As the 21st century arrived, two distinguished psychiatrists offered mankind proof, written proof – in a study called A Preliminary Survey of Rhinotillexomania in an Adolescent Sample – that most teenagers pick their noses. Dr Chittaranjan Andrade and Dr BS Srihari, colleagues at the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences in Bangalore, India, were […]
Category: Extra-Improbable columns
Our columns in other publications — The ‘Feedback’ column in New Scientist magazine, beginning in September 2022, and the “Improbable Research”column that ran for 13 years in The Guardian newspaper.
Is your breakfast a sad and soggy affair?
Many people, of a morning, wonder why their breakfast cereal becomes soggy. Thanks to a study published in 1994, the answer can be read over morning coffee. A Study of the Effects of Water Content on the Compaction Behaviour of Breakfast Cereal Flakes, by DMR Georget, Roger Parker and Andrew Smith of the Institute of […]
It’s not just crickets toads are waving at
Who waves what at whom, and to what effect, are the central questions in a study called Deceptive Digits: The Functional Significance of Toe Waving by Cannibalistic Cane Toads, Chaunus Marinus. Professor Richard Shine, of the University of Sydney, and his postdoc student Mattias Hagman published this nine-page report in the journal Animal Behaviour. The […]
Do you know a snore when you hear one?
If you want to use technology to identify when a person is snoring, you’d probably need a long series of steps that begins with attaching wires to the person’s scalp, chin and eyelids. But soon the task will be much simpler – just stick a microphone on the bedside table, and use a computer to […]
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 […]
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, […]