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December 7, 2021 45 mins

Once more, Robert and Joe consult the winners of the Ig-Nobel Prizes for a few examples of the hilarious and the weird from the world of legitimate scientific research.

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Speaker 1 (00:03):
Welcome to Stuff to Blow Your Mind production of My
Heart Radio. Hey, welcome to Stuff to Blow Your Mind.
My name is Robert Lamb and I'm Joe McCormick, and
we're back with part two of this year's talk about
the ig Nobel Prize winners. If you haven't heard part one,

you can go back and check that one out. First,
long story short, we're talking about the ig Nobel Prizes
again this year. We're not going to cover every prize,
but just pick out a few of the highlights that
we wanted to discuss. And Rob I think you're going
to kick us off today with the Biology Prize if
I'm not wrong, Yes, this is the Biology Prize. It
went to Suzanne Shots Robert Ecklund and used fond of

aga for analyzing variations in purring, chirping, chattering, trilling, tweeting, murmuring,
me owing, moaning, squeaking, hissing, yowling, howling, growling, and other
modes of cat human communication. Those are all cat human communication. Yeah, yeah,
so this is so one the couple of questions I

tend to ask myself about any Ignoble prize winning study
or paper right up, is first of all, why is
it funny? And then then secondly, why is it important?
Why does it matter? And of course it's pretty obvious
why this one. It's funny. It's cats. Anything cats do
has the potential to be hilarious because they are. They
are amusing, They are are strange fur babies, are are

the weird desert goblins that live in so many of
our houses or haunt our yards. I think in many ways,
cats are funny, almost exactly to the extent that they
appear to take themselves very seriously. Yeah, well so they
that's true. But they're also some very silly looking cats.
But yeah, they they do often have this kind of
serious demeanor and they it's easy too for us to

apply human motivations to their behavior and thinking, oh, well,
they're they're covering for a mistake here, they're they're they're
trying to, uh, you know, uphold their dignity. Uh. There's
a lot we can read into the behaviors of cats,
but the the actual scenario with cat, I mean, any
human domestication of another animal species is inherently interesting. That

the cat model may be one of the most interesting
of all because it is this kind of at times
arguably a self domestication. It's this uh this interesting um
you know, um balance that is struck between what the
cat wants and what the human wants. Um. And you
know so many of us live that every day, that

that uneasy truce with the feline kind. You're always wondering
if your cat really respects you. This is less a
problem for dog owners. Oh I don't know. I mean
I I never wonder and I know my cat doesn't
respect me. It's but but well we'll get into that.
So this this uh, this study or actually it's really
a series of studies. Um. You know, they deal with

the vocalization of cats. And uh, if if you're not
that familiar with cats, if you're not around the much,
you might be surprised by this because cats are often
pretty quiet. Um, they can be very quiet, very stealthy.
And while the meal is the most famous cat noise
and one that is sometimes treated it as kind of
kind of a monolithic vocalization, there's actually quite a diversity

to the sounds you're liable to hear come out of
a cat if you listen enough. So everyone everyone's cat
is different. I mean cats have have can have amazingly
different personalities but concerning my own current cat, Mochi, here
are some of her most common utterances, so that I
might mention these before getting into some of the researchers findings.

So first of all, uh, there's there is of course purring. Uh.
Mochi will do this while seated close to or on
a human uh, you know, whilst relaxing. There's also the
hiss she will generally she'll hiss in other situations, like
if she's surprised or something, but uh, straight antually enough,
she most commonly hisses after she has just randomly attacked

my foot. She'll be near my foot, she will like
play by my toe, and then she will recoil and
hiss at me like I did something. One of my
most vivid memories of a cat hissing is when I
was in college, a friend of mine called me to
come over and help deal with an incredibly large spider

discovered in the apartment, and the cat in the apartment
there was just was just hissing at it, just violently
hissing at a at a huge black spider. Interesting again,
cats are so so different than they have such such
an interesting personalities. I don't think I've ever heard my
cat hiss at a non human entity, but then again,

she's she's an indoor cat and it's kind of cut
off from most non human entities. My cat Mochi will
also do something that we affectionately refer to as the
midnight baby parade, sometimes not affectionately, depending on the circumstances.
But this is when she carries a toy or small
stuffed animal around the house, generally after we've all gone
to bed, and as a kind of repetitive, mournful howling

about it about you, like something about the toy has
made her sad. Now, based on some of the readings
I'll get into, um, I believe it is a communication
aimed at us, at us humans, uh, saying hey, I
have I have caught you something I have provided, I

