Maths gets funny

March 31, 2011 at 9:45 am | Posted in Science Lite | Leave a comment
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Maths gets funnyOr should that be the other way around?

A new theory has suggested an equation for identifying the cause and level of our response to something funny:

h = m x s

The pleasure we get (h) is equal to the degree of misinformation perceived (m) multiplied by the extent to which we are susceptible to taking it seriously (s).

Alastair Clarke argues that humans are reliant on inherited information for behaviour instruction – the accuracy of which is of upmost important. However, our survival depends on whether we can pick apart the information received to ensure we don’t succumb to error and deception.

Every time we laugh, we have successfully pulled the received information apart and rejected those parts that could be harmful.

“I’m not attempting to claim that we each engage in an algebraic equation before we find something funny,” said Clarke, “But that this schematic description reflects the instantaneous reactions of the brain to potentially dangerous misinformation.”

So that it – maths is funny and apparently can be used to explain humour and why we laugh. Wonder if it can explain why we laugh at things we shouldn’t?


Yuri Gagarin – 50 years on

March 30, 2011 at 7:53 am | Posted in Competition, Events, Read | 1 Comment
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On 12 April 1961, Yuri Gagarin made the first human flight in space – this year marks the 50th anniversary of his flight and to celebrate are aiming to get as many people as possible to ‘launch’ a rocket at 12 noon on 12th April.

They’ve got instructions on how to make an air-powered rocket here. The National Space Centre is also joining the initiative and their site has instructional videos to make a blow rocket and fizzy flyer – so there really is no excuse for not joining in with the fun. contains lots of fascinating information about the Russian astronaut, his space flight and his visit to the UK in 1961 and pulls together other people’s memories of the day.

In celebration, Vix Southgate has also written and illustrated a comic-book style book detailing the flight as it happened. More information and a preview of the book – plus teacher/parent resources – are available at

Vix has been lovely enough to offer a copy of her book as a prize for one lucky reader – to be in with a chance to win, just email your name, address, institution or organisation to – as ever first out of the hat wins!

I’m not fat – just big-boned

March 29, 2011 at 12:36 pm | Posted in Editorial Comment | Leave a comment
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Researchers found that the femur of heavier individuals have a wider shaft (Credit Dr Ann Ross, North Carolina State University)

“I’m not fat I’m just big-boned”- its an excuse we’ve all heard from overweight people ever since Eric Cartman used it in South Park, but it turns out there might be some truth in it!

Research from North Carolina State University has found that overweight people do in fact have bigger bones. The heavier an individual, the wider the shaft of that person’s femur. Researchers believe this is because it has to bear more weight – obvious perhaps – but also because overweight people move and walk differently to compensate for their greater mass.

The research – which used the bones of 121 white men to eliminate variation that could be attributed to race or gender – could give forensic scientists an insight into whether the person was overweight but can’t actually give an exact weight.

So it turns out Cartman might really be big-boned – who’d have thought.

So Much for That

March 28, 2011 at 9:05 am | Posted in Competition, Read | Leave a comment
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So Much for ThatShepherd Knacker has been saving for his retirements escape route – a one-way ticket to Tanzania – all his working life, so when the time comes he sells his business and thinks about packing up. His wife Glynis seems reluctant to go, but Shep announces he’s jetting off – with or without her.

That is of course, until Glynis makes her own announcement – she has an extremely rare and aggressive form of cancer and needs his health insurance. But as it only covers part of the exorbitant medical costs, Shep eats-away at his retirement nest egg. The couple soon face bankruptcy and they are forced to answer most uncomfortable question – how much is one life worth?

So Much for That deals with the harrowing and frightening prospect of terminal illness and death, and the value of life and beliefs. Interestingly it is based in America where the health system differs greatly to our own and details the struggle many face with escalating health care bills which Shriver deals with sensitively.

It might sound like a depressing subject, but there are some lighter moments too, as you connect with the characters as they struggle to cope with daily life in their own unique way.

We’ve got two copies of So Much for That by Lionel Shriver to give away – to be in with a chance of winning just send your name, address and organisation/institution to or tweet @laboratorynews #somuchforthat

It’s Climate Week

March 23, 2011 at 10:05 am | Posted in Events | Leave a comment
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It’s Climate Week – the week we should be spending thinking about how to save our planet and encouraging people to think about climate change. It coincides with Earth Hour on Saturday – between 8.30-9.30pm, everyone is encouraged to switch of their lights and sit in the dark for an hour!

