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Attain your ideals!

Purchase a nicer, printable PDF of this issue.

Or nicest of all, subscribe to the paper version of the Annals of  

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SEPTEMBER|OCTOBER 2008 (volume 14, number 5)  $6.50 US|$9.50 CAN

0

2



74470 88921

09>


ANNALS OF

ANNALS OF

   

  

Spot Research,

Dot Research,

Windowspotting…

Special

 Issue:

Dots and Spots

Dots and Spots

| Annals of Improbable Research | September–October 2008 | vol. 14, no. 5

www.improbable.com

© 2008 Annals of Improbable Research 

ISSN 1079-5146 print / 1935-6862 online



AIR, P.O. Box 380853, Cambridge, MA 02238, USA         

“Improbable Research” and “Ig” and the tumbled thinker logo are all reg. U.S. Pat. & Tm. Off.

617-491-4437      FAX: 617-661-0927      www.improbable.com      air@improbable.com     EDITORIAL: marca@chem2.harvard.edu

The journal of record for inflated research and personalities

Co-founders

Marc Abrahams

Alexander Kohn

Editor

Marc Abrahams 

  marca@chem2.harvard.edu

Admin

Lisa Birk



European Bureau

Kees Moeliker, Bureau Chief

  Natuurhistorisch Museum 

Rotterdam    

improbable@nmr.nl

Steve Farrar, Edinburgh Desk Chief 

Erwin J.O. Kompanje

Willem O. de Jongste

“When all other contingencies fail, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”—Sherlock Holmes

“Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.”—Richard Feynman



Commutative Editor

Stanley Eigen

  Northeastern U. 

Associative Editor

Mark Dionne



Dissociative Editor

Rose Fox


Contributing Editors

Otto Didact, Stephen Drew,  

Emil Filterbag, Karen Hopkin, 

Alice Kaswell, Nick Kim, Richard 

Lederer, Katherine Lee, Bissel 

Mango, Steve Nadis, Nan Swift, 

Tenzing Terwilliger, Marina 

Tsipis, Bertha Vanatian



VP, Human Resources

Robin Abrahams



Research Researchers

Kristine Danowski, Martin 

Gardiner, Jessica Girard,  

Tom Gill, Mary Kroner,  

Wendy Mattson, Srinivasan 

Rajagopalan, Tom Roberts,  

Naomi Uesaka,Tom Ulrich

General Factotum

Carrie Gallo



Design and Art

Geri Sullivan/PROmote 

Communications

Lois Malone/Rich & Famous 

Graphics

Circulation Director

Barbara Andersson



Circulation (Counter-clockwise)

James Mahoney



Webmaster

Julia Lunetta



General Factotum (web) 

Jesse Eppers



Technical Eminence Grise

Dave Feldman



Art Director emerita

Peaco Todd



Webmaster emerita 

Amy Gorin



Annals of  

Improbable Research

The journal of record for inflated research and personalities

 

Introducing 

Improbable TV

We are pleased to introduce the  

Improbable Research TV series.

  WhAT:   Three-minute videos 

about research that 

makes people laugh,  

then makes them think.

 WhERE:    On the web, at  

www.improbable.com  

and elsewhere.

 Annals of Improbable Research | September–October 2008 | vol. 14, no. 5 | 1 

www.improbable.com



Contents

The features marked with a star (*) are based entirely on material taken straight from 

standard research (and other Official and Therefore Always Correct) literature. Many 

of the other articles are genuine, too, but we don’t know which ones.

Special Section: Dots and Spots

Dots and Spots Research Review* — 



Alice Shirrell Kaswell

Windowspotting* — 



Helen Ahanbasket

How Big, How Small* — 



Ernest Ersatz

10 


The Inventive Inventions of Dotts* — 

Stephen Drew

12 


Tidman and the Masquerades* — 

Nan Swift

14 


Spots Where the Spotted Were Spotted* — 

Stephen Drew

On the  

Front Cover

Dotted spots composed from 

photographs of leopards, 

dalmatian dogs, spotted beetles, 

spotted eagle rays, leopard fish, 

and other animals. Collage 

by Nan Swift, Improbable 

Research staff.



On the  

Back Cover

People atop a big plastic 

bubble at the Hayward 

Gallery, London, June 2008, 

photographed from within the 

bubble. Photo: Stephen Drew, 

Improbable Research staff.

