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Goofy-Sounding Experiments from the Scientific Literature

By Edited Feb 8, 2014 2 1

Who says scientists are dull? If you somehow got that impression from your high-school science teacher, a doofus television sitcom about teenage angst or a movie about life in a college frat house, then I'm here to tell you that you've been misinformed. Scientists, no matter what their discipline, are just as likely to have a finely-honed sense of humor as the next guy (or gal). If you don't believe that, well, here are a few scientific papers published in recent years - and by "published," I mean in the scientific literature, not on some wag's blog!

Looks a little small, doesn't it

Eiffel Tower as Seen Leaning to the Left
Credit: Oleander / morguefile.com

A "mini-me" version of the Eiffel Tower, perhaps as viewed by a tourist leaning leftward.

First, from the Faculty of Social Sciences at Erasmus University in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, comes "Leaning to the Left Makes the Eiffel Tower Seem Smaller" - subtitled "posture-modulated estimation."[1]  In this paper published in Psychological Sciences, a team of three Dutch psychologists somehow talked a gaggle of test subjects into standing on a Wii Balance Board® while  answering a series of questions that forced them to estimate "quantities."

The experimenters "surreptitiously" manipulated the Wii board to adjust the subjects' posture while they were making their estimations (without the subjects' knowledge, of course). The study showed that a leftward lean makes people perceive things as smaller  than people who are leaning to the right. No word on whether this particular topic has anything to do with the study participants' political "leanings," however, it sure must've been easy to find students willing to participate if they thought they were playing games on a Wii.

I'll give you 21 seconds to stop that

Just a Second... 21 Seconds, that Is
Credit: MikeFinkelstein / flickr.com

According to scientists, this dog is going to take 21 seconds, give or take, to finish watering the tree.

Scientists at Georgia Institute of Technology (no Wramblin' Wrecks here) found out that, contrary to sentiment expressed by the saying, "I gotta pee like a racehorse!" it takes most mammals about 21 seconds to empty their bladders. Yup, for their paper the "Law of Urination: all mammals empty their bladders over the same duration"[2] a team of grad students watched mammals from the size of dogs and cats up to elephant sized and timed their pee. Some of the research they did at the zoo, and some of it involved searching Youtube for videos of animals peeing. And here I'd thought Youtube was essentially worthless!

Now, the little mammals like bats and rats just squeeze out a few drops at a time, but any animal large enough to have a urethra and a bladder is gonna take 21 seconds. Imagine that: a cat's 100cc bladder and an elephant's 100-liter bladder both empty at the same rate!  Interestingly enough, in most of the mammals studied, the "parts" are proportionally the same size: an elephant urethra is 4" in diameter and 4 feet long - and it empties like a fire hose!

By the way, the students (led by Dr. David Hu) didn't include humans in their formal study, but every person I know who's heard about this study was counting in his or her head the next time they hit the john...

Dance, sister, dance

Is Your Honeybee Friend High?
Credit: katmystiry / morguefile.com

Ever wondered if the beess buzzing 'round your flowers are high?

A gaggle of Ozzie researchers had some help from the University of Illinois in their study of the "Effects of cocaine on honeybee dance behaviour"[3] (it's a good bet the Illini contributors didn't get to spell the title). We all know - or should, anyway - that upon returning from a successful foraging trip looking for tasty pollen, honeybees perform a complicated dance to give their worker partners directions to the resources they've found. What most of us don't know is that the active substance in cocaine is actually a natural insecticide… but anyhow.

For this study, the researchers dosed the subject bees with low concentrations of cocaine to see whether they'd act like humans do when they're dosed with cocaine. According to the authors, a little coke "increased the likelihood and rate of bees dancing after foraging." Huh: so that's what Disco was all about?

Oddly, the researchers also noted that the bees showed signs of withdrawal after "treatment" ceased. Lord, I hope they didn't accidently discover the cause of colony collapse disorder...


That's some fine navel lint

No Lint Here!
Credit: earl53 / morguefile.com

If that's lint, I'm gonna let my belly hair grow!

The Ig Nobel Prizes: The Annals of Improbable Research
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Did you know scientists can win a "prize" for goofy research? Yep - it's the Ignobel Prize. No king of Sweden, no gold medal, no million bucks - but it's still worth it!

Here's a question I'll bet you've asked yourself (or your partner) at one time or another, thoguh probably only "in an altered state":  why do some navels collect so much lint? Austrian researcher Georg Steinhauser performed, and published, a three-year (yes, I said three-year) study of "The nature of navel fluff."[4]

Steinhauser's findings are that abdominal hair collects particles scraped from the wearer's clothing and directs it into the navel; which is why women (who usually lack abundant abdominal hair) are lousy at collecting navel lint. He also determined that shaving the abdominal hair halts collection of the lint. Wonder whose hair he shaved…

It being a scientific study, Steinhauser also weighed his collection (mean weight about 150 mg) and analyzed it (mostly cotton with some dead skin cells). Not content with just reporting, Steinhauser also surmised that navel lint's purpose - it has to have a purpose, right - is related to keeping the navel clean...

Set 'em up, barkeep: I'm feelin' dumb and ugly

Bottoms Up!
Credit: kconnors / morguefile.com

Ahhh, trust the French to test the "beer-goggles" hypothesis - and get it backwards. You know the beer goggles effect: the drunker you get, the better she (or he) looks. Well, the French guys came up with an article they called "'Beauty is in the eye of the beer holder': people who think they are drunk also think they are attractive."[5] To determine whether there's a beer goggle effect, the study participants were given either an alcoholic beverage or a placebo, then videotaped giving a speech. The participants then rated themselves for how attractive and funny they thought their own performance was.

Independent judges also rated videotapes of the speeches. Seems that the people who got placebos thought they were funnier (and probably sexier) than they actually were.



Just so you know, scientitst do have a sense of humor. It's engineers who are dull...



Dec 11, 2013 12:36pm
Good, fun article! A thumb!
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  1. Eerland A, Guadalupe T. M., and Zwaan R. A. "Leaning to the left makes the Eiffel Tower seem smaller: posture-modulated estimation.." Psychological Science. (2011): 1511-1514.
  2. Patricia J. Yang, Jonathan C. Pham, Jerome Choo, David L. Hu "Law of Urination: all mammals empty their bladders over the same duration." arXiv.org. 1310 (2013): 3737.
  3. Andrew B. Barron, Ryszard Maleszka, Paul G. Helliwell and Gene E. Robinson "Effects of cocaine on honey bee dance behaviour." Journal of Experimental Biology. 212 (2009): 163-168.
  4. Steinhauser, Georg "The nature of navel fluff." Medical Hypotheses. 72 (2009): 623-625.
  5. B├Ęgue L., Bushman B. J., Zerhouni O., Subra B., Ourabah M. "'Beauty is in the eye of the beer holder': people who think they are drunk also think they are attractive." British Journal of Pschology. 104 (2013): 225-234.

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