Tag: strange paper

This Paper: Dung Beetles use the Milky Way to Figure Out Their Bearings

Full Title: A Snapshot-Based Mechanism for Celestial Orientation

Abstract: In order to protect their food from competitors, ball-rolling dung beetles detach a piece of dung from a pile, shape it into a ball, and roll it away along a straight path [1]. They appear to rely exclusively on celestial compass cues to maintain their bearing [2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8], but the mechanism that enables them to use these cues for orientation remains unknown. Here, we describe the orientation strategy that allows dung beetles to use celestial cues in a dynamic fashion. We tested the underlying orientation mechanism by presenting beetles with a combination of simulated celestial cues (sun, polarized light, and spectral cues). We show that these animals do not rely on an innate prediction of the natural geographical relationship between celestial cues, as other navigating insects seem to [9, 10]. Instead, they appear to form an internal representation of the prevailing celestial scene, a “celestial snapshot,” even if that scene represents a physical impossibility for the real sky. We also find that the beetles are able to maintain their bearing with respect to the presented cues only if the cues are visible when the snapshot is taken. This happens during the “dance,” a behavior in which the beetle climbs on top of its ball and rotates about its vertical axis [11]. This strategy for reading celestial signals is a simple but efficient mechanism for straight-line orientation.

Coolest Figure:

Hat tip to @GeneticJen

Pretty sure this is the “peer reviewed” article with the most swear words ever.


“The International Journal of Advanced Computer Technology, a predatory open-access journal, has accepted for publication the marvelously titled paper “Get me off Your Fucking Mailing List.” According to Scholarly Open Access, researchers David Mazières and Eddie Kohler first prepared the manuscript in 2005, to protest spam conference invitations.”

Here’s a link to the actual paper (and back up link).

And this here, has to be the best figure EVER:


Via (including text) io9.com

First scientifically authentic (albeit fabricated) paper on #wookiee genetics. #chewbaccaFTW

In which we compare the common Wookiee with a newly discovered cave dwelling (pseudo albino) Wookiee species, and note a number of interesting gene expression differences.


From the Journal of Praetachoral Mechanics/Science Creative Quarterly. Link to full text and full pdf article here.

Scientific research on the existence of time travellers. #4real

Love this – although disappointing that none were found…


ABSTRACT: Time travel has captured the public imagination for much of the past century, but little has been done to actually search for time travelers. Here, three implementations of Internet searches for time travelers are described, all seeking a prescient mention of information not previously available. The first search covered prescient content placed on the Internet, highlighted by a comprehensive search for specific terms in tweets on Twitter. The second search examined prescient inquiries submitted to a search engine, highlighted by a comprehensive search for specific search terms submitted to a popular astronomy web site. The third search involved a request for a direct Internet communication, either by email or tweet, pre-dating to the time of the inquiry. Given practical verifiability concerns, only time travelers from the future were investigated. No time travelers were discovered. Although these negative results do not disprove time travel, given the great reach of the Internet, this search is perhaps the most comprehensive to date.

By Robert J. Nemiroff and Teresa Wilson. Link to arXiv page.

You know it’s all good, when you have to read Wookiee research papers. Wookienomics: it’s a thing… #starwars


Note: eventually, some of these (I suspect) will be published in full at the Science Creative Quarterly.

Ridiculously detailed (but fake) research paper on the electrical abilities of #Pokemon #pikachu


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PLOS BIOLOGY (March 2013). Vol 11 Issue 3. e1001501 p1-6 

Click on the image to go to full text paper. Click here for pdf download.


Electrocytes contain membrane proteins that allow the polarization of the plasma membrane, thereby allowing the generation of electricity in animals. It has been long established how electricity is generated in the electric eel, but recent studies found similar electrocytes to be active in electric mice. We aimed to study the basis behind electric discharge in a land animal. We found that the voltage-gated sodium channel, Nav1.4a, was expressed in electric organs of the electric mouse, Pokemon pikachu and the electric eel, Electrophorus electricus. However, Nav1.4a was not expressed in the muscle cells of E. electricus while it was expressed in the muscle cells of P. pikachu and other rodents. We also found that P. pikachu and E. electricus shared similar amino acid substitutions at the nonconserved region of this protein. Voltage-clamp technique gave insight on the much greater potential differences generated by P. pikachu compared to electric eel and finally, microscopy analysis revealed greater Nav1.4a numbers in P. pikachu, potentially correlating with aforementioned greater electric potential generation, which perhaps lead to its capability to discharge electricity readily through air.


