Our 10 Favorite Scientific Study Titles of 2014


There are thousands upon thousands of scientific papers and studies published each year (so many, in fact, that I can't with confidence say I compared every single one—if I've missed your favorite absurd title, share it in the comments!). And while the strength of the research should speak for itself, sometimes scientists give their work a title to make it stand out. To honor those brainy punsters and to draw your attention to their admirable scientific advances, we have selected some of our favorite titles from the past year.

1. Spiders on a Hot Volcanic Roof: Colonisation Pathways and Phylogeography of the Canary Islands Endemic Trap-Door Spider Titanidiops canariensis (Araneae, Idiopidae)

Why we like it: Something about the juxtaposition between the Tennessee Williams reference and the almost unpronounceable technical terms.

What about the actual science?: The study looks at howTitanidiops canariensis spiders ended up on the volcanic Canary Islands considering the rarity of finding mygalomorph spiders on oceanic islands.

[Read it here.]

2. The early bird gets the carcass: Temporal segregation and its effects on foraging success in avian scavengers

Why we like it: Because the mental image of a bird chomping down on a poor helpless worm wasn't graphic enough.

What about the actual science?: "Given that carrion availability is higher in the morning than in the afternoon and that differences in wing-loading and nesting behavior may limit morning activity in some species, there is potential for temporal segregation in resource use to play an important role in the coexistence of avian scavengers." Meaning, if you're looking for fresh carcass, get a move on.

[Read it here.]

3. Locomotion in Extinct Giant Kangaroos: Were Sthenurines Hop-Less Monsters?

Why we like it: Because if those hop-less monsters aren't the subject of a low budget sci-fi film yet, they should be.

What about the actual science?: "The largest (Procoptodon goliah) had an estimated body mass of 240 kg, almost three times the size of the largest living kangaroos, and there is speculation whether a kangaroo of this size would be biomechanically capable of hopping locomotion."

[Read it here.]

4. The Darwin Awards: sex differences in idiotic behaviour

Why we like it: Because rarely are scientific studies so satisfying.

What about the actual science?: The scientists literally relied on the "Darwin Awards" for this study, considering the sex of past winners of the notorious prize which is awarded to people who "eliminate themselves from the gene pool in such an idiotic manner that their action ensures one less idiot will survive." What they found is that most recipients are men.

[Read it here.]

5. A Sociologist Walks into a Bar (and Other Academic Challenges): Towards a Methodology of Humour

Why we like it: We award points for effort.

What about the actual science?: "The purpose of this article is to make a sensible case for the place of humour as a methodology for the social sciences."

[Read it here.]

6. An exploration of the basis for patient complaints about the oldness of magazines in practice waiting rooms

Why we like it: This is one of those cases where the subject of the study seems so prosaic, so outside the realm of rigorous scientific research, and frankly, so silly, that any title that attempts to elevate and obfuscate that silliness is itself silly.

What about the actual science?: Not only did these scientists consider the age of the magazine (through scientifically looking at the date on the publication), they also considered how quickly magazines disappeared from waiting rooms, specifically "the loss of gossipy compared with non gossipy magazines."

[Read it here.]

7. Nintendo related injuries and other problems

Why we like it: Because of the jump necessary to get from "Nintendo related injuries" to all the "other problems."

What about the actual science?: You can be afflicted with Wiiitis, Wii knee, or even Surgerii.

8. Do Animals Need Citizenship?

Why we like it: Because it is an eternally valid question. And because we love cats here at mental_floss.

What about the actual science?: The scientists "divide the animal kingdom into three categories and distribute rights accordingly," which doesn't sound fair at all.

[Read it here.]

9. The Ethics Of Nudging

Why we like it: Because it's about time someone lay down the law for what sort of gentle pushing to get someone's attention is and is not acceptable.

What about the actual science?: Their use of nudge refers to something called "choice architecture," which refers to how presentation of choice affects the outcome.

[Read it here.]

10. Run EDGAR Run: SEC Dissemination in a High-Frequency World

Why we like it: What is a Forrest Gump reference doing here in 2014?

What about the actual science?: EDGAR is an acronym for Electronic Data Gathering, Analysis and Retrieval as it relates to the Security and Exchange Commission. The scientists here did some number crunching that "raise[s] questions about whether the SEC dissemination process is really a level playing field for all investors."

