Today's Research: Big Tobacco Cover-Up; What Science Thinks Is Funny

Also: an arctic ice shelf mistake and learning from mistakes

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Today in research: a big day for scientist humor, Big Tobacco remains the bad guy, an arctic ice shelf oversight, and a brain-numbing task.

  • This is what counts for a funny scientist joke.  Yesterday, the Ig Nobel prizes were awarded. These weren't the serious, prestigious kind. They were more like a compilation of the oddest discoveries that the appropriately named Annals of Improbable Research magazine could find. And topping the heap was an Australian researcher who found that a certain type of male beetle mistook beer bottles--called stubbies--for a very large "super female" beetle, as New Scientist relayed. The title of their 1983 paper is both confusingly academic and oddly humorous when read with an Aussie accent: "Beetles on the Bottle: Male Buprestids Mistake Stubbies for Females." [BBC News, New Scientist]
  • A Canadian arctic ice shelf is 200 square miles smaller than yesterday?  The Associated Press had to correct a not insignificant mistake in a Thursday report headlined as "Canadian Arctic nearly loses entire ice shelf." The ice shelf is definitely shrinking, says the research from Canadian scientists cited in the piece. But the article incorrectly labeled the size of the ice shelves: "The Associated Press reported based on wrong information that the last remaining ice shelves in Canada along the coast of Ellesmere Island cover an estimated 402 square miles. Those measurements were for the end of the last century. The ice shelves’ estimated area today is 217 square miles." [AP]
  • Big Tobacco: still very much the bad guy. "Tobacco companies knew for decades that cigarette smoke was radioactive and potentially carcinogenic but kept that information from the public, according to a new study," USA Today reports. Which is both outrageous but sadly unsurprising. The UCLA researchers behind the study were somehow able to analyze "previously unexamined industry documents" and found that Polonium-210 (radioactive particles) had been identified by the industry since the early '60's. When asked about the findings by ABC News, a Philip Morris spokesperson dismissed them by seeming to suggest they were old news. [USA Today, ABC News]
  • MMNMM. What's the middle letter? Now do it again. The findings of this brain research study from a forthcoming issue of Psychological Science confirms a truism that you knew already: people who want to learn from their mistakes do better. That's good, but what we found interesting about the study was how the researchers came to this conclusion. They had participants do a mind-numbingly easy task of  identifying "the middle letter of a five-letter series like 'MMMMM' or 'NNMNN'" over and over and tracked their brains electrical activity when they made a mistake--a task that looks bit headache inducing. [Association for Psychological Science]
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