Did you know that if you eat dinner with an overweight person,
you are likely to eat more food. But if you eat with a slim person,
you are likely to eat less?
Did you know that if you swear out loud after stubbing your toe
or striking your finger with a hammer, that your swearing can
actually reduce your perception of the pain?
Did you know that if you watch a funny movie with a group of
friends, the movie will seem funnier than if you watch the movie
alone? That may seem obvious, since people tend to react to each
other. But did you know that the same movie can seem funnier even
if your friends are watching the movie somewhere else, such as a
place where you cannot see or hear them?
These are apparently the findings of real scientific studies, as
reported by “Seriously,
Science?” a blog on Discover magazine’s website.
Finding such oddly revealing — and sometimes seemingly silly —
research studies was the idea of Meredith Carpenter and Lillian
Fritz-Laylin, two biologists who studied at the University of
California, Berkeley. The blog was originally titled “NCBI ROFL,”
for National Clearinghouse for Biotechnology Information – Rolling
on the Floor Laughing.
The blog originally had more of a satiric edge, poking fun at
some of the research topics. (Sex and bodily functions are frequent
themes.) We are left to wonder who is coming up with these ideas —
and who is paying to carry out this research.
Like most satires, “Seriously, Science?” looks for the humorous
side of the work, generally ignoring any real value the studies may
“Some studies that sound funny do have a valid purpose in a
specific field that may not be obvious to an outsider looking in,”
Carpenter told Kim Carollo, a reporter for
Fritz-Laylin recalled a research project designed to find out
what happens to the human foot if it gets run over by a car.
“They took a bunch of feet from cadavers, put them in shoes and
rolled over them,” Fritz-Laylin told Carollo. “It’s useful to find
out about that, but it’s mind-boggling to imagine them setting it
The video on this page shows Carpenter and Fritz-Laylin in a
five-minute talk for Ignite, which has the motto, “Enlighten us,
but make it quick.” We see them here in 2011 putting on a slide
show describing 20 of their favorite research findings.
If you’d like to read more about the three studies mentioned at
the top: 1)
Dining with heavyweights, 2)
swearing at pain and 3)
On a related note, the Ig Nobel Prizes were awarded a couple
weeks ago (Sept. 18) at Harvard University. The 10 prizes in
various fields are deemed to be the best research that “makes
people laugh and then think,” as outlined by the website “Improbable
Research.” The website contains ongoing reports of
humorous and oddball studies, including some rather elaborate
discussions as only real scientists can do. The Ig Nobel prize is a
play on the word ignoble, which means either humble or
You can read about this year’s winners of the Ig Nobel Prizes on
Page. The second video on this blog entry, though
long, is rather amusing, as many of the Ig Nobel Prize winners
explain the importance of their research. The presenters of the
awards are none other than genuine Nobel Laureates who have come to
enjoy the fun. Here is a quick description of the various
PHYSICS: Researchers measured the amount of
friction between a shoe and a banana skin, and between a banana
skin and the floor, when a person steps on a banana skin that’s on
PSYCHOLOGY: Researchers amassed evidence
showing that people who habitually stay up late are, on average,
more self-admiring, more manipulative, and more psychopathic than
PUBLIC HEALTH: Researchers investigated whether
it is mentally hazardous for a human being to own a cat.
BIOLOGY: Researchers carefully documented that
when dogs defecate and urinate, they prefer to align their body
axis with Earth’s north-south geomagnetic field lines.
ART: Researchers measured the relative pain
people suffer while looking at an ugly painting, compared to a
pretty painting, while being shot in the hand by a powerful laser
ECONOMICS: The prize went to the Italian
government’s National Institute of Statistics, which proudly
stepped up to fulfill a European Union mandate requiring each
country to increase the official size of its national economy by
including revenues from prostitution, illegal drug sales,
smuggling, and all other unlawful financial transactions between
MEDICINE: Researchers promoted a method of
treating “uncontrollable” nosebleeds with nasal packing, using
strips of cured pork.
ARCTIC SCIENCE: Researchers tested the
reactions of reindeer when confronted by humans disguised as polar
NUTRITION: The title of the research paper
speaks for itself: “Characterization of Lactic Acid Bacteria
Isolated from Infant Faeces as Potential Probiotic Starter Cultures
for Fermented Sausages.”
If you find these amusing, you can read about previous Ig Nobel
Prize winners on the Winners
Page, following this year’s winners.
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