Elephants on Acid and Other Bizzare Experiments is a collection of interesting, entertaining, and sometimes disturbing experiments collected by Alex Boese. It looks to have a lot of overlap with Quirkology: The Curious Science of Everyday Lives, Richard Wiseman (author of 59 Seconds), so I’m going to skip Quirkology — I seem to be getting stuck recently reading several books of the same genre or style and finding a lot of overlaps.
From attempts to bring dead animals and people back to life (using electricity), to measuring the weight of a soul (by carefully weighing a terminal patient as they expire), and inviting road rage (by waiting in a stopped car for an extended period after the lights turn green), Alex has amassed a collection of these weird and wonderful experiments, carefully catalogued into themed sections.
True to the promise of the title, there is also coverage of LSD administered to elephants, with rather unexpected and somewhat devastating results, in one case.
An interesting and light read.
In Bad Science Ben Goldacre takes the time to carefully demolish a variety of pseudo-scientific myths that the mass media, industry, and advertising, has induced upon us. He doesn’t make a lot of generalisations or sweeping statements, just presents a lot of facts and clear evidence – something the mass media rarely does.
He also introduces the reader to a lot of knowledge about scientific methods, the traits of effective (and ineffective) research: control groups; the role of placebos; double-blind trials; why brand name drugs are no better than generic brands, except by virtue of the fact that you pay more for them which, paradoxically, gives you a greater placebo effect (because, subconsciously, a drug that is more expensive must be more effective)!
Two of the biggest medical abbreviations from UK media in the past decade, in my mind, are MMR (the Measles, Mumps, and Rubella combined vaccination, and its links to autism) and MSRA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, the hospital ‘superbug’ outbreak). In his book, Ben calmly presents some facts and details that the mass media may have forgotten to go in to (perhaps because “just kidding, we’re not all going to die after all!” is not quite as newsworthy).
He also covers common “knowledge” such as vitamins, antioxidants, other nutritionists’ products and claims, homeopathy, and more.
I’m trying hard not to enter into too much detail here because I know that I’ll degenerate into a cynical rant that simply won’t do justice to Ben’s carefully measured words and well-balanced arguments. Instead, here is a quotation from my favourite part of the book:
“What you are seeing here is a tabloid journalist telling a department of a world-class research microbiologists that they are mistaken about microbiology. This is an excellent example of a phenomenon described in one of my favourite psychology papers: ‘Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments’, by Justin Kruger and David Dunning.
They noted that people who are incompetent suffer a dual burden: not only are they incompetent, but they may also be too incompetent to assay their own incompetence, because the skills which underlie an ability to make a correct judgement are the same as the skills required to recognise a correct judgement.
People who performed particularly poorly relative to their peers were unaware of their own incompetence; but more than that, they were also less able to recognize competence in others, because this, too, relied on ‘meta-cognition’, or knowledge about the skill.”
— Ben Goldacre, Bad Science, pp.267-269.
See also: The Dangers of Bread
Comedian Jerry Seinfeld has some well-phrased sentiments on the security of airport bathrooms. (I thought I'd mentioned this years ago but I couldn't find it anywhere so I thuoght I'd dig up the transcript again):
What is the story on the sinks in airport bathrooms?
That they will not give us a twist-it-on twist-it-off, human-style faucet?
Is that too risky for the general population?
Too dangerous? We gotta install the one-handed, spring-loaded, pain-in-the-ass Alcatraz-style faucet.
You know, those ones you gotta go: "Hey I got a little water there"
"Hey I got a couple of drops."
What is it they think we would do with a faucet?
Turn them all on full, run out into the parking lot, laughing, pushing each other into the bushes?
"Come on, the water's on, let's go! I turned it on full blast."
"You idiot! We're businessmen, we're gonna miss our plane."
"Who cares! Water!"
That's how they think we're gonna act.
— Jerry Seinfeld, I'm telling you for the last time
I guess what he was trying to say, a decade ago, is that we have to be careful not to get too over-the-top with airport security.
I just viewed this TED presentation by Dan Gilbert where he mashes up psychology, economics, and a little bit of comedy to deliver a fairly awesome half-hour of educational entertainment.
Just watch the first 5 minutes, you'll see...
Found on MakeUseOf.
Weird Al's White & Nerdy music video:
I can't wait to hear this song played out in a nightclub.
(Discovered via the Freakonomics Blog.)