodic table in his paper “Relationship of Elements’ Properties to Their Atomic Weights” (Mendeleev 1869), the 20th anniversary of AIR publishing “How to Write a Scientific Research Report” (Schulman, Cox, and Schulman 1999), and the year before the next United States decennial census. This paper seeks to combine all three in order to answer the often unasked question: Is American last name frequency inversely proportional to terrestrial elemental abundance?

2. Methods

We searched the U.S. Census Bureau’s file of surnames that occurred 100 or more times in the 2010 Census for last names corresponding to the chemical elements and found twelve that did so. Table 1 shows the name and atomic number of each of the elements, the frequency of occurrence in the 2010 U.S. Census, and the elemental abundance in the Earth’s crust for non-gasses and in the Earth’s atmosphere for gasses….

So begins the study. Download the entire thing (it’s fairly short) as a PDF.

BONUS: Here are two videos about or by Theo Gray, who won the 2002 Ig Nobel Prize for chemistry for creating the four-legged periodic table table. The first video comes complete with annoying music. The second video comes complete with pleasing music:

John Senders has driven off into eternity

February 13th, 2019

Sad news. John Senders has taken his last gleeful spin through the universe. He died this week, just a few days shy of his 99th birthday. John, a clever, funny, kind scientist who was also an ace showman with an astoundingly resonant voice, won the 2011 Ig Nobel Prize for public safety, for conducting a series of safety experiments in which he drove an automobile on a major highway while a visor repeatedly flapped down over his face, blinding him. John is on display doing that in this old TV news report:

The photo here shows John delivering his acceptance speech at the Ig Nobel Prize ceremony. The historic helmet is by his side.

There’s considerably more detail about that driving-the-highways-while-something-repeatedly-flaps-over-your-eyes research, published in the study “The Attentional Demand of Automobile Driving,” John W. Senders, et al., Highway Research Record, vol. 195, 1967, pp. 15-33.

And there was considerably more to John Senders than that one experiment. Dip into the compendium at the John Senders web site. And if you like, read the small essay about John I wrote five years ago, for Beta Boston.

John’s death will in not the slightest impair his clever plan to infect the peoples of the earth with curiosity and a really deep sense of humor.

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.

Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!