Gaia 2024

has the last word...

SF & science oddities, gossip, exotica and whimsy from the past year to Easter 2024


The 2023 IgNobels have been presented.  The Ig Nobel Prizes honour achievements that make people laugh, and then think. The prizes are intended to celebrate the unusual, honour the imaginative -- and spur people’s interest in science, medicine, and technology.  Each winning team was given a cash prize — of a 10 trillion dollar bill from Zimbabwe.

  • CHEMISTRY and GEOLOGY PRIZE: Jan Zalasiewicz, for explaining why many scientists like to lick rocks.
  • LITERATURE PRIZE: Chris Moulin, Nicole Bell, Merita Turunen, Arina Baharin, and Akira O’Connor for studying the sensations people feel when they repeat a single word many, many, many, many, many, many, many times.
  • MECHANICAL ENGINEERING PRIZE: Te Faye Yap, Zhen Liu, Anoop Rajappan, Trevor Shimokusu, and Daniel Preston, for re-animating dead spiders to use as mechanical gripping tools.
  • PUBLIC HEALTH PRIZE: Seung-min Park, for inventing the Stanford Toilet, a device that uses a variety of technologies — including a urinalysis dipstick test strip, a computer vision system for defecation analysis, an anal-print sensor paired with an identification camera, and a telecommunications link -- to monitor and quickly analyze the substances that humans excrete.
  • COMMUNICATION PRIZE: María José Torres-Prioris, Diana López-Barroso, Estela Camara, Sol Fittipaldi, Lucas Sedeno, Agustín Ibáñez, Marcelo Berthier, and Adolfo García, for studying the mental activities of people who are expert at speaking backward.
  • MEDICINE PRIZE: Christine Pham, Bobak Hedayati, Kiana Hashemi, Ella Csuka, Tiana Mamaghani, Margit Juhasz, Jamie Wikenheiser, and Natasha Mesinkovska, for using cadavers to explore whether there is an equal number of hairs in each of a person’s two nostrils.
  • NUTRITION PRIZE: Homei Miyashita and Hiromi Nakamura, for experiments to determine how electrified chopsticks and drinking straws can change the taste of food.
  • EDUCATION PRIZE: Katy Tam, Cyanea Poon, Victoria Hui, Wijnand van Tilburg, Christy Wong, Vivian Kwong, Gigi Yuen, and Christian Chan, for methodically studying the boredom of teachers and students.
  • PSYCHOLOGY PRIZE: Stanley Milgram, Leonard Bickman, and Lawrence Berkowitz for experiments on a city street to see how many passersby stop to look upward when they see strangers looking upward.
  • PHYSICS PRIZE: Bieito Fernández Castro, Marian Peña, Enrique Nogueira, Miguel Gilcoto, Esperanza Broullón, Antonio Comesaña, Damien Bouffard, Alberto C. Naveira Garabato, and Beatriz Mouriño-Carballido, for measuring the extent to which ocean-water mixing is affected by the sexual activity of anchovies.

Of all the people to acquire the British horror -- Dracula etc -- studios Hammer it had to be someone called 'Gore', John Gore, the 20-time Tony, Emmy and Olivier-winning entertainment producer.

Arizona has announced that Pluto is its 'official planet'.  What tickled Gaia was the news that stated that "What makes Pluto unique and ripe for claim by Arizona is that it is the only planet actually discovered in the United States..." and there was Gaia thinking that it was located in the outer reaches of the Solar System...

"Important changes to services" shouts the front of an envelope from British Telecom.  BT sent out what must be millions of these to its customers including Gaia (who really is that well connected).  To emphasise this, the word 'important' was in red and the whole phrase in a bold font...  Golly, gosh, what could this important news be?  Gaia opened the letter whose large, again bold-fonted subject line stated: "Your BT Basic prices aren't increasing this year".  So, apparently keeping prices the same is an important change. You couldn't make it up.  Meanwhile, Gaia invites BT shareholders t estimate the cost of sending this vital message out to its customers...

Doctor Who fans get all in a tiz about the 2024 season launch, but actually it is because they do not understand time-whimey measurement.  Whovians got all upset when it was announced that the season premieres on BBC iPlayer in the UK 11th May and Disney+ 10th May. How dare Johnny foreigner get Doctor Who before us Brits. However, what many Who fans did not realise was the the British launch on Saturday 11th May (incidentally, Eurovision day) -- that's the Friday/Saturday midnight -- is the same as 19.00 New York Eastern Time 10th May, 16.00 Los Angeles Pacific Time 10th May, 1 AM Paris/Berlin/Rome 11tth May, and 9AM Sydney Australian Eastern Time. It is all to do with the Earth being a sphere with time zones... Yes, Gaia is aware that, for some following the adventures of a time lord, it can be a bit confusing.... (FYI.  The terrestrial BBC 1 broadcast takes place in the evening for Brit Cit fans and Emerald Murphyville fans can stream it on RTE Player.)

Doctor Who fans get all in a tiz about the 2024 season launch. How dare Johnny foreigner in N. America get to stream it at a sensible time of 7pm whereas BritCit fans get it at the more unsociable, midnight, time...  All of which for Gaia means that while you can please some Who fans some of the time, you cannot please all Who fans all of the time...