have a treat for you, or and or I'm teaching
you how to hunt something to that effect. So um,
so it's not actually mournful. That's just our read of it.
It sounds kind of weird and pathetic, but see it is,
but it is a vocal communication of sorts. Finally, Mochi
will use what I think of as the bossy mew,
a kind of sharp, truncated meal that feels bossy and

is often administered when she is ready to be fed
and we're being too slow about it. Oh, from Charlie
in that same situation, we get the huffs where he
doesn't fully bark, but it's them. Yeah, yeah, I mean,
it's it's It's really remarkable when you when you think
about it, you know, all these these various communications that

are going on between us and these these non human
beings in our homes. Now, there are probably some other
sounds from Mochi that I'm forgetting, and there's still others
that our old cat would make, such as the chirping
at birds, which I'll definitely get into. But those are
the main ones that are in my life that I
carried into reading about this research. And and again, one

of the crazy things about all this is that we
can we can anthropomorphize our cats all day, but we're
left with with very real questions regarding what these sounds
are and what purpose they serve. And on top of that,
we're looking at it within the context of domesticated cohabitation
with human beings. Right, so are these sounds that are
naturally part of the part of the cat's behavioral repertoire

in their ancestral environment, or do they somehow emerge from
being domesticated and being partnered with humans. Yeah, so it
gets it gets very complicated. So um, the lead author
on I think all what five studies that were referenced
in the the Ignoble Prize being awarded here, the lead
author and all of them was Susan Shots. And if

you're interested in Shots's work, she actually has a book
aimed at general readers and cat owners titled The Secret
Language of Cats. Um, and I actually picked this up
and kind of focused on this more than the individual studies, uh.
In it, she details seventeen different cats sounds, and I'm
not going to go through all of them, but it's
fascinating how these include sounds that are targeted at seemingly

targeted at prey, but also targeted at other cats and
targeted at humans. Which ones are we closer to the
when they're talking to humans. Is it more like their
interactions with prey or more like other cats? It seems
to be like other cats. And I've I've read other
research that that that summarizes it, you know, in the
same way saying like, well, your cat basically thinks of

you as a giant cat, or your cat basically thinks
of you as a giant kitten, that sort of thing. So,
just rolling through some of the sounds here and what
shots have to say about them. For instance, purring, uh
is complex because while it is largely associated with with
the cat feeling content, you can also mean that the

cat is hungry, that it is pain, that the cat
is anxious, or that the cat is giving birth or dying.
Oh wow, well that's a range. Yeah. So she writes
that purring probably would translate in human language, and she
she does a lot of this, like like, if you
were to translate this into human language, what is the
cat saying? It probably means something like I am no threat,

or please leave everything as it is, or keep doing
Oh I can see that. Okay, So whether the cat
is happy with what's going on right now and doesn't
want to be disturbed, or is in a vulnerable state
of some kind and doesn't want to be disturbed, it's
basically just kind of like, hey, things are fine. Yeah.
Now I've heard that tidbit about the dying before, and

I was was having to think back where i'd heard it,
and I think I actually heard about it the first
time in a poem titled Purring by Coleman Barks, who
uh incidentally, I think we've brought up on the podcast before,
because in addition to being a poet of his own work,
he is also the the Roomy interpreter, who has sometimes

criticized for not being an actual translator in the true
sense of the word. He neither reads nor writes Persian,
but rather sort of rephrases the poems of roomi um
as English language poems. But anyway, the poem in question
is is rather good and has nothing to do with
the poetry of of of Roomy or Persia. It's all
about cat purring. And this is the key part. Quote

here is something I have never heard. A feline purrs
and two conditions when deeply content and when mortally wounded
to calm themselves reading for the death opening. Oh that's
kind of chilling. Yeah. I've aways found this part of
the poem very spot on regarding cats and death, because
I feel like Mochi if she gets too cold or

if she has some sort of health flare up, she
basically says to us, I must now settle down and
await the death opening, and we're usually like, no, there's
no there's no reason to just accept death. You should
maybe you should drink some water instead, You're probably dehydrated.
And she's like, no, I would prefer death. Oh yeah yeah.
So is is that in general that cats are likely

to have kind of strange relationships with water or is
that more specifically your cat? I mean, I've heard that.
You know, if you if you look back to where
cats come to us from, that you know they have
ties to desert environments where they wouldn't have access to
a lot of water. But you spend any amount of
time on the internet and you see that the cats
are kind of all over the place. There are cats