Coming Events

(see 


WWW.IMPROBABLE.COM

 for details  

of these and other events)

Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony and  

live webcast — October 2, 2008

Ig Informal Lectures — October 4, 2008

American Physical Society,  

Dayton, Ohio — October 10, 2008

Genoa Science Festival — October 24, 2008

Science Friday (NPR) Ig Nobel radio  

broadcast — November 28, 2008

Improbable Research

16 


The Tasting of the Shrew* — 

Alice Shirrell Kaswell

18 


PubMed Goes to the Movies* — 

Robert Pyatt

Improbable Research Reviews*

Improbable Research Review* — 



Dirk Manley

Improbable Medical Review* — 



Bertha Vanatian

22 


Boys Will Be Boys* — 

Katherine Lee

28 


Soft Is Hard* — 

Alice Shirrell Kaswell and  

Bissell Mango

29 


Footnoted in Passing* — 

Stephen Drew

30 


May We Recommend* — 

Stephen Drew

News & Notes

IFC 


Introducing Improbable TV



AIR Vents (letters from our readers)

Improbable Research Editorial Board 



Teachers’ Guide

13 

HMO-NO News: Self-Allergy Fear Alleviation!



15 

Ig Nobel Invitation

21 

Medical End Notes* — 



Caroline Richmond

24 


Puzzling Solutions — 

Emil Filterbag

24 


AIR books

25 


Poem: 37 Therapists* — 

Jeremy Gorman

32 


CARTOON: “Genetic Engineering  

Homework” — 



Nick Kim

32 


Back Issues

IBC 


Unclassified Ads

®

Every Day

Read something new and improbable every weekday on the  

Improbable Research blog, on our web site: 

WWW.IMPROBABLE.COM


| Annals of Improbable Research | September–October 2008 | vol. 14, no. 5

www.improbable.com



AIR Vents

  Exhalations from our readers 

Prune Juice for 

the Soul

Can you help me locate a book 

that was published about ten 

years ago it was very popular 

among scientists I wish I bought 

a copy then but now it seems 

impossible to find one but you 

will know where to get one if 

anyone will the title is “Prune 

Juice for the Soul.”



Bailey R.D. Dockett

Indemnification Grants Centre

Great Yarmouth, East Anglia,UK 

“Personality 

Flared!”

After reading so much about the 

famous photograph of the 1911 

Solvay conference at the Hotel 

Metropole in Brussels, I went 

through my great-grandfather’s 

files on the off chance that he 

had a copy. Success! Here is 

the photo. It’s not a copy of 

the pristine original. It’s a copy 

of the famous version that 

someone defaced by scribbling 

over the image of Mel.

The rest of the photo is in good 

shape. You can clearly see 

many of the “big guns” who 

were in attendance: Nernst, 

Brillouin, Solvay himself

Lorentz, Warburg, Perrin, Wien, 

Curie, Poincaré, Goldschmidt, 

Planck, Rubens, Sommerfeld, 

Lindemann, de Broglie, 

Knudsen, Hasenöhrl, Hostelet, 

Herzen, Jeans, Rutherford, 

Kamerlingh, Onnes, Langevin 

and of course Einstein.

A note on the back of the photo, 

in my great-grandfather’s 

unmistakable squidgy 

handwriting, says that there 

were several versions of this 

grouping, and that there was 

considerable argument about 

who sat or stood next to whom, 

and above or below whom, 

and especially of who would 

be in the photo. There were 

several versions of the photo, 

with individual scientists absent 

from some but not others. As 

my great-grandfather’s words 

explain: “Personality flared!” 

Like your other correspondents, 

I do no know if there is any 

surviving photo in which 

Mel is visible. And my great-

grandfather’s notes give no 

indication as to who it was 

who so carefully defaced 

every image in which Mel was 

present. We are approaching the 

hundredth anniversary of the 

conference. Maybe somebody 

can solve the mystery in time 

for the gala celebration.

P.S. I enclose another photo 

from my great-grandfather’s 

collection. It shows Ernest 

Solvay. Someone, maybe the 

same person, has defaced (so to 

speak) Solvay’s hair and beard.

Robert T. Poincaré

Metz, France


 Annals of Improbable Research | September–October 2008 | vol. 14, no. 5 | 3 

www.improbable.com



Additionally: 

Made in 

Elsewhere

Delarian’s study “Made in 

Elsewhere” (in AIR 13:7) 

was an eye-opener. Here are 

two examples to add to her 

collection:

England’s Glory brand matches 

are proudly advertised as being 

“made in Sweden.”

American Mills brand wash 

clothes are proudly advertised 

—to the accompaniment of a 

drawing of the American flag—

as being “made in Pakistan.”

I obtained these during travels 

in those very strange lands 

England and the U.S.A.

Raul David Macri, Ph.D.

Ushuaia, Argentina

Lint on the Brain

Does anyone have suggestions 

for cleaning lint off a sculpture 

made of silicone rubber? We 

have a small, life-like sculpture 

of a brain in our collection; 



Microbiology

Roland G. Vela, U. North Texas



Molecular Biology

Walter Gilbert*, Harvard U.

