Humanity’s relentless pursuit of knowledge has, over the years, brought countless benefits to society. It has also provided us with a host of bizarre scientific findings and obscure facts.
In this Spotlight, we cover some of the more left-field scientific studies to have graced the highly illustrious pages of peer-reviewed journals.
We will cover research that spans a broad range of topics, including penguins, blinking, dog poop, and lawnmowers.
Although the article is relatively light-hearted, it certainly provides some food for thought.
We hope that you will be left feeling inspired, enlightened, and perhaps amused.
In science, no stone should be left unturned; you never know what might be hiding underneath.
What weighs more: 1 pound of lead or 1 pound of feathers? This classic trick question might have a slightly illogical “true” answer.
Of course, empirically, a pound of lead and a pound of feathers weigh the same amount. But when this is put to the test with unsuspecting human subjects, things get a little more confusing.
In a 2007 study, participants were blindfolded and asked to lift two unmarked boxes of identical size, shape, and mass. One of the boxes contained a pound of lead and the other a pound of feathers. The participants were not informed of what was in either box.
Surprisingly, more often than chance, the participants reported that the box containing lead was heavier.
In 2017, an 820-foot-long, 143-ton, solid blockage was found in the sewers beneath London in the United Kingdom. It comprised cooking grease, diapers, sanitary towels, and other things that had found their way into the toilets of city.
This monster “fatberg” went viral as one of the most disgusting things the world has ever seen, but — thanks to science — the fatberg is now destined for greater things.
After chipping the fatberg into blocks, scientists realized that if the oils and fat were separated from the other waste, they could be converted into a relatively clean type of fuel called biodiesel.
This was enough to convince U.K. water supplier Thames Water; they issued a statement revealing that this was exactly what they planned to do with the fatberg. They concluded that there was enough biodiesel locked within it to run 350 London buses for a day.
At least one scientific study has calculated the pressure at which penguins poop. The chinstrap and Adélie penguin species are thought to expel watery poop at about 10 kilopascals (kPa), and oily poop at about 60 kPa, in case you were wondering.
The authors conclude:
“The forces involved, lying well above those known for humans, are high, but do not lead to an energetically wasteful turbulent flow.”
In 1994, researchers found that women who take birth control pills blink more often than women who do not. Quite a lot more, actually; on average, the study found, women on birth control pills blink about 32 percent more than women not using this method of contraception.
Although this appears to be a strange side effect, it is worth noting that — according to Alexandra Pope and Jane Bennett’s 2008 book The Pill: Are you sure it’s for you? — birth control pills affect more than 150 of the body’s biological functions. Some of these changes, the authors note, are drastic, while others barely register.
Other studies have found a link between the use of birth control pills and eye health. For instance, a 2013 study revealed that women who have used birth control pills for 3 years or more could be twice as likely to develop glaucoma compared with women who have not used this type of contraception.
The abstract to this highly unusual 1990 study reads, “A 60-year-old man with acute pancreatitis developed persistent hiccups after insertion of a nasogastric tube. Removal of the latter did not terminate the hiccups, which had also been treated with different drugs, and several maneuvers were attempted, but with no success.”
“Digital rectal massage was then performed resulting in abrupt cessation of the hiccups. Recurrence of the hiccups occurred several hours later, and again, they were terminated immediately with digital rectal massage.”
“No other recurrences were observed. This is the second reported case associating cessation of intractable hiccups with digital rectal massage.”
“We suggest that this maneuver should be considered in cases of intractable hiccups before proceeding with pharmacological agents.”
In plain English: the doctor cured the man’s hiccups by putting a finger up his butt.
A 1988 study analyzed accidental injury data from the previous 10 years; specifically, the scientists were interested in lawnmower-related injuries.
They found that these machines were to blame for around 70,000 injuries in the United States each year, with around 5 percent of these (3,300) affecting the eyes.
You may be wondering what people were doing with their mowers in the late ’70s and early ’80s. In fact, the problem seems to have gotten worse since then.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission had to issue a warning in the late ’90s, stating that 230,000 people were being hospitalized per year with mower-related injuries.
Worse, the statement announced that 75 people were killed each year by mowers, and that 1 out of every 5 deaths involved a child.
Encouragingly, this trend in mower injuries seems to have reversed over the decades. A 2018 study looked at U.S. emergency department data from 2005–2015 and reported an average of 84,944 mower-related injuries per year, with the most commonly affected body part being the hand or finger.
Several studies have found that the color of the pills we take can have a subliminal effect on how we think those medicines will work. Even if the pills themselves are nothing more than a placebo, their color scheme convinces our brain and body that we have taken an active compound.
If you are wondering how this translates, studies have found that people perceive:
blue pills to be sedatives
red and orange pills to be stimulants
yellow pills to be antidepressants
pills in bright colors, with embossed brand names, or both to be stronger
In other words, we are highly suggestible, and the placebo effect is strong and highly complicated in nature.
In laboratory conditions that simulated a 6-hour time zone change, hamsters that received a single dose of Viagra were found to adjust up to 50 percent quicker than hamsters that did not receive Viagra.
Because the drug appeared to have such a powerful effect in the hamsters, the researchers speculated that Viagra might have useful applications in treating jet lag in humans.
In 2013, researchers discovered that when dogs poop, they naturally align themselves so that they are facing either north or south. This was also true for urinating, except in male dogs, who do not really seem to care which direction they face.
The study authors concluded that dogs behave in this way because they are sensitive to Earth’s magnetic field.
Other animals sensitive to Earth’s magnetic field include cows and deer (who graze along the north-south axis), and birds, fish, and whales (who use the magnetic field to navigate).
If you find all of this a bit unbelievable, why not take a compass out with you the next time your dog needs the bathroom and make a record of your findings?
We hope that you enjoyed this brief waltz through some of the odder realms of scientific research. If you stumble across anything unusual, don’t hesitate to get in touch.