that habitually drink water from faucets and toilets, you know,
there are cats that that actually use their fountains. Uh.
And there then their households like ours, where I feel
like we have we put out various fountains and and
bowls of water as kind of a spiritual offering, so
that the idea of water is present. So in the end,

she gets I think all of her moisture through her
wet food, and otherwise I think she would just dry up. Strange, Now,
when it comes to the meals. Shots points out that
meals are very often about getting the attention of humans,
and there are really a whole suite of mews. Uh.
For instance, there's the mew, which is a very high
pitched meal probably generally something that translates as a call

to attention or help. And then outside of cat human relations,
this is also the sound a kitten makes to its mother.
So this is a situation where we're we're kind of
a giant cat mother to our cats, at least in
some circumstances. Oh, you can almost look at that as
a kind of counterpoint to the purring. So if the
purring is could sort of be understood as an expression

of no need to change what's going on, uh, the
meal could be a sort of request for change. Yeah.
The squeak, however, is like a shorter, truncated version of this.
And I think this is what Mochi is doing when
she is demanding to be fed. Uh. So um, so
it's it's not just a general call for attention or help,

but a specific one like hey, I am standing next
to the food bowl and there is no food. Now.
As for the hiss, uh, it's still confounds me. Because
uh in shots is writing here. She mostly writes that
it is exactly what it sounds like, a warning that
says enough, do not come any closer or I will
attack you. But again, Mochi regularly does this to me

after she bites me. Uh and and I should stress
after I do not retaliate. It's not like I I
come at her at that point then she has to
hiss at me. I'm just standing there, dumbfound at the
whole time. But but who knows. It's also a situation
where sometimes they hiss when they're startled. Um. I think
there are a lot of videos online of cats hissing

at cucumbers that have been secreted behind them, that sort
of thing. Oh, now, the chirp and the chatter. This,
this is where it gets really interesting. And now this
is something I don't see Mochi doing much. But I
had a former cat named Biscuit who would do this
a lot while watching birds. Um. I think if you've
certainly a lot of cat owners out there are people
that have been around cats, especially indoor cats, can relate

to this. You know, your cat is watching birds or
maybe even some rodents outside the window, and they're very
like drawn into it. They're they're they're enticed by they're
kind of hypnotized by the display, and then they kind
of they kind of go ch ch chat or a
church of church chirp kind of a sound, and kind
of kind of like moving their mouths in a weird way,

and it does seem like it's almost like they're trying
to talk to the bird. I don't know if I've
ever ever seen this happen. It's very interesting. And now
shots describes them as as quote these sounds as quote
a hunting instinct where the cat attempts to imitate the
calls of the prey or the killing bite for example,

when a bird or an insect catches the attention of
the cat. Wow, I feel like I need to look
up video of this. Yeah, it's either interpretation. I find
interesting because first of all, the idea of your cat
is sort of trying to speak to the prey or
to sound like it, and you know, they're trying to
speak to an its own tongue, Like that's inherently weird

and interesting. But also this idea that like they're literally
chomping at the bit to deliver a killing bite to
the neck of that organism out there. It's like, oh,
I can't get to you, but if I could, oh,
I would just right into your neck. Okay, Rob, I
take it back. I was totally wrong. I just looked
up a video of the chattering, and I have seen
this before. For some reason, I just didn't connect to

what you were saying. Yes, the the chat well, it's
like the chattering cinnabite almost. It's just the yeah, the
teeth going up and down and the little noise there.
I have seen this, and and it is it is
quite strange. I never knew what to make of it. Uh,
this is this is what shots also adds inner quote.
A cat who sees an unreachable bird chatters and imitates

a killing bite in a stereotypical way. The action could
serve as a means of stress relief. Some cats also
chatter as a means of protest, for example, when they
feel they have been mistreated by their humans, or when
they are annoyed. It's kind of like punching the air. Yeah,
it's kind of like, oh, I want to eat you
and I can't expression, which again especially makes sense for

indoor cats who are looking out through the glass at
a delicious bird. So anyway, if you want to dive
deeper into uh in the actual research. Again, the the
Ignoble Prize website has links to all of these all
five of these studies that are mentioned in the awards.
But I have to say, The Secret Language of Cats
Is is a very interesting book, very readable, and it's
not just about like you know, uh, direct one to

one sort of you know, translations. It's about like, what
are these strange creatures that we live with? Um, you know,
how are we supposed to think about them? Uh? And uh?
And she also shares some like personal experience with cats,
um about you know, her desire to have a cat
as a child and how she didn't get to have one,
but then later I believe as an adult that's when

cats actually entered her life and her home and uh
ended up being a part of her work. Bravo, thank you,
thank you. All right, Joe, what what do you have
for us next? Well? I figured, since in the last
episode I talked about people slamming their faces into each
other while colliding on a on a sidewalk, I should

continue the face slamming theme and UH and talk about
the Peace Prize, for which was given to Ethan Bisserah,
Stephen Nailway, and David Carrier quote for testing the hypothesis
that humans evolved beards to protect themselves from punches to
the face. This is fun because we've we've discussed David

