Sherlock Holmes and toe loss in lizards

Fuelled with curiosity, some scientists exploit – lovingly, proudly – the investigative trick featured in Arthur Conan Doyle‘s 1892 story Silver Blaze. There, a baffled police inspector seeks help from the great autodicact/detective Sherlock Holmes:

[Inspector Gregory:] “Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”

[Holmes:] “To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”

[Inspector Gregory:] “The dog did nothing in the night-time.”

“That was the curious incident,” remarked Sherlock Holmes.

Science journals feature many papers in which scientists rely on this technique, riding it to, or at least in the direction of, glory.

You can see that happening in a report called The Mystery of the Missing Toes: Extreme Levels of Natural Mutilation in Island Lizard Populations, published in 2009 in the journal Functional Ecology….

So begins this week’s Improbable Research column in The Guardian.