The focus of Climate Week is on how we can combat climate change, and will include events all around the country to focus attention on the challenges of climate change, highlight the solutions and create chances to share ideas and inspire action. It’s even got support from likes of Tesco, Aviva and EDF Energy.

We want to know what you’ve got planned? Al Murray is hosting a pub quiz, Blue Peter is going green and we can all purchase a Climate Week t-shirt. Leave us a comment and let us know what you, your lab or organisation, or your community plan to do for Climate Week.

For more information visit:

Climate Week:
Earth Hour:

Clichéd men and political eyes

March 21, 2011 at 12:39 pm | Posted in Editorial Comment, Science Lite | Leave a comment
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It all looks very cosy - but watch out for their eyes - it is a dead giveaway

It all looks very cosy - but watch out for their eyes - it is a dead giveaway

Obvious men
Here on the science Lite desk, we love pointless research but sometimes the results are just so obvious we wonder why the study was ever conducted in the first place.

Take for example this study – recently published in Personality and Individual Differences – which found men are more likely to stick with girlfriends who sleep with other women, rather than other men.

The research – from a psychologist at the University of Texas – found that men were twice as likely to continue dating a girlfriend if they had had a homosexual affair, whereas women were more likely to stick with their partner if they’d had a heterosexual affair.

Now, at this point we joked that if a follow up study was conducted examining the willingness of the women who had engaged in a homosexual affair to include the man in their indiscretions then the male’s propensity to forgive their partner really would skyrocket.

Yet the study’s lead author – Jaime C. Confer – actually suggests this as a reason for the difference. Guys, he thinks, are worried that their girl will get something better from another guy, and threaten the continuation of their genetic linage. But at the same time, a guy whose girl has cheated with another female is likely to see it as an opportunity to mate with more than one woman at a time and satisfy their desire for more partners, say the researchers.

Typical – a woman cheats, yet the man’s mind immediately arrives at the conclusion that perhaps he could be getting in on the action. How disappointing that there is actual quantifiable evidence that men so overtly think with their reproductive organs. Yet, is it simplistic to write men off as behaving like they are appearing in the latest Hollywood frat movie? Perhaps this is just a case of looking on the bright side? After discovering their girl has cheated with another woman, men realise that there is no point crying over spilt milk and they may as well have a stab at furthering their genetic lineage.

Men – scientifically proven to be predictable, clichéd and yet also eternal optimists.

Liberal gaze
As Cameron and Clegg clumsily navigate their way through yet another lovers tiff, this time over the national system of voting – research from the US suggests they may never see eye to eye, literally.

University of Nebraska-Lincoln researchers measured both liberals’ and conservatives’ reaction to “gaze cues” – a person’s tendency to shift attention in a direction consistent with another person’s eye movements, even if it’s irrelevant to their current task – and found big differences between the two groups.

Liberals responded strongly to the prompts, consistently moving their attention in the direction suggested to them by a face on a computer screen. Those stubborn conservatives, on the other hand, did not. Perhaps Cameron should take advantage of this, gently guiding Clegg’s gaze by constantly looking at a board saying “Agree with me at all costs my pesky little deputy.”

But surely your political outlook doesn’t stem from your biology? We have always been of the opinion that upbringing is the main factor in your political make-up. One Science Lite staffer, for example, was raised exclusively on the Daily Mail, and now in a classic ‘rebel against my parents’ move has developed into the wishiest of washiest liberals.

Yet, In addition to shedding light on the differences between the two political camps, the researchers claim results add to growing indications that suggest biology does indeed play an important role determining one’s political direction. In fact, previous UNL research has delved into the physiology of political orientation, showing that those highly responsive to threatening images are likely to support defence spending, capital punishment, patriotism and the Iraq War.

What, exactly, the world is to make of this we are not sure. Perhaps those in the Liberal party that have been disappointed by Clegg’s adhesion to Conservative policy may like to check the Liberal credentials of their next party leader by seriously examining their gaze.

Get your brain working…

March 17, 2011 at 9:24 am | Posted in Do | Leave a comment
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Its time for the Royal Institution Science Quiz Night – from the history of science, to the latest research, to subjects that have seemingly nothing scientific about them, test your knowledge again the best. Hosted by Matt Brown Editor of Londonist and Nature Network London and Martin Davies of the Royal Institution.

More information:

Monday 21 March 7.00pm | Time & Space Bar £2 per person entry

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