Many species of fish are able to generate weak or strong electric discharges, either for communication or for stunning predator or prey. The electric organ, made of electrocytes, is responsible for generating electric discharge. Electrocytes are thought to be derived from neuronal and muscle cells. The voltage-gated sodium channel, Nav1.4a, is found to be absent in the muscle cells, but is highly expressed in the electric organs of electric fishes. In our study, we looked at Nav1.4a in a species of mouse, P. pikachu, that also generates electricity, but through air instead of water. We compared this electric mouse with electric eel as well as nonelectric rodents. Here, we found that Nav1.4a is expressed in both the muscles and electric organs of P. pikachu. In terms of the amino acid sequence, the channel protein of P. pikachu was more similar to the electric eel rather than the rodents. We then observed that P. pikachu possessed much greater numbers of Nav1.4a and generated a much higher potential compared to the electric eel, which may explain its ability to discharge electricity through air.

Via the Science Creative Quarterly (with apologies to PLOS Biology)

In which it is calculated that a spider’s web is actually strong enough to stop a train.

This, from the Journal of Physics Special Topics.


In Spiderman 2 there is a scene in which Spiderman stops a runaway train using his webbing to provide a counter-force. Using the information available this paper examines the material properties of the webbing under these conditions and finds the Young’s modulus to be 3.12GPa, a reasonable value for spider silk.

In the early sixties Marvel Comics first introduced Spiderman; a superhero with the abilities and scaled strength of a spider. In a recent movie incarnation, Spiderman has the ability to sling webs from spinnerets located in his wrists. These webs have been shown to be capable of taking great amounts of strain, and have displayed a high level of adhesiveness. Arguably the greatest test of these webs is found in the 2004 movie, Spiderman 2; wherein Spiderman manages to bring a runaway train to a stop by sticking multiple webs to adjacent buildings, and bracing himself on the front of the train until it comes to a rest just before dropping into a river [1]. In this paper we attempt to model the forces upon the webbing in such a situation, and compare it to measured values of the Youngs modulus and yield strengths of real spider’s web.

Download the paper here.

Best physics related marriage proposal ever!


By Redditor bogus_wheel, via Boing Boing.

Equation to calculate critical number of guests that make a party too noisy.



N0 = the critical number of guests above which each speaker will try overcome the background noise by raising his voice
K = the average number of guests in each conversational group
a = the average sound absorption coefficient of the room
V = the room’s volume
h = a properly weighted mean free path of a ray of sound
d0 = the conventional minimum distance between speakers
Sm = the minimum signal-to-noise ratio for the listeners

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As derived by William R. MacLean, “On the Acoustics of Cocktail Parties,” Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, January 1959, 79-80 (link | pdf). Text via Futility Closet.

Sciencegeek Advent Calendar Extravaganza! – Day 13


link to pdf


(see more of Popperfont’s Sciencegeek Advent Calendar Extravanganza here)

Graph: In which chocolate consumption strongly correlates with likelihood of getting a Nobel Prize.

Well… by way of the country the Nobel Laureate belongs to… (p.s. this is tongue in cheek, but good as a slide to talk about the old correlation versus causation issue)

“Dietary flavonoids, abundant in plant-based foods, have been shown to improve cognitive function. Specifically, a reduction in the risk of dementia, enhanced performance on some cognitive tests, and improved cognitive function in elderly patients with mild impairment have been associated with a regular intake of flavonoids. A subclass of flavonoids called flavanols, which are widely present in cocoa, green tea, red wine, and some fruits, seems to be effective in slowing down or even reversing the reductions in cognitive performance that occur with aging. Dietary flavanols have also been shown to improve endothelial function and to lower blood pressure by causing vasodilation in the peripheral vasculature and in the brain. Improved cognitive performance with the administration of a cocoa polyphenolic extract has even been reported in aged Wistar–Unilever rats.

Since chocolate consumption could hypothetically improve cognitive function not only in individuals but also in whole populations, I wondered whether there would be a correlation between a country’s level of chocolate consumption and its population’s cognitive function. To my knowledge, no data on overall national cognitive function are publicly available. Conceivably, however, the total number of Nobel laureates per capita could serve as a surrogate end point reflecting the proportion with superior cognitive function and thereby give us some measure of the overall cognitive function of a given country.”

By Franz H. Messerli, M.D. from Chocolate Consumption, Cognitive Function, and Nobel Laureates (October 10, 2012DOI: 10.1056/NEJMon1211064), via New England Journal of Medicine.

Quite possibly the most complicated (and therefore awesome) Venn Diagram ever!

The figure legend reads:

Figure 4: Six-way Venn diagram showing the distribution of shared gene families (sequence clusters) among M. acuminata, P. dactylifera, Arabidopsis thaliana, Oryza sativa, Sorghum bicolor and Brachypodium distachyon genomes.

