Hellish math in Alabama

In the early 1990s, the Southern Baptist Church of Alabama produced the first mathematics-driven estimates of how many people are going to hell. The estimates were a practical tool, a guide for where to concentrate the church’s evangelical efforts and where not to bother. Any well-run modern business does this. A company that sells insurance […]

Corporate tiers of a clown

Ronald McDonald is not just a clown who hawks hamburgers and chips. According to two scholars writing in the journal Leadership Quarterly, Ronald McDonald is also a transformational corporate leader. David M Boje, who holds the Bank of America Endowed Professorship of Management at New Mexico State University, and Carl Rhodes, associate professor in the […]

You bastard

I have just read what may be the most satisfying, most incisive academic study of the past century. It’s called You Bastard: A Narrative Exploration of the Experience of Indignation Within Organisations. Professor David Sims, who published it in the journal Organisation Studies, is head of the faculty of management at Cass Business School in […]

The tasting of the shrew

If you like shrews, especially if you like them parboiled, you’ll want to devour a study published not long ago in the Journal of Archaeological Science. Called Human Digestive Effects on a Micromammalian Skeleton, it explains how and why one of its authors – either Brian D Crandall or Peter W Stahl; we are not […]

Dr. Katz and the blue of insanity

The year 1931 stands out in the history of research about mentally ill people’s favourite colours. That summer, Siegfried E Katz of the New York state psychiatric institute and hospital published a study in the Journal of Applied Psychology called Colour Preference in the Insane. Assisted by a Dr Cheney, Katz tested 134 hospitalised patients […]

Why seeing red may be a load of bull

Bulls care little about the redness of a matador’s cape. Psychologists have been pretty sure about that since 1923, when George M Stratton of the University of California published a study called The Colour Red, and the Anger of Cattle. “It is probable,” Stratton opined, “that this popular belief arises from the fact that cattle, […]

Psychoanalyzing grandma

You might think of it as every psychologist’s dream – to write a study called My Grandmother’s Personality: A Posthumous Evaluation. Frederick Coolidge, of the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, has achieved that dream. His paper appears in the July 1999 issue of the Journal of Clinical Geropsychology. Professor Coolidge used a diagnostic tool […]

Uranium for ducks

Depleted uranium should, perhaps, be the ammunition of choice for duck hunters. That’s the conclusion of a study called Response of American Black Ducks to Dietary Uranium: A Proposed Substitute for Lead Shot. The recommendation, published in 1983 in the Journal of Wildlife Management, has not been much disputed…. So begins this week’s Improbable Research […]

Mr. Buckley’s exploding trousers

Richard Buckley’s exploding trousers propelled James Watson to fame. Except for the initial burst of flames, there was nothing quick about the process – 74 years elapsed between Buckley’s wardrobe malfunction and Watson’s gaining an Ig Nobel prize for his careful analysis of the cause and significance of the incident. Watson is head of Massey […]

Why Parisians behave as they do

Scientifically speaking, exactly what makes April in Paris delightful? A computer scientist of my acquaintance, a Paris native now living abroad, analysed the question and wrote up a study that will be published soon, albeit pseudonymously. His data imply that vacations and strikes are what drive Parisians to behave as they so famously do. Paris […]