Carrier's research on the show before, not only related to beards,
but to particularly remember the evolution of human fists and
the possible connection into punching. Right. So, yeah, Carrier has
got this research is part of an arc. Uh, and
we've talked about other parts of this arc on the
show before. Um So, David Carrier is a University of

Utah biologist and one of his big projects that seems
for a few years is the pursuit of a broader
theory of human evolution that places a big emphasis on
punching people in the face. Uh. Basically the idea that
much of the way that human bodies are today was
a result of pressure that arose from male fist fighting

and punching to the jaw. So before the beard thing,
yeah you mentioned there was he did a study about
human hands and try to argue that the current shape
of the human hand could be an adaptation for better
fist fighting. UM. I think the more common understanding is
that the primary evolutionary pressure on the morphology of the
human hand is that it was built for dexterity, for

gripping and manipulating object and little fine motor tasks. But
I think a lot of carriers research, if I remember
it correctly, and this is that it's also getting into
the fact that, yes, you need to do all that stuff,
but you also need to be able to deliver a
punch without robbing yourself of the ability to use that
fine dexterity later. Right, Yeah, So, in in support of

his broader argument, Carrier has done experiments to show back
with the example to hand. He did some research showing
that the shape of the human hand allows for the
formation of a tight fist. I think it's the form
that he calls the butt trest fist, where the thumb
is curled under to protect the fingers and tuck them
into the palm um. And this allows the fist to

serve as a club which can deliver heavy blows with
reduced risk of injury to the hand as compared to
a more open handed punch where the fingers and the
thumb are not curled tightly like that. And so I
want to say, this may be true that the human
hand happen to be good at forming a fist, and
I have no reason to doubt their findings that that

can help deliver blows with reduced risk of injury to
the hand, though I still think it wouldn't necessarily prove
that punching behaviors were were the main or even a
major part of what the hand evolved for, because I mean,
if you want to think about analogies, see if the
same logic holds up. Um, you could find that certain

characteristics of the human skull helped protect the brain during headbutting,
but that wouldn't necessarily prove that the need to deliver
headbuts was a decisive factor in shaping how human skulls
are today. So in the past, along these lines, I
think I've expressed some skepticism about the idea of of
carriers punching focused view of human evolution. I certainly don't

want to be dismissive. I just I just feel a
lot of doubts, like it raises a lot of questions
for me. One, I was trying if I maybe He's
addressed this somewhere, but I was trying to find if
there's actually even any evidence that closed fist punching is
a natural instinctual behavior in humans, as opposed to a
relatively rare modern convention that has to be learned and

enforced by social norms. Because like you you can go
if you read, um, you know, like boxing coaches and
people say, you know, they talk about how you like
have to learn how to make the right kind of
fist and if you don't, you could injure your hand.
So that's not something that people just do by instinct.
It's something that has to be taught. But but maybe
that has been addressed somewhere, And I want to be fair,

but I also just think about how, like you know,
you can obviously do even more damage in a fight
with less risk of injury to yourself by holding a
stick or a rock in your hand, uh than by
punching with a closed fist. Um. But you know, all
of those questions aside, I would of course remain open
minded too good evidence in this vein, even though I
got my doubts so uh. In this study, the authors

extend the the fist punch morephology question to beards, and
the question here would be why do human males tend
to grow beards. UM, So the evolutionary pressures driving sexual
dimorphism and facial hair are still up for debate, So
this is not in any way considered a settled question
that you know, it's perfectly good arena for people to

h to advance different hypotheses and try to test them.
I think the main hypotheses in this area in the
past have been based on social signaling, right, that beards
exist primarily to make some kind of impression on other
people in the minds of other humans, rather than to
serve any kind of mechanical function. So maybe beards are

supposed to make you more sexually attractive, though there is
some doubt about that one, because I think modern studies
do not find that women consistently find beards more attractive.
The prevalence of preferences for beards among heterosexual women tends
to be dependent on a lot factors on social context like.
For example, one thing I recall reading at some point