A budgie trapped in Britain's National Space Centre was dubbed 'Budge Lightyear'.  It was named after the character from the Toy Story films. The Royal Society for the Protection from Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) took him to an animal rescue centre in Leicestershire. There he awaited to have his owners traced: Budge Lightyear was ringed, but his owners details had not been logged.

Viagra reduces the risk of getting Alzheimer's a study reveals!  A few things happen as you age, one is that men lose their prowess in bed; another is the risk of dementia.  A small collaboration of researchers, primarily from Britain and the US, looked at 269,725 men with erecti1e issues of which 1,119 were newly diagnosed with varying Alzheimer's over half a decade.  They found that taking Viagra reduced the risk by almost 18% Alzheimer's, and reduced risk by around 35% for those who were at risk of severe Alzheimer's.  Sadly the benefit decrease with time. Nonetheless the effect is real and of value.  The mechanism is thought to be that Viagra helps blood circulation in the brain.  It should be noted that while this study looked at men, there is nothing wrong with women having this treatment.  (See  Adesuyan, M. et al (2024) Phosphodiesterase Type 5 Inhibitors in Men With Erecti1e Dysfunction and the Risk of Alzheimer Disease. Neurology, vol. 102 (4), e209180.)

New rival to Area 51 as a UFO hotspot... West Yorkshire!  The past three years, West Yorkshire Police have been flooded with thousands of reports of UFOs and aliens. Since 2020, the force has logged a whopping 1,805 cases where ' UFO ', 'alien', 'UAP' or 'spaceship' has appeared in their records. This averages out to 56 a month, more than 13 per week, or nearly two per day.  The police said: "To determine whether these incidents are related to believed sightings, we would need to review each incident in detail. At approximately two minutes per record, this would take over 60 hours. It has been estimated that the cost of providing this information is above the amount to which we are legally required to respond."

Which one stone holds the record for killing the most birds?  The YouTube channel PBS Eons provides the answer: the K/Pg (K/T) dinosaur extinction asteroid.

Is there an ideal male bum?  Yes there is according to a survey of over 2,000 conducted by plastic surgeons. Technically, the preferred lateral ratio in the anteroposterior was 1.18; the oblique angle between the sacrum, lateral gluteal depression, and point of maximal projection of the gluteal sulcus was 60 degrees; and the posterior ratio between the waist and maximal width of the hips was 0.66. In general a narrower behind was preferred that men and women favour a more projected male buttock with a more pronounced contour (African American and Asian and Latinx male respondents significantly more so) , but preferred a narrow width with defined lateral depression. It is suggested that the body mass index of respondents may influence their view of the ideal behind. (See Kolu, T. et al (2023) Defining the Ideal Male Buttocks. Plastic Reconstruction Surgery, vol. 152, 1030e.)

Humans have always kissed, an anthropology review in the journal Science concludes!  Evidence for humans kissing has continually been pushed back in time and, with a discovery of a Bronze Age manuscript deriving from South Asia (India), it had tentatively dated to 1500BC. But German archaeologists knew better and in the German academic archaeological literature noted back in 1980 that Sumerian cuneiform script on clay tablets from 3200BC saw kissing described in relation to erotic acts. It had in Anglo-America science circles been hypotehsised that kissing among humans was a comparatively recent phenomena. But given that certain pathogens (such as the herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1) and the Epstein-Barr virus) that transmit orally provide genomic evidence that kissing has been with us for thousands of years, it may well have been with us since our species evolved. Indeed, kissing is also seen in other Hominidae family of species such as bonobos (Pan paniscus).  (Arboll, T. P. & Rasmussen, P. L. (2023) The ancient history of kissing. Science, vol. 380, p689-690.)

It's not just humans who get the munchies -- nematode worms do too!  The ability of cannabis to increase food consumption has been known for centuries and not just to members of the SF&DA.  Now, research by neuroscientists at the University of Oregon has shown that the nematode worm, C. elegans, also gets the munchies. Their findings reveal a surprising degree of functional conservation in the effects of cannabis on pleasure feeding across species. (See  Levichev, A. et al. (2023) The conserved endocannabinoid anandamide modulates olfactory sensitivity to induce hedonic feeding in C. elegans. Current Biology, vol. 33, 1-15.)

Which brings us neatly on to our never-changing end-of-Gaia column regular…

The 2024 Diagram Prize for the oddest book title of the year shortlist and winner have been announced. The shortlist for the 2024 award works included:-
      - The 12 Days of Christmas: The Outlaw Carol that Wouldn’t Die
      - Backvalley Ferrets: A Rewilding of the Colorado Plateau
      - Danger Sound Klaxon! The Horn That Changed History
      - Dry Humping: A Guide to Dating, Relating, and Hooking Up Without the Booze
      - I Fart in your General Direction: Flatulence in Popular Culture
      - The Queerness of Water: Troubled Ecologies in the Eighteenth Century

          And the winner… Danger Sound Klaxon! The Horn That Changed History  by Matthew F. Jordan. It charts the “meteoric rise and eventual fall” of the klaxon automobile horn.

You can check out Gaia's previous Diagram Prize news reported in earlier Gaia columns includes that from: 2022, 2021, 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007 and 2006.

See you in 2025 with more sciencey whimsicality and SF frivolity.

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