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"This is Improbable Too" by Marc Abrahams / .

Scientists report the darnedest things ?? like whether a painful sensation is worse when you look at an ugly painting (it is), whether Russians are really as unhappy as they claim (yes, sadly), and what drivers do when they see someone waiting for their parking spots (take longer to leave).

Those are the sorts of studies that intrigue Marc Abrahams, author of the new book This Is Improbable Too: Synchronized Cows, Speedy Brain Extractors, and More WTF Research. The book is a second compendium from the creator of the Ig Nobel Prizes ?? annual awards for scientific achievements "that first make people laugh, then make them think." The prizes are, famously, given out by actual Nobel Prize winners.

Abrahams, 58, of Cambridge, Mass., had a former career in computer software. He's made his second career collecting enough strange science to fill a weekly column in the Guardian newspaper and a bi-monthly magazine called The Annals of Improbable Research. Along with some volunteers, he also sorts through some 9,000 entries a year for the prizes.

"A lot of people nominate themselves," he says, "though those people almost never win."

Among the choice bits Abrahams shares in the new book, which focuses, in part, on the human mind and body:

? Old men really do have longer ears than old women (whose ears are growing too, just not as fast).

? A study of drunken handwriting found, as expected, that most of it is worse than sober handwriting. But some of it is actually better.

? 13% of Greek children have dimples and 3.5% have them on both cheeks. The significance of this is unclear.

? Every person on Earth apparently has a unique "lip print." The study of such prints is called cheiloscopy.

? Mothers rate their own babies' diapers as less stinky than other babies' diapers, researchers find. The same researchers find sexually aroused men are less likely than unaroused men to be disgusted by fecal odors and other typically disgusting stuff.

The studies Abrahams collects certainly are interesting. But are they good science?

"This may sound terrible, but it doesn't matter to me," he says. "This is what I like and I hope other people are the same way. I really love it when somebody tells me that something seems so crazy that they wonder if it's real. A nice thing about the internet is ? you can go see for yourself."

For example, one of Abrahams' favorite experiments involves a man who was fitted with special glasses that made him see everything upside down. At first, the man could barely walk. When given a teacup, he turned it upside down to receive his beverage (not hot tea, fortunately). Ten days later, he had completely adjusted and was riding a bike with no difficulty at all. If that sounds improbable, you can take a look for yourself on YouTube, where someone has posted a film of the decades-old experiment.

Though Abrahams pokes fun at many of the studies he features, he says no one should think he's in the business of "trashing science or individual scientists." Quite the contrary ?? as evidenced by the Nobel winners and other scientists in good standing who show up for his prize ceremonies, readings and other events. The turnout is good evidence, he says, that scientists not only have good senses of humor but are actual human beings (growing ears and all).

Abrahams' U.S. book tour this fall will feature "dramatic readings" ?? by scientists, journalists and others ?? from some of his favorite studies. The first is at Harvard Book Store in Cambridge at 7 p.m. ET on Sept. 5.

The 24th annual Ig Nobel Prizes (with a food theme) will be live-cast from Harvard University on Sept. 18 at 6 p.m. ET.



Copyright 2014USAToday

Read the original story: 'Improbable' studies may make you laugh and think

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