UM was that average female preferences for facial hair and
men tend to follow what's known as a negative frequency
dependence model, so that basically, if if your society has
more people with beards, more people will find clean shaven
men attractive, and if more people are clean shaven, more
people will find bearded men attractive. So it's just whatever

is less common but within reason though, right, because you
don't want to be too much of an outlier. Um,
we can all imagine various facial hair choices that are
either you know, just's just too problematic or just too strange.
Like if you're just going to decide to grow like
U two uh, like two globs of hair on either side,

on either cheek, you know, one cut in the shape
of the planet Saturn and the other cutting the shape
of of Jupiter like that would that would be kind
of strange. I don't know if anyone would really go
for that, Robert, I'm finding you incredibly closed minded about
cosmic beard sculpting. But anyway, okay, So it's it seems
like maybe maybe sexual attraction is not the best signaling hypothesis.

Another possibility is that beards evolved for intra sexual competition
among males. Maybe they're supposed to make you look more
formidable and dominant and encourage respect and deference. So they're
they're supposed to encourage people to think, you know, I
am no mere boy. Look at my beard. I am
a wise and powerful, full grown man. Listen to me.

But it's still an open question. People don't know why
beards evolved. But this research from argues as follows. They say, quote,
we hypothesize that beards protect the skin and bones of
the face when human males fight by absorbing and dispersing
the energy of a blunt impact. Um. So okay. So

the points the authors make are uh. They say, you know,
there are other cases where hair appears to serve some
kind of defensive function. Uh. For example, the long hair
of Alliance, Maine is sometimes thought by biologists who have
evolved to protect vulnerable spots like the throat and the
jaw from damage during violent encounters. Um. And they point

out quote the mandible meaning the jaw. The lower jaw,
which is superficially covered by the beard, is one of
the most commonly fractured facial bones in interpersonal violence. So
they went on to perform some physical tests. They ran
tests to simulate the extent to which a beard would
protect a jaw from blunt trauma. And so they described

their method as follows. Quote, we tested this hypothesis by
measuring impact force and energy absorbed by a fiber epoxy
composite which served as a bone analog when it was
covered with skin that had thick hair referred to here
as furred, versus skin with no hair referred to here
as sheared and plucked. We covered the epoxy compile as

it with segments of skin dissected from domestic sheep and
used a drop weight impact tester affixed with a load
cell to collect force versus time data. Tissue samples were
prepared in three conditions, furred, plucked, and sheared. Okay, so
they do this experiment and what do they find? Well,
in fact, they find that simulated jaws covered in fur

were indeed able to absorb more energy than the ones
that were plucked or sheared. They say that peak force
was six greater in the plucked versus the furred conditions,
and total force was thirty seven percent greater. So what's
the difference there, Well, they say that fur provides some
degree of padding, it increases the time over which the

blow is absorbed, and finally they say quote these data
support the hypothesis that human beards protect vulnerable regions of
the facial skeleton from damaging strikes. So I feel like, uh,
I thought this was this was interesting. I'm still kind
of doubtful about the overall theory, um, just for example,

using my analogy from earlier. And by the way, I
mean the researchers are aware of this, you know. They
say like that many of these traits could have evolved
for other reasons, but they're trying to build a cumulative
case that sees fist fighting and male physical aggression as
a major factor shaping human morphology. So I guess I
have some doubts that it it's as big as they

might be suggesting, But I don't know. Um. But to
use the analogy from earlier, it could be true that
a beard makes it slightly easier to absorb punches to
the jaw, And it looks like, based on their experiment,
that probably is to to some degree true at least
slightly true. And yet that still wouldn't necessarily prove that
the need to shield against punches to the jaw is

the primary reason our species has beards. This would be
an interesting one to hear from our our various martial
arts listeners about because the direction my mind goes in
on this and I instantly think about, uh, though the
world of like mixed martial arts, which today is like
this this highly um uh you know, it's it's a

it's a top you know sport. It's it's a situation
where people devote their lives to reaching like peak uh skill,
peak conditioning, and it becomes like, um, you know, it
comes a game of degrees, right, like what what whatever?
You know, little thing you can do to give you
an edge. It seems like you would do that thing,
including grow a beard. Uh. And yet when you look

at at mixed martial artists, yes, some have beards, some
have have I guess pretty robust beards, but you don't
see like a universal shift to beards like you might
see and say, uh, you know certain evolutionaries situations, but
also in certain warfare situations where there's some sort of
a design, uh, some sort of an adaptation that gives

a clear advantage and then it becomes ubiquitous suddenly everyone
who can adopt it does. Yeah. So that's where my
main question would be. But but then again I have
to remind myself that by virtue of being this kind
of over engineered interpersonal combat sport, perhaps like it's gone

beyond the level at which a beard could be at
all helpful, Like it just doesn't matter. Maybe like maybe
like a beard adaptation. Evolutionarily, you're dealing with with something
less than you know, a punch that or or a
kick or what have you that has like, uh, you know,
decades of training behind it aimed at just this one thing. Yeah.