Richard Roberts*, New England Biolabs

Molecular Pharmacology

Lloyd Fricker, Einstein Coll. of Medicine



Neuroengineering

Jerome Lettvin, MIT



Neurology

Thomas D. Sabin, Tufts U.



Ornithology

Kees Moeliker*******, Natuurhistorisch 

Museum Rotterdam

Obstetrics & Gynecology

Pek van Andel*******, Medical Faculty 

Groningen, The Netherlands

Eberhard W. Lisse, Swakopmund State 

Hospital, Namibia

Orthopedic Surgery

Glenn R. Johnson, Bemidji, MN



Paleontology

Sally Shelton, South Dakota Museum of 

Geology

Earle Spamer, American Philosophical Society, 



Philadelphia, PA

Parasitology

Wendy Cooper, Australian Pest & Vet. Med. 

Auth.

Pediatrics

Ronald M. Mack, Bowman Gray School of 

Med.

Pharmacology

Stanton G. Kimmel, Normal, OK



Philosophy

George Englebretson, Bishop’s U., Quebec



Anthropology

Jonathan Marks, U. North Carolina



Archaeology

Angela E. Close, U. Washington



Astrochemistry

Scott Sandford, NASA/Ames



Astronomy

Robert Kirshner, Harvard U.

Jay M. Pasachoff, Williams Coll.

Eric Schulman, Alexandria, Virginia

David Slavsky. Loyola U., Chicago

Biochemistry

Edwin Krebs*, U. Washington



Biology

Dany Adams, Forsyth Center

Lawrence Dill*******, Simon Fraser U.

Biomaterials

Alan S. Litsky, Ohio State U.



Biophysics

Leonard X. Finegold, Drexel U.



Biotechnology

A. Stephen Dahms, Alfred E. Mann 

Foundation

Bureaucracy

Miriam Bloom, SciWrite, Jackson, MS



Cardiology

Thomas Michel*****, Harvard Med. School



Chemistry

Dudley Herschbach*, Harvard U.

William Lipscomb*, Harvard U.

Computer Science

Dennis Frailey, Texas Instruments, Plano, TX

Robert T. Morris***, MIT

Margo Seltzer, Harvard U.

Economics

Ernst W. Stromsdorfer, Washington St. U.



Engineering

Dean Kamen, DEKA Research



A Guide to the Stars

*  Nobel Laureate

**  world’s highest IQ

***  convicted felon

****  misspelled

***** sibling rivalry

****** six stars

******* Ig Nobel Winner



Food Research

Massimo Marcone, U. of Guelph



Forensic Biology & Criminalistics

Mark Benecke, Int’l Forensic Res., Köln



Functional Biology & Morphology

Frank Fish, West Chester U.

Rebecca German, Johns Hopkins U.

Richard Wassersug*******, Dalhousie U.



Genetics

Michael Hengartner, U. of Zürich



Geology

John C. Holden, Omak, WA

John Splettstoesser, Waconia, MN

History of Science & Medicine

Tim Healey, Barnsley, England



Immunology

Falk Fish, Orgenics, Ltd., Yavne, Israel



Infectious Diseases

James Michel*****, Harvard U.



Intelligence

Marilyn Vos Savant**, New York, NY



Law

William J. Maloney, New York, NY

Ronald A. May, Little Rock, AR

Library & Info Sciences

Regina Reynolds, Library of Congress

George Valas, Budapest, Hungary

Norman D. Stevens, U. of Connecticut



Materials Science

Robert M. Rose, MIT



Mathematics

Lee Segel, Weizmann Inst.



Medical Ethics

Erwin J.O. Kompanje, Erasmus MC 

University, Rotterdam

Methodology

Rod Levine, National Insts of Health



Physics

Len Fisher*******,  

Bristol U., UK

Jerome Friedman*, MIT

Sheldon Glashow*, 

Boston U.

Karl Kruszelnicki*******, 

U. Sydney

Harry Lipkin, Weizmann 

Inst.


Douglas Osheroff*, Stanford U.

Frank Wilczek*, MIT



Political Science

Richard G. Neimi****, Rochester, NY



Psychiatry and Neurology

Robert Hoffman, Daly City, CA



Psychology

Louis G. Lippman, Western Wash. U.

G. Neil Martin, Middlesex U., UK

Chris McManus*******, University Coll. 

London

Neil J. Salkind, U. of Kansas



Pulmonary Medicine

Traian Mihaescu, Iasi, Romania



Radiology

David Rabin, Highland Park Hosp., IL



Science Policy

Al Teich, American Assn for the Advancement 

of Science

Stochastic Processes

(selected at random from amongst our 

subscribers)

Junkan Song, Arnhem, the Netherlands



Women's Health

Andrea Dunaif, Northwestern U.

