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This is Improbable: Cheese String Theory, Magnetic Chickens and Other WTF Research [Paperback]

Marc Abrahams
3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

7 Mar 2013

Marc Abrahams, the mind behind the internationally renowned Ig Nobel Prizes, is on a mission: to gather the bizarre, the questionable, the brilliant, the downright funny, the profound – everything improbable – from the annals of science research.


What’s the best way to slice a ham sandwich, mathematically?

What makes Bobs look especially Bob-like?

Is the right or left ear better at discerning lies?

Could mice be outfitted with parachutes to kill tree snakes?

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This is Improbable: Cheese String Theory, Magnetic Chickens and Other WTF Research + This is Improbable Too: Synchronized Cows, Speedy Brain Extractors and More WTF Research
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Product details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Oneworld Publications (7 Mar 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1851689753
  • ISBN-13: 978-1851689750
  • Product Dimensions: 19.4 x 12.8 x 2.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 228,715 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


Delightful... a pleasure to read in the bathroom and in the bedroom, and the kind of book that makes you seem smarter when you share it with friends (just make sure you wash your hands first). --Dan Ariely, author of Predictably Irrational


“After reading this hilarious book, you'll never look at scientists in the same way again.” Terry Jones, bestselling author and Python

“Wonderful! The definitive compendium of quirky, jaw-dropping research”
Richard Wiseman, author of 59 seconds

“Delightful... a pleasure to read in the bathroom and in the bedroom, and the kind of book that makes you seem smarter when you share it with friends (just make sure you wash your hands first).”
Dan Ariely, author of Predictably Irrational

“Marc Abrahams is a perfectly calibrated filtration system into which all of science is poured and out of which comes pure, giddy goofball delight. This book is a delicious, addictive treat.”
Mary Roach, author of Stiff and Packing for Mars

‘Fabulously left-field… A great reminder that science knows no boundaries.' BBC Focus

‘If you’re not aware of Marc Abrahams, you’re in for a treat… an enjoyable, funny, light hearted look at the weird and wonderful side of scientific research. We Love This Book

‘a fun collection with a lot of great cocktail party conversation material, and Abrahams covers it all with a dry wit that lets the hilarity of the work speak for itself’Scientopia
--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

3.3 out of 5 stars
3.3 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Makes you laugh while making you think 16 Sep 2012
Marc Abrahams, founder of the Ig Nobel Prizes which reward achievements which make people laugh and then make them think, brings us a collection of strange, funny and just plain amazing scientific research.

This is the kind of book that makes you want to read out snippets to whoever is near. I did this so often that my husband quickly became exasperated and took the book away from me. However, within 10 minutes of him starting to read it, he was doing exactly the same thing.

The research presented in the book covers a wide range of scientific disciplines so there's truly something for everyone. For example, a mere handful of the things I learned from reading This Is Improbable are:

- you can't Bend It Like Beckham on Mars;
- loud noises wake you up;
- strapless dresses have inherent engineering challenges;
- you can teach a tortoise to pretend to yawn; and
- some scientists have too much time (& money) on their hands.

If I were to think really hard about this book I suppose I'd say that it does have a tendency to the puerile and laddish in its interest in sport, underwear, poo and certain physical activities. However, in my experience, scientists (and I've known a few)tend to be big kids at heart and so have this sense of humour. Nothing in the book is