In case it wasn’t obvious, M. acuminata is the banana plant.

Full paper on the draft genomic sequence of the banana, and the info this divulged regarding its evolution is available for free downloading at Nature.

REF: The banana (Musa acuminata) genome and the evolution of monocotyledonous plants. Angélique D’Hont, France Denoeud, et al. Nature (2012) doi:10.1038 / nature11241 (published online July 11, 2012)

How to tell the birds from the flowers. A manual of flornithology for beginners. #awesome

These pages from Robert W. Wood’s 1907 quirky little manual, How to tell the birds from the flowers. A manual of flornithology for beginners are pretty delightful. You can take a look at the whole thing at the California Digital Library.

Hat tip to Futility Closet for bringing it to my attention.

Challenge extended! Can you write something (on the topic of the scientific method) that is interesting to read?

It’s unfortunate, but talking about the scientific method is one of those things that can elicit the “glazed over” look instantly.  Which is really too bad, since the scientific method, or scientific process (how ever you want to call it) is very very very important. More so, since it is often misunderstood.

So, how to make it engaging to read?  Well, here is my attempt: this is essentially a 3rd draft edit of my first five sciencegeek fundamental essays (now labeled as sections).

Together, it has the longest title ever (I think) for a treatment on the scientific method. I’ve called it:


Please take a peek, and let me know what you think. I’m guessing it’s not for everyone, but it was definitely fun to write. It would be great to hear what I can do to make it better. I’d like to keep working at this until I hit that ever elusive sweet spot.

Available as a print friendly low res pdf or high res pdf, or start here for web reading.

Why is it called a “parliament of owls” and other such collective nouns?

I was listening to the radio as we were coming to the lab this morning, and one of the things that caught my ear was a quick mention of collective nouns. Now these are instances where there is a special and specific term that is coined for a group of things. Wiki describes it as follows:

In linguistics, a collective noun is a word used to define a group of objects, where “objects” can be people, animals, emotions, inanimate things, concepts, or other things. For example, in the phrase “a pride of lions,” pride is a collective noun.

Then it kind of struck me that this sort of thing is most commonly seen when referring to things related to biodiversity, and I guess I got curious as to why that was.

I mean, who came up with phrases like “a parliament of owls” or a “knot of toads” (which, by the way, I think are perfect)? And maybe just as fun, if you were a zoologist or a botanist, and you happen to discover something totally new and novel in the kingdom of life, do you get to embellish the English language further by making up your own collective nouns?

Anyway, wiki sheds a little light on the matter by highlighting a reference that looks like it could be interesting:

Hodgkin, John. Proper Terms: An attempt at a rational explanation of the meanings of the Collection of Phrases in “The Book of St Albans,” 1486, entitled “The Compaynys of beestys and fowlys” and similar lists., Transactions of the Philological Society 1907-1910 Part III, pp 1 – 187, Kegan, Paul, Trench & Trübner & Co, Ltd, London, 1909.

And whilst on the hunt for this paper on the internet, I came across this great piece of academic writing.

Bonus is that you can download the whole thing from here (if your university has an institutional subscription), which is where things get really interesting.

Basically, the paper outlines a variety of texts over the years where lists of collective nouns were provided. Furthermore, historically it seems as if most of these terms (which are often referred to as “terms of venery“) come from a hunting, British, or French and aristocratic background.

What’s wonderful about the paper is that, although 15 pages long: only 2 and half is the primary text, another 2 and a half is a list of these terms of the venery, and then the remaining 10 or so pages are detailed footnotes with particular information on specific collective nouns.

Here’s a few great samplers:

It’s all rather pretty really, and I wonder what would it take for newish “terms of the venery” to come about. I mean there could be countless cool ones for the various prokaryotes.

Sooner or later, something needs to take hold of an “awesome of…” title.

Presenting the “birthing centrifuge!” This is… I’m not sure what the right word is…

Well, maybe: bizarre?

More so when you read the bit about “primitive” versus “civilized” women (see bolded text below). Extra surrealness when you learn that this patent was filed in 1965! (not say, much earlier, which was my original guess)

The present invention relates to apparatus which utilizes centrifugal force to facilitate the birth of a child at less stress to the mother.

It is known, that due to natural anatomical conditions, the fetus needs the application of considerable propelling force to enable it to push aside the constricting vaginal walls, to overcome the friction of the uteral and vaginal surfaces and to counteract the atmospheric pressure opposing the emergence of the child. In the case of a woman who has a fully developed muscular system and has had ample physical exertion all through the pregnancy, as is common with all more primitive peoples, nature provides all the necessary equipment and power to have a normal and quick delivery. This is not the case, however, with more civilized women who often do not have the opportunity to develop the muscles needed in confinement.

