September mini-AIR: The new Ig Nobel winners (plus cinnamon research)

September 29th, 2016

The September issue of mini-AIR (our monthly e-mail newsletter) just went out. (mini-AIR is a wee little supplement to the magazine itself). Topics include:

  • The 2016 Ig Nobel Prize winners
  • Eating Cinnamon Converts Poor Learners Who Are Mice
  • “Reading Cinnamon Activates Olfactory Brain Regions”
  • and more
It also has info about upcoming events.

Mel [pictured here] says, “It’s swell.”

mini-AIR is the simplest way to keep informed about Improbable and Ig Nobel news and events.

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Finding grizzly: funding Troy

September 29th, 2016

Troy Hurtubise, who was awarded the 1998 Ig Nobel Prize the field of safety engineering — for developing, and personally testing a suit of armor that is impervious to grizzly bears, is still crowdfunding his new project, which is called PROJECT GRIZZLY 2. Troy explains:

Project Grizzly was Quentin Tarantino’s favorite movie of 1996: a documentary following North Bay inventor and conservationist, Troy Hurtubise, on his quest to test a protective suit against a real grizzly bear. Now, two decades later, Troy seeks to finally have the encounter with his new suit the Ursus Mark VIII.

projectgrizzlyposterThe money is being raised to finance Troy’s second expedition to the Rocky Mountains with the original film crew and the construction of the Ursus Mark VIII.  Any donations surpassing $50, 000 or more will guarantee the individual a spot on the expedition with Troy and a cameo in the film. Filming for the expedition will begin in July of 2016.

The continuation of Project Grizzly, which cemented Troy’s Legacy, was used as a significant stepping stone for his ongoing career as an inventor. Some of these creations have been featured multiple times on discovery channel and other major networks. The sequel to Project Grizzly, Project Grizzly 2: The Forbidden Trail, will show a detailed look at some of his most famous creations and many new ones. Help fund the epic conclusion to an adventure that is two decades in the making and, for the more daring, take this opportunity to be apart of it.

Back in May of this year (2016), the new project was hardly more than a glint in Troy’s mind. Now it is closer to being a reality. Troy seeks to raise $770K in crowdfunding. Pledges have already reached the $400 level, by legend the most difficult part.

Here is the original Project Grizzly, a documentary film produced by the National Film Board (NFB) of Canada, about Troy and his early adventures (yes, there were later adventures, in plentitude, Troy being the nearest real thing we have, in modernity, to the legendary questing knights of the time of King Arthur):

Troy has grit, drive, persistence, deep inner fortitude, and git-up-and-go, in abundance. As an additional source of funding for his new research, Troy is reluctantly selling one of his many inventions, the R-light (” ‘R’-light embodies a collection of varying electromagnetic fields and other principle forces within a closed, semi-vaccum containment field. As the collective energy of the whole becomes one unified singular, a staggered, photonic beam is created.”). That historic invention is now available on EBay (however, for reasons unstated, it “may not ship to the U.S.”).

A one-person conversation about living in the wild à la several different animals

September 29th, 2016

The Conversation invited Charles Foster to have one side of a conversation about his experiences living as animals. A few days ago, Foster shared the 2016 Ig Nobel Prize for biology. That prize was awarded jointly to Charles Foster, for living in the wild as, at different times, a badger, an otter, a deer, a fox, and a bird; and to Thomas Thwaites, for creating prosthetic extensions of his limbs that allowed him to move in the manner of, and spend time roaming hills in the company of, goats.

Here is the beginning of Charles Doster’s Conversation conversation:


I have lived as a badger in a hole in a Welsh wood, as an otter in the rivers of Exmoor, an urban fox rummaging through the dustbins of London’s East End, a red deer in the West Highlands of Scotland and on Exmoor, and, most hubristically, a swift, oscillating between Oxford and West Africa. For this I was recently awarded an Ig Nobel Prize for “achievements that make people laugh, and then think.” Why I did this is not an unreasonable question. There are many answers. One is that I wanted to perceive landscapes more accurately.

We have at least five senses. By and large we use only one of them – vision. That’s a shame. We’re missing out on 80% of the available information about the world. I suspect it’s responsible for lots of our uncertainty about the sort of creatures we are, our personal crises, and the frankly psychopathic way in which most of us treat the natural world. If we only perceive 20% of something, we’re unlikely to be able to relate appropriately to it.

In fact, it’s rather worse than this….

The pleasures of watching ironically-enjoyed movies (new study)

September 29th, 2016

“So-called ‘trash films’ do not stand in opposition to taste and education. Quite the contrary, they are often watched by people with an above-average education and interest in culture.” – informs a recent online article from Max-Planck-Gesellschaft, München, Germany. The ‘delight-in-cheapness’ they are referring to is analysed in a paper for the journal Poetics Volume 57, August 2016, pp. 40–54 : it’s entitled ‘Enjoying trash films: Underlying features, viewing stances, and experiential response dimensions’.

Authors Dr. Keyvan Sarkhosh and Prof. Dr. Winfried Menninghaus of the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics, Frankfurt, Germany, conducted an online survey presented to regular consumers of trash films. Films that were associated with the notion of trash and mentioned by at least 5% of the participants are shown in this table :Trash-Fims

The clear ‘winners’ being Sharknado (2013) and Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959).

“Our study contributes to a better understanding of how particular audiences express a distinctive cultural taste by enjoying and appreciating specific cultural objects which deviate from the mainstream standard.”

Note: The late Don Featherstone, 1996 Ig Nobel prizewinner, was the creator of the plastic pink flamingo which played a prominent role in (the title of) John Waters’ movie Pink Flamingos (1972)  – number eight in the trash list.

Also see: The pleasures of listening to ironically-enjoyed music (new study)


Podcast 83: Journeys of Toothbrushes

September 28th, 2016

Toothbrushes journey — somehow, and other — to the depths in humanity, in this week’s Improbable Research podcast.

SUBSCRIBE on, iTunes, or Spotify to get a new episode every week, free.

This week, Marc Abrahams discusses medical reports about toothbrushes that mysteriously found their way into people’s stomachs and other deeply secret places. Harvard chemist Daniel Rosenberg gives dramatic readings and opinions:


The mysterious John Schedler or the shadowy Bruce Petschek perhaps did the sound engineering this week.

The Improbable Research podcast is all about research that makes people LAUGH, then THINK — real research, about anything and everything, from everywhere —research that may be good or bad, important or trivial, valuable or worthless. CBS distributes it, on the CBS web site, and on iTunes and Spotify).