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Funny Theses: Answers to Questions Nobody Asked

13th November 2016 Posted by: Francesca Turauskis

OSCAR Wilde once said that “you can never be overdressed or overeducated.” Whilst we might argue that all of us have felt overdressed at some point in our lives, it would be hard to argue you could be overeducated. (And if someone were overeducated it would be hard to argue with them!) Having said that, with the amount of dissertations, doctorates, theses and papers being proposed and completed each year, there is undoubtedly an unfathomable wealth of knowledge and education out there. And in the search for new knowledge and information, some areas of research can become quite obscure. We’ve found some strange research papers that answer questions nobody else ever thought to ask.  

Which Flea can Jump Higher?

Most of us don’t like to think about fleas very much – the mere mention of them is making me start to scratch! But they can be quite interesting creatures: they have featured in the love poetry of John Donne, are a possible biological weapon and have entertained audiences in circuses. But they are perhaps most famous for their amazing ability to jump.

Researchers at the Ecole Nationale Vétérinaire de Toulouse, France, decided that flea jumping deserved closer attention, and they decided to compare two of the over 2500 species of flea to see which could jump higher. Their paper “A comparison of jump performances of the dog flea, Ctenocephalides canis, and the cat flea, Ctenocephalides felis felis,” found the dog flea to the better acrobat. The paper won the 2008 Ig Nobel Prize for biology – the Ig Nobel Prizes being awards that recognize the feats of those who “make people laugh… and then think.”

Do woodpeckers get headaches?

Imagine being a woodpecker for a moment. You have a very hard beaky weapon at the front of you face, and you decide to peck it into a solid tree up to 20 times a second, 12,000 times a day. The hammering noise alone is enough to give anyone a headache, but really, you would end up with a bleeding nose, brain damage and possibly detached retinas. How do woodpeckers do it?

An ophthalmologist from the University of California, called Ivan Schwab, published “Cure for a headache” in the British Journal of Ophthalmology in 2002. Apparently, woodpeckers have very broad and squishy skulls that distribute the pressure. Plus they have a “relatively small” brain, which possibly means they just don’t feel the pain.

How Much Pressure is Behind Penguin Poop?

We all know you shouldn’t poop where you eat, but this can especially tricky for animals like penguins. When rearing their young, penguins propel their faeces outside of the nest to avoid making a mess inside. Some scientific minds noted that the power behind such projectile pooping would have to be vastly greater that other birds, whose nests are above ground.

A 2003 study entitled “Pressures produced when penguins pooh – calculations on avian defecation” used the thickness and distance that the bodily waste travelled to calculate the pressures needed for penguins to eject their faeces. The paper’s abstract concluded that “the forces involved do not lead to an energetically wasteful turbulent flow.” However, “[w]hether a bird chooses the direction into which it decides to expel its faeces, and what role the wind plays in this, remain unknown.”

Could Unicorns Really Exist?

Ok, so I have asked this one myself. When such strange creatures as the narwhal, the platypus and the pink fairy armadillo actually do exist, are unicorns really impossible? Well, a philosophy student at Kings College London decided to ask that question. Rachael Patterson’s undergraduate dissertation entitled “The Possibility of Unicorns: Kripke v Dummett,” referenced theories by British philosopher Michael Dummett and American logician and philosopher Saul Kripke. Unfortunately, it turns out that even theoretically, unicorns don’t exist.

How Much Would it Cost to Build a Death Star?

Whilst most of the questions here address the strange world of nature (even if it is imagined nature like unicorns) this one takes a look at the world of machines (even if it is an imagined machine). There are probably very few people who watched the original Star Wars film who thought about the logistics of a fully functional Death Star.  But a scientific look at the theory of a Death Star has done just that. A paper, called It's a Trap: Emperor Palpatine's Poison Pill, took into account research and development, construction, materials – although no labour, as we can assume the workers were not paid a living wage. The paper proved that a Death Star would cost around $419 quintillion (that’s eighteen zeros) to create. Thankfully, no-one has that much money, not even Donald Trump.

Why Are LOLCats so popular?

LOLCats, put simply, are cat pictures with funny captions that make you laugh out loud (lol). From a simple online amusement to social media marketing LOLCats are big business. This might explain why it was of a masters dissertation at the London School of Economics that looked at the memes from an academic prospective. “SRSLY PHENOMENAL: An Investigation Into The Appeal Of LOLCATS,” was written by Kate Miltner to try and explain why LOLCats are so popular. She found that, far from being trivial, they are an emotional outlet, a platform for creativity and a way of connecting meaningful with others across the internet. Cats are a common ground that basically everyone loves!

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