Another thing that I'm just curious about is is there
any kind of evidence that if you actually go back
a million years or so, that our ancestors would have
been practicing a lot of consistent closed fist punching or
is that a more modern convention of human culture. Yeah,
And then once you start using weapons, um, you know,

I think you you quickly reach a point where are
the technology vastly outweighs any kind of natural armoring we
might have via beards. You know, once you get to
like the level of the mace like we discussed before,
I mean, that's just instant skull putting. Unless there's some
sort of a helmet involved. It doesn't matter what kind
of hair you have or what kind of beards you're packing.

But I guess the counter argument there is, once you're
to the point where you have maces, um, any kind
of selection that would have been involved, would have already
taken place. So yeah, of course that'd be among anatomically
modern humans. Yeah. Well, anyway, though, I do want to
come back and say, despite the fact that I am,
I still feel some some pretty strong doubts and skepticism

about the fist punch theory. Overall, I do appreciate the
research because, of course it's always good to explore alternative explanations,
and maybe they will pay out. Maybe a lot of
more research will pile up in these columns, um and uh.
And then of course also the actual physical findings of
the experiment, like show the force absorbing properties of hair

or fur, could be useful to future researchers, even if
the fist punch hypothesis itself eventually turns out to be
universally ruled incorrect. Absolutely, thank you, thank you, thank you.
All right for our final selection here, I thought we
might talk about the winner of the Transportation Prize, and

this went to Robin Radcliffe at All for determining by experiment,
whether it is safer to transport an airborne rhinoceros upside down. Okay,
this is a good one. Yeah, yeah, this this was
so this one puzzled me at first, because yes, there's
something about an upside down rhino suspended from a helicopter

that is initially funny. But then I struggled to explain
why it was initially funny. I guess it's just maybe
because the rhino is such a grounded animal and the
idea of it being upside down in the sky is
is is worth a giggle, I guess though, So just
to go ahead and get this part out there, like
this concerns conservation efforts in Namibia, in Africa UM and

the reason the various researchers were tied to Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Brazil,
the UK and the USA UM and it has to
do quite simply with moving, with translocation, moving one rhinoceros
from here to there, from one point to another. How
do you do that? And what is the best way

to do that, not only for the humans doing the moving,
but also the technology involved and the animal itself. What
is the least stressful method of carrying this out? Okay,
so is somebody with no expertise at all in this area.
My mind immediately goes to scenes from Jurassic Park where
they're transporting dinosaurs in what looked like giant, giant metal

shoe boxes with their holes in the right and uh.
And apparently that used to be the way. That was
just how you moved a large animal like a rhino around.
You would trink it and then as it woke up,
you would groggy lee sort of push it into a crate,
and then you would close up the crate and then
you could transport that crate generally by truck uh to

wherever you needed to take it. But you could of
course also air to lift that crate um via helicopter
or something, you know, loaded into a cargo plane something
of that nature. Okay, So the paper here in question,
it was titled the Pulmonary and metabolic effects of suspension
by the feet compared with lateral recumbency in immobilized black

Rhinoceros captured by aerial darting um and this came out
in the Journal of wild Life Diseases. Now, the paper
itself here is pretty technical, getting into you know, a lot. Basically,
it focuses a lot on the breathing of the rhinoceros.
But I found a lot of wonderful clarity on the
topic in a Manga Bay article by Malavica via Waharre

in which the author interviews Robin Radcliffe, UM, the lead
author and one of the key researchers involved in this
award winning paper. So essentially what happened is the researchers
were asked to weigh in on a new practice of
translocating rhinos that was being pioneered by UM animal relocation
efforts in Namibia and Cornell University veterinarian Robin Radcliffe is

rhino expert, so he's exactly the right person to bring
in on this question. So, uh, like we we just mentioned, Yeah,
the crate was the the old way of doing it,
and uh, interestingly enough, I was looking for pictures of
rhinos and crates and one of the top things that
came up was a matchbox toy set that features a
toy rhino, a toy crate, and then a helicopter for

lifting said crate off the ground. The way does the
helicopter powered? Uh no, I think it's just like a
matchbox thing. But you know this is the use your imagination.
It looks it's a fun kid. You know, it's not
a matchbox kid. I'm just only you know, in my household.
So my son is not super into vehicles, but like,
this toy tells a story. Here's the helicopter, here's the

