Magnetism, Mingus, and Shaftesbury

Edmund Shaftesbury has somehow lost his magnetic grip on education. His once-famous name bounced up in January in a report issued by the US Library of Congress about its collection of items pertaining to the jazz musician Charles Mingus. In box 71, the report says, "is a book titled Cultivation of Personal Magnetism in Seven […]

Sacerdotal celibacy

Whenever there is a new pope, the air fills with questions about priestly celibacy. The more formal term for this practice is "sacerdotal celibacy". The most popular piece of literature on the topic, Henry Charles Lea’s voluminous History of Sacerdotal Celibacy was published in 1867 and has enjoyed many, many reprints…. So begins this week’s […]

Vino: describe it OR remember it

When novices talk about this wine or that, the more they talk, the more they’re talking baloney. An experiment has proved it. Some experiments are more fun than others. This was one of the some. Joseph Melcher and Jonathan Schooler of the University of Pittsburgh carried it out, wrote it up and then published it […]

Underground yawning

There is much to be learned from observing one’s fellow passengers on the underground. Their yawning, their teeth and their sex are especially ripe for analysis. For nearly a year during the mid-1980s, passengers of the B-line of the Rome underground were examined by trained observers, who focused exclusively on those three characteristics…. So begins […]

Baldness and blame

It’s your own fault if you go bald, or if you lose your memory, or both. That’s in theory. The theory is championed by Armando Jos? Y??ez Soler, of Elda in Alicante, Spain. The town of Elda, until now, has been best known as the home of the Museo Calzado (the Museum of Footwear), but […]

Readable little numbers

People who love numbers — truly love them — needn’t hesitate when asked the question: "What is your favourite book?" There is only one possible answer: A Million Random Digits with 100,000 Normal Deviates, published by the Rand Corporation in 1955… So begins this week’s Improbable Research column in The Guardian. [And a further note. […]


Yawning sometimes occurs in school, where it can be of great appeal to the experimentalist. A yawn is rather alluring. It invites anyone – anyone of a certain sensibility, that is – to try teasing out its secrets. Joseph E Moore of the Jesup Psychological Laboratory at George Peabody College in Nashville, Tennessee was a […]