Stradivarius Violins Get Their Distinctive Sound By Mimicking the Human Voice

Italian violinist Francesco Geminiani once wrote that a violin's tone should "rival the most perfect human voice." Nearly three centuries later, scientists have confirmed that some of the world's oldest violins do in fact mimic aspects of the human singing voice, a finding which scientists believe proves "the characteristic brilliance of Stradivari violins."

Using speech analysis software, scientists in Taiwan compared the sound produced by 15 antique instruments with recordings of 16 male and female vocalists singing English vowel sounds, The Guardian reports. They discovered that violins made by Andrea Amati and Antonio Stradivari, the pioneers of the instrument, produce similar "formant features" as the singers. The resonance frequencies were similar between Amati violins and bass and baritone singers, while the higher-frequency tones produced by Stradivari instruments were comparable to tenors and contraltos.

Andrea Amati, born in 1505, was the first known violin maker. His design was improved over 100 years later by Antonio Stradivari, whose instruments now sell for several million dollars. "Some Stradivari violins clearly possess female singing qualities, which may contribute to their perceived sweetness and brilliance," Hwan-Ching Tai, an author of the study, told The Guardian.

Their findings were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. A 2013 study by Dr. Joseph Nagyvary, a professor emeritus at Texas A&M University, also pointed to a link between the sounds produced by 250-year-old violins and those of a female soprano singer.

According to Vox, a blind test revealed that professional violinists couldn't reliably tell the difference between old violins like "Strads" and modern ones, with most even expressing a preference for the newer instruments. However, the value of these antique instruments can be chalked up to their rarity and history, and many violinists still swear by their exceptional quality.

[h/t The Guardian]

Phil Walter, Getty Images
How Michael Jackson's Dancing Defied the Laws of Biomechanics
Phil Walter, Getty Images
Phil Walter, Getty Images

From the time he debuted the moonwalk on broadcast television in 1983, Michael Jackson transcended the label of "dancer." His moves seemed to defy gravity as well as the normal limits of human flexibility and endurance.

Now we have some scientific evidence for that. Three neurosurgeons from the Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research in Chandigarh, India, recently published a short paper in the Journal of Neurosurgery: Spine that examines just how remarkable one of Jackson's signature moves really was.

In the 1988 video for "Smooth Criminal" and subsequent live performances, Jackson is seen taking a break from his constant motion to stand in place and lean 45 degrees forward. Both he and his dancers keep their backs straight. Biomechanically, it's not really possible for a human to do. And even though he had a little help, the neurosurgeons found it to be a pretty impressive feat.

An illustration of Michael Jackson's 'Smooth Criminal' dance move.
Courtesy of 'Journal of Neurosurgery: Spine.' Copyright Manjul Tripathi, MCh.

Study co-author Manjul Tripathi told CNN that humans can't lean forward much more than 25 or 30 degrees before they risk landing on their faces. (He knows, because he tried it.) Normally, bending involves using the hip as a fulcrum, and erector spinae muscles to support our trunk. When Jackson leaned over, he transferred the fulcrum to the ankle, with the calf and Achilles tendon under strain. Since that part of the body is not equipped to support leaning that far forward without bending, the "Smooth Criminal" move was really a biomechanical illusion. The act was made possible by Jackson's patented shoe, which had a "catch" built under the heel that allowed him to grasp a protruding support on the stage. Secured to the floor, he was able to achieve a 45-degree lean without falling over.

But the neurosurgeons are quick to point out that the shoes are only part of the equation. To achieve the full 45-degree lean, Jackson would have had to have significant core strength as well as a strong Achilles tendon. An average person equipped with the shoe would be unable to do the move.

How does this apply to spinal biomechanics research? The authors point out that many dancers inspired by Jackson are continuing to push the limits of what's possible, leading to injury. In one 2010 paper, researchers surveyed 312 hip-hop dancers and found that 232 of them—almost 75 percent of the cohort—reported a total of 738 injuries over a six-month period. That prevalence could mean neurosurgeons are facing increasingly complex or unique spinal issues. The surgeons hope that awareness of potential risks could help mitigate problems down the road.

[h/t CNN]


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