here's the the crate. Here is the rhino. Fly the
rhino to safety, says the matchbox label. Wait, Rob, I
think maybe the blades do spin. It looks like it's
got a handle on the top of the rotor, and
I think it's one of those where you can like
spin it by manual force. Either maybe you spin it

with just by spinning it with your hand, or you
you you pull a cord or something. Okay, yeah, it
looks like you do get some spinning action. It's not
gonna fly by itself. It's not a drune but um,
but it does look fun. Um. But I think the
toy here relays some of the challenges involved in this method.
And so you know, you look at it. Okay, you
have a huge helicopter or you know, you can imagine

if it was just using a truck. You still need
a pretty sizeable truck. It's a pretty huge crate, it's
a pretty huge animal. Uh. And if you're transporting the
rhino by truck, then you need roads to take you
where you're going. And if you're going by helicopter. Well,
you've got to transport this big grate out there to
the location where you're acquiring the animal, and you're gonna
need a secondary, smaller copter to trink the rhino and

carry the capture team. So so it's a big operation. Yeah,
big operation any way to shake it. But wildlife teams
in the video were interested in trying some different methods.
They were interested in fine tuning the chopper tactic as
well as expediting the whole process. Uh and uh. You
know one of the key advantages again if of using

a helicopter is it it allows you to move the
animal to more remote locations and to do so in
a faster manner. Um, you don't have to worry about
what can a road take me there? And do I
have to how how far do I have to wind
around with this? Uh? This this poor rhino in the
trunk right how bumpy is it? Right now? One of

the things that that Radcliffe points out, and that has
pointed out in that Manga Bay article, is that translocation
efforts have something of a checkered history in the past,
and there are a lot of factors to consider, um
and uh. And therefore you could even consider these Namibia
efforts as being kind of a leap of faith, uh
that you know, we've got to do something from a

conservation standpoint. Let's try and move the animals to a
more secure location, a place where they can they can
live and um. But again, there's a lot of stuff
you have to consider, and this paper deals with one
of them. Because to streamline the translocation by helicopter, Uh,
one of the big things you can do is dispense
with that crate and try to get them into the

air while they're still under you know, they're they're still tranquilized.
Let's try and you know, harness them up in something
carrying them in the sky and make a bee line
for wherever we're going. Um, hopefully as the animal never
even wakes up. Uh. And you know this gonna make
it easier not only on the animal itself, but also
on the people that have to do the carrying. Okay,

makes sense. So one tactic that has been used is
to force a sledge underneath the animal once it's laying
on the side, so it's been tranked, it's laying on
its side, force a sledge underneath its body, then secure
it to the sledge and you airlift that sledge um
uh you know, up into the air, take it to
another location. I included a photograph of what this looks

like for you, Joe. Okay, this already looks strange enough.
This is a sideways rhino with four feet hanging out
over the sky. Yep, it looks pretty good, looks stable.
It makes a lot of sense. You see, you see
exactly how they got there. But but Ratcliffe new from
previous studies that this position for the rhino increases what's
known as dead space, the volume of ventilated air that

does not participate in gas exchange. An extended time in
this position means the animal is getting less out of
each breath. Okay, so the rhino is not grad at
breathing in this position, right. So this brings us to
this this new idea, this this new way of carrying
the rhino that was being that's been UH was that

was brought up by Annidian conservationist that they brought in
Radcliff Radcliffe into UH to study. And that is, while
the the rhino is out, you secure all of its
legs to harness and you lift it up into the
air in an inverted posture. And carry it that way. Okay,
so we've gone from upright rhino to sideways rhino to

completely upside down rhino. You're just doing the ninety degree
rotate command repeatedly, right, Um, And you know it's it's
interesting right because like the rhino normally is standing up
and it could you know, it's sometimes going to be
on its side, but it's never going to be inverted
in the natural world. Like this is a new position

for the living rhinoceros. Uh. So that's why they wanted
to study, well what does this do to the rhino's breathing? Um?
Is there anything you know essential that we need to
know about this before we really roll this out as
our chief means of carrying rhinos from one place to another? Okay,
well I want to know does it work? Um? The

short answer is yes, it does seem to work. Um.
Now there's still it still requires a lot of work.
That's one thing they really drive home here is that, Um,
you know, you're still gonna have to have that second chopper.
You're still gonna have to have somebody in there to
to drink the rhino. It's gonna involve a whole team.
So it's not like, we've perfectly streamlined this to to
something that is not hard. It's still difficult. Um, it's