JoAnn Manson, Brigham & Women's Hosp.

Annals of 

 

Improbable Research Editorial Board

Origin 

of the 

Specious

An ornithologist 

friend of mine sent 

this note to me, and I, 

who prefer a peaceful 

life, pass it on to you:

“A few years 

back I received an 

anonymous call 

from a pay phone 

in downtown 

Manhattan. A 

rabbinical student 

(perhaps 30 years 

old) was trying 

to confirm all the 

ornithological references 

in the Old Testament, plus 

some of his notions about 

the meaning of life and the 

moment of death. The student 

first wanted to know if fish 

were (completely) dead before 

herons swallowed them. The 

ghastly truth precipitated a 

frenzied cascade of follow-up 

and I’m having a difficult time 

removing some lint and dust 

from the intricate crevasses. 

I’ve tried a tiny vacuum, but 

the lint’s quite stubborn and the 

rubber is rather tacky. Thank 

you in advance.

 Enny Susanto, Curator

Jember Museum of  

Natural Science 

Jember, East Java, Indonesia

questions. Every three minutes 

the operator would prompt the 

increasingly agitated caller for 

a handful of quarters. Angry 

people waiting for the phone 

were swearing loudly in the 

background. After 18 minutes 

he ran out of quarters. A week 

later to the very minute, I took 

another blind call....the same 

guy from the same phone booth. 

This time he wanted to know 

(shouting over traffic noise and 

swearing in the background) 

why nestling cuckoos were 

black (perhaps avatars of Satan) 

and whether or not they made 

ill-intended flights to heaven. 

This guy was clearly on holiday 

from some distant planet, 

but at least he provided some 

context. After that call, I told 

our secretary to screen the calls 

more thoroughly and to refer 

blind calls from Manhattan 

phone booths to the Ornithology 

Department at the American 

Museum of Natural History.”

Dr. Phyllis Yalçınkaya

Brooklyn, NY 


| Annals of Improbable Research | September–October 2008 | vol. 14, no. 5

www.improbable.com



Improbable

 Research Review

  Improbable theories, experiments, and conclusions

compiled by Dirk Manley, Improbable Research staff

reveals collective action barriers to mounting 

challenges to copyright validity: the song generates 

an estimated $2 million per year, and yet no one 

has ever sought adjudication of the validity of its 

copyright.



Obscure, Old, Presumably  

Once Delicious

“First Archaeozoological Evidence for Haimation, the 

‘Invisible’ Garum,” Wim Van Neera and S. Thomas Parker, 

Journal of Archaeological Science, vol. 35, no. 7, July 2008, 

pp. 1821–7, DOI:10.1016/j.jas.2007.11.021. (Thanks to Tom 



Gill for bringing this to our attention.) The authors, affiliated 

variously with the Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, with 

Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, and with North Carolina 

State University, report:

The fish remains are described that were found at 

the bottom of an Early Roman ceramic jar from 

Aila Aqaba, Jordan. The bones, representing the 

gill apparatuses of at least 33 medium-sized tunas 

(Auxis; Scombridae) and a single individual of a 

lizardfish (Trachinocephalus myops; Synodontidae), 

are believed to correspond to haimation. This highly 

prized fish sauce, documented previously only from 

ancient textual evidence, was typically made from 

the gills and the entrails of tunnids to which salt  

was added.

The Tangle That is happy Birthday

“Copyright and the World’s Most 

Popular Song,” Robert Brauneis, 

George Washington University 

Law School Legal Studies 

Research Paper No. 1111624, 

2008. (Thanks to Roz Wilkin for 

bringing this to our attention.)

“Happy Birthday to You” 

is the best-known and most 

frequently sung song in the 

world. Many—including 

Justice Breyer in his dissent 

in Eldred v. Ashcroft—have 

portrayed it as an unoriginal 

work that is hardly worthy 

of copyright protection, 

but nonetheless remains 

under copyright. Yet close 

historical scrutiny reveals 

both of those assumptions 

to be false. The song that became “Happy Birthday 

to You,” originally written with different lyrics as 

“Good Morning to All,” was the product of intense 

creative labor, undertaken with copyright protection 

in mind. However, it is almost certainly no longer 

under copyright, due to a lack of evidence about 

who wrote the words; defective copyright notice; 

and a failure to file a proper renewal application.

The falsity of the standard story about the song 

demonstrates the dangers of relying on anecdotes 

without thorough research and analysis. It also 

We welcome your suggestions 

for this and other columns. 

Please enclose the full citation 

(no abbreviations!) and, if 

possible, a copy of the paper.


 Annals of Improbable Research | September–October 2008 | vol. 14, no. 5 | 5 

www.improbable.com



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