Select Page

A new reason to swear, a synopsis of science communication, the negative effects of positive affirmations, and a 400 million year old penis. There is certainly plenty to write about at the moment, and I just couldn’t pick between them! So here’s a little bit of everything, an antipasto, if you will.

Menu Item 1. For the psychologist

Swearing increases pain tolerance, according to a study being published in next month’s NeuroReport. A group of students picked a few choice swear words and a few words to describe a table, then plunged their hand in icewater to see how long they could take it. First they tried it saying swear words, then they tried again saying the table words and, lo and behold, they could take the pain longer when they were letting rip. I can see a problem with the method straight out – if you’re putting your hand in icewater twice, surely you wouldn’t be able to take the pain as long the second time around, right? Did they do a control where one group just said table words both times? Did half the group say swear words first and the other half say table words first? Were both words said at the same volume? I don’t have access to the full article, so I don’t know – maybe the method is more sound than it appears… but really… I have my doubts. I want to see brain scans and further study before the media jumps to the conclusion that one should swear when in pain (the media, in typical fashion, have totally jumped there already.)

Menu Item 2. For the science communicator

Second tidbit for the day, I read a very interesting post by Sci at Neurotopia on the need to improve science communication, a topic near and dear to my heart. A lot of people out there have strange ideas about science… the one I most often hear is that something has been “PROVEN,” the word said with a great deal of awe, respect, and digging in of heels. I think it was Einstein who said “no amount of experimentation can ever prove me right; a single experiment can prove me wrong,” science isn’t about PROVING things, it’s about creating sound theories to fit the evidence. Another one is that scientific discoveries happen at lightspeed, from an idea to clinical trials to a pharmacy near you in about a month. That stuff takes five years, at least, if everything goes right, and it rarely does.

Menu Item 3. For the psychologist (again)

Then there’s this one… positive affirmations may make you miserable. I was always told by family members (mostly mum) that positive affirmations would improve my self-esteem and happiness, without a doubt, say them five times over, three times a day, and tap your thyroid. It never really worked for me, and kinda made me feel like a loser actually… anyway, an interesting bit of research, but again, probably needs a bit more evidence before we can go leaping at those conclusions…

Menu Item 4. For the penisologist

Last but not least, Australian paleaontologists have found the world’s oldest penis-like structure, 400 million years old, it was found in a placoderm (a kind of armoured fish) and resembles a clasper “with a knobbly end,” which is similar to what sharks use to get it on. In the words of Dr Kate Trinajistic, “we were surprised because it’s so big. We were expecting something smaller.”

Bigger than expected, what a pleasant surprise! Cheers to bite-sized science!