in it's still a stressful situation. Um. But uh so.
But Radcliffe was was mainly looking at breathing with the rhino.
Here they used a crane instead of a chopper um,
and their findings, while not final and all inclusive and
also utilizing a small sample size, they stressed, we're certainly encouraging.
So first of all, you don't encounter that increase of

dead air. In fact, it might actually improve oxygen intake.
But apparently that's that's an issue where the authors are like, well,
we didn't have a huge sample size here, so we
shouldn't put as much emphasis on bad aspect of it. Okay,
but they at least know that in this small group
of animals, hanging upside down was no worse for breathing
than lying sideways on a sledge, and it might possibly

improve oxygen saturation a little bit, but that's not clear, right,
that seems to be the case. And secondly, while some
animals would be worse off being transported in an inverted position,
the rhino does really well. And in fact, here's a
quote from Vala Bajara's interview with Radcliffe. This is a
quote from Radcliffe quote. If you look at the anatomy
of the rhino, it has a very heavy, a very

large neck and head. When you hang them upside down,
the head hangs really low. That does two things. It
straightens out the spine and it also straightens out the airway.
From a strictly anatomical perspective, it's actually an ideal position
for a rhino to be in. It's an ideal endpoint
for rhino evolution in in in a million years, the

rhinos will all move around upside down. Yeah, so I
love that. It's like, not only is the upside down rhino? Um, Okay,
it is? It is in some sense optimal. This is
optimal rhinoceros. Here, don't some people have contraptions for flipping
themselves upside down for I have no idea if there's
anything to this but for some perceived medical benefit or
physicotherapy at least or something. Yeah, inversions, you you do.

I feel like this is probably something we'd have to
come back to in a full episode. But m yeah,
I think there are some studies about it, and there's
certainly a lot of claims about it um both uh,
you know, certainly within like say the yoga community, but
also yeah, you see people who have just advocated being
upside down as a as as an effective life choice.

Not full time, I guess, but no, no, that'd be
interesting to look into. Maybe maybe we should come back
to that now with the rhinos here there there's more
work to be done here, uh, such as looking at
the circulation of the animal, which I don't think was
really a focal point of this particular study, but still
it's it's insightful and it's an important study into the
effects of transporting. Uh these animals by Chopper and conservation

groups are already using the same technique with giant sable
antelope and with the African elephant. Wow. Yeah, So with
an upside down rhinoceros, this means when it finally gets
set down, makes gentle contact with the ground, does it
go horn first? Uh? Well, they have to be very
gentle setting it down, you know. Then then then you

you don't just drop it. Uh. It's it's like a
very very careful game of the claw machine, right right.
I should add that another important note about this is
that you can't just have any helicopter do this, Like
the rhino is a very heavy animal. So one of
the things that Raticlo stresses is that, yeah, you still
need two helicopters. You need the smaller helicopter for the

trank team, but you need a pretty sizeable helicopter to
actually lift this creature, even if there's no crate involved.
Oh yeah, but that's not cheap. Okay, here's how to
make the image funnier the upside down. Right now, sir
is dangling from not a helicopter but a Harrier jet.
I don't like that idea. That doesn't sound good. Some

kind of vertical takeoff airplane. Yeah that does somehow, that
doesn't sound like it would work. All right, Well, I
guess that's it for this episode. Um uh. Like we
said before, we're not covering all the winners this this year,
but we just looked at four of them. But if
you want to find the rest of them, head on
over to the Ignobile Prizes website. Uh and they have

a full listing of them, along with links to the
individual studies. And also there was a webcast of the ceremony.
Oh yeah, yeah, they're usually high jinks of some sort.
All love to them, but often some kind of cringe
e humor. All right, well, we're gonna go and close
it out here in the meantime, If you would like
to check out other episodes of Stuff to Blow Your Mind,

head on over to wherever you get your podcasts, because
wherever that is you'll find this Have to Blow Your
Mind podcast feed. We run core episodes of the show
on Tuesdays and Thursdays, Artifact on Wednesdays, listener mail on Mondays,
and on Fridays we do a little weird ou cinema.
That's our time to set aside most serious considerations and
just focus in on a strange film. Huge thanks as

always to our excellent audio producer Seth Nicholas Johnson. If
you would like to get in touch with us with
feedback on this episode or any other, to suggest a
topic for the future, just to say hello, you can
email us at contact at stuff to Blow your Mind
dot com. Stuff to Blow Your Mind is production of

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