Year-End Celebration of the Ingeniously Weird Science

Did you know that some fish are scared of their own reflections?

Aren’t you relieved that there’s no evidence of contagious yawning in the red-footed tortoise?

Would you like to know how impaired is your attention and concentration when having a strong urge to urinate?

And do you want to find the answer to the biggest mystery of them all: Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

Certain 2011 scientific research resulted in some rather weirdly interesting, weirdly intriguing and weirdly entertaining findings; or, though not in the Nobel Prize category, maybe weirdly useful findings?

One, for example, may question whether determining the density of airborne wasabi (pungent horseradish) to awaken sleeping people in case of emergency is indeed less worthy than discovery of the accelerating expansion of the Universe through observations of distant supernovae. As I see it, if I wake up from my deep sleep by sniffing the airborne wasabi and safely run out of the burning building, my personal award goes to Japanese scientists for their ingenious Wasabi Alarm, not to the recipients of the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics (Saul Perlmutter, Brian P. Schmidt and Adam G. Riess).

Do you care about the discovery of quasicrystals (the 2011 Nobel Prize in Chemistry) or rather about the discovery that the urgent need to go to the bathroom is as distracting as being slightly tipsy (having a .05 blood-alcohol level) or having major sleep deprivation? So, if you absolutely positively need to urinate right this very moment, you better do it or it’ll have negative effects on your attention and memory. You can continue reading this article afterward. Also, visit a bathroom before driving a car; a full bladder reduces the speed at which drivers can make decisions. In case you never experienced this excruciating urge, this I-don’t-care-about-anything-else-just-find-me-a-bathroom-please feeling, and have no clue how distracting it can be without some help from a research performed by dedicated scientists led by Dr. Matthew Lewis, you can read the full study in the Neurology and Urodynamics journal.

What about these poor fish scared of their own reflection? Dr. Julie Desjardins, a biologist at Stanford University, explains that fish looking at a mirror show increased brain activity in regions linked to fear. Thus, attention all owners of fish aquariums! Be mindful, properly design your aquariums, and do not expose your pet fish to unnecessary terror!

Have you ever wondered what’s the deal with contagious yawning? Anna Wilkinson, et al., have the answer for you: “Contagious yawning is not the result of a fixed action pattern but may involve more complex social processes”. The “yawning” studies were performed “in a species that is unlikely to show nonconscious mimicry and empathy but does respond to social stimuli,” the red-footed tortoise Geochelone carbonaria… No doubt it’s a perfect model to study the mechanisms of this “vital” phenomenon in humans… Yawn.

Are you weirdly amazed, weirdly entertained or whatever weirdly place-any-adjective-of-choice-here yet? Here’s some more.

Bush cricket and its large testicles

The largest testicles in relation to body weight belong to the tuberous bushcricket: its testicles account for 14 percent of its body weight. Comparing these numbers to an average male… Crunch the numbers yourself: 14% of, let’s say, 200 pounds (91 kg). Yes, that would account for very big testicles.

Whale poo is important in fertilization of ocean ecosystems. Unlike human poo, whale poo is important. One more reason to protect the species and its poo.

Female red squirrels mate with up to 14 males in a single day. For one reason only: male red squirrels are willing and available. There’s this saying about rabbits… Obviously, squirrels aren’t worse at it.

Obese fruit fly (left)

Fruit flies that eat high-fat diets under laboratory conditions get fat, and fruit fly obesity looks much like human obesity. Thus, certain researchers use fruit flies as model organisms for studying medical and biological questions about human obesity. Making the fruit fly obese… That’s insect cruelty. Pure and simple.

Discus throwers become dizzy due to motion sickness generated while spinning, but hammer throwers don’t. Don’t hammer throwers spin as fast as discuss throwers? Shot-put throwers seem to be the least “spinning” throwers. Well, the explanation must be hidden deep within highly complicated scientific details – maybe I should read the publication.

One scientific finding in 2011 wasn’t weird or useless at all. It simply wasn’t a finding but a confirmation of something that every woman already knows about: Taking work home makes women guilty and stresses them out while, surprisingly, it’s not true for men. Surprisingly, indeed… Anyway, my private message to all the bosses out there: Let men take work home but leave women alone! Should you think of starting the New Year 2012 with one more resolution about limiting your stress, the study was published in a March issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior – you may require a copy for the “negotiations” with your boss. By the way, Dr. Paul Glavin, was a leading male scientist in the study, not some lazy or stressed out female scientist. See, it’s scientifically unbiased and gender-neutral scientific discovery.

Being a woman myself, I wonder whether showing a copy of this highly reliable scientific paper to my boss would limit his constant after-hours emails…

Thanks to Karl Halvor Teigen’s scientific finding that “sighing” signals “giving up” on tasks, ideas, goals, hopes, etc., you’ll know how I really feel about this idea after this:

Sigh…

It’s time to introduce the scientific discovery of 2011 that solved, at least according to some scientists, the biggest riddle of them all! Which came first, the chicken or the egg? The answer is… the chicken! British researchers from Sheffield and Warwick universities found that a protein found only in a chicken’s ovaries is necessary for the formation of the egg. Fine, but isn’t a fully formed egg necessary for the birth of the chicken, and its ovaries, in the first place? Where would the first mythical chicken come from if there’s no first egg, and vice versa? Sorry, distinguished British scientists, but it seems like this most famous scientific and philosophical mystery remains unsolved, despite your undoubtedly dedicated and carefully designed scientific evaluations. Unless you come up with a Big-Bang-like theory explaining the appearance of the first chicken or egg.

How weird will science be in 2012? What weird, or maybe just unexpected and unpredictable, questions will be asked? For example, how does our brain allow us to respond to our surroundings in a way that is not deterministic, to make decisions and plan our actions? The question doesn’t sound so weird when asked in such a “scientific manner”, does it? Let me put it differently, what is “free will”? Now, the question seems a bit weird. How can Jedi Masters control our will? This question is plainly weird.

Is the science weird or the way we ask questions or present findings is, in the end, weird? After all, this article could have been written up in a different style. Would the presented science seem weird then?

Now, isn’t it an intriguing rather than a weird question?…

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