From Google Patents.

Things that are curious: Can a machine tickle?

It begins:

“It has been observed at least since the time of Aristotle that people cannot tickle themselves, but the reason remains elusive.”

What we have here is a research paper (by CHRISTINE R. HARRIS and NICHOLAS CHRISTENFELD) that looks at a variety of hypotheses (namely two called the reflex and the interpersonal)on this phenomenon, and then attempts to discern the two by using a “tickling machine.” Here’s the rest of the abstract:

Two sorts of explanations have been suggested. The interpersonal explanation suggests that tickling is fundamentally interpersonal and thus requires another person as the source of the touch. The reflex explanation suggests that tickle simply requires an element of unpredictability or uncontrollability and is more like a reflex or some other stereotyped motor pattern. To test these explanations, we manipulated the perceived source of tickling. Thirty-five subjects were tickled twice–once by the experimenter, and once, they believed, by an automated machine. The reflex view predicts that our “tickle machine” should be as effective as a person in producing laughter, whereas the interpersonal view predicts significantly attenuated responses. Supporting the reflex view, subjects smiled, laughed, and wiggled just as often in response to the machine as to the experimenter. Self-reports of ticklishness were also virtually identical in the two conditions. Ticklish laughter evidently does not require that the stimulation be attributed to another person, as interpersonal accounts imply.

The entire paper is here (in pdf format) for you to take a look at, but I thought the Apparatus and Materials section in the Methodology was worth sharing additionally (i.e. how to build a tickling machine).

The tickle machine was designed to look and sound like a robotic hand that was capable of movement without the experimenter’s assistance. The hand was attached by a long flexible hose to an impressive array of equipment that could plausibly control its motion. This equipment, when turned on, produced a vibrating sound that could be that of a genuine robotic apparatus.

You know, I’d be real curious to see what the grant application looked like for this type of research…

Publishing a scientific paper to get out of a speeding ticket. #ScienceFTW

This is freakin’ awesome! The story goes that this paper was used to get out of a speeding ticket, by being able to show reasonable doubt for his offence. Although the paper was released on April Fools, it would appear that perhaps it’s still real (link)

TITLE: The Proof of Innocence

AUTHOR: Dmitri Krioukov

ABSTRACT: We show that if a car stops at a stop sign, an observer, e.g., a police ocer, located at a certain distance perpendicular to the car trajectory, must have an illusion that the car does not stop, if the following three conditions are satis ed: (1) the observer measures not the linear but angular speed of the car; (2) the car decelerates and subsequently accelerates relatively fast; and (3) there is a short-time obstruction of the observer’s view of the car by an external object, e.g., another car, at the moment when both cars are near the stop sign.

SINGLE SENTENCE SYPNOSIS: A way to fight your traffic tickets.

LINK: http://arxiv.org/abs/1204.0162 | PDF: click here

Going to guess there aren’t too many method sections that rely on a Subaru versus Toyota system.

When Zombies Attack! Math and medicine (and zombies) combine for interesting epidemiology paper.

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Authors: Philip Munz, Ioan Hudea, Joe Imad, Robert J. Smith.

Reference: Infectious Disease Modelling Research Progress, Chapter 4. Editors: J.M. Tchuenche and C. Chiyaka, pp. 133-150. ISBN 978-1-60741-347-9. c 2009 Nova Science Publishers, Inc.

Abstract: Zombies are a popular figure in pop culture/entertainment and they are usually portrayed as being brought about through an outbreak or epidemic. Consequently, we model a zombie attack, using biological assumptions based on popular zombie movies. We introduce a basic model for zombie infection, determine equilibria and their stability, and illustrate the outcome with numerical solutions. We then refine the model to introduce a latent period of zombification, whereby humans are infected, but not infectious, before becoming undead. We then modify the model to include the effects of possible quarantine or a cure. Finally, we examine the impact of regular, impulsive reductions in the number of zombies and derive conditions under which eradication can occur. We show that only quick, aggressive attacks can stave off the doomsday scenario: the collapse of society as zombies overtake us all.

Link to full paper – here.

Synthesis of Anthropomorphic Molecules: The NanoPutians

“Described here are the synthetic details en route to an array of 2-nm-tall anthropomorphic molecules in monomeric, dimeric, and polymeric form. These anthropomorphic figures are called, as a class, NanoPutians. Using tools of chemical synthesis, the ultimate in designed miniaturization can be attained while preparing the most widely recognized structures:  those that resemble humans.”

J. Org. Chem., 2003, 68 (23), pp 8750–8766 DOI: 10.1021/jo0349227

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