Every year the BMJ (formerly British Medical Journal) publishes a Christmas issue full of scientifically rigorous yet light-hearted research in medicine. Highlights from this year include a study that investigates whether pride really comes before a fall, and an article discussing associations between pet ownership and markers of ageing. These appear highly satirical on the surface, but provide important insights along the way: falls and the resulting injuries do affect large numbers of older adults, for example (See the Myth Debunked section for more).

A similar philosophy underpins the Ig Nobel Prizes, which have been awarded since 1991 as parody versions of the famous Nobel awards. They celebrate imagination and aim to reward “research that makes people laugh and then think”. The introduction of these very alternative accolades has been well received by the scientific community, with Ig Nobel prizes given out by genuine Nobel laureates during a ceremony held at Harvard University.

An important goal of such initiatives is to spur interest in science and reach different target audiences. Many studies have explored the benefits of communicating through humour, and events to make science more fun, such as themed stand-up comedy shows, are increasingly widespread. In this way, studies that are featured in the BMJ Christmas Edition or win an Ig Nobel Prize serve a purpose beyond their immediate results.

Sometimes the research itself can have important applications as well, however.

A study that was awarded the Biology Ig Nobel in 2006 concluded that a particular mosquito which can transmit malaria is equally attracted to the smell of human feet and Limburger cheese. As a result, this cheese is now used in traps in some parts of Africa to try and contain the spread of malaria.

Before the new year gets into full swing, make sure to delve deeper into some of these fun science initiatives - even if you do not manage to develop them into useful applications, they promise to provide entertaining stories for the New Year’s Eve party ahead!

Sound bites

• The world’s oldest algae fossils are a billion years old, according to a new analysis by earth scientists. Based on this finding, the researchers also estimate that the basis for photosynthesis in today’s plants was set in place 1.25 billion years ago. Maybe the ‘Boring Billion’ wasn’t so boring, after all.


• Researchers develop a finely-tuned enzyme-driven crosslinking method to glue together biological ink droplets and extend the range of cell types that can be handled by inkjet bioprinting. Such printing holds strong promise for regenerative medicine, such as in use of iPS cells.


For more science news, listen to Radio Mocha on Radju Malta every Saturday at 11.05am.

Did you know?

• The number of pets a person has is not a marker of ageing, a recent study found.

• The full moon has recently been shown to be associated with an increased risk of motorcycle accidents.

• There is no relationship between rainfall and patients reporting joint or back pain, a study concluded.

• Everyone has a different baseline body temperature and these can be linked to future good health, or otherwise.

For more trivia see: www.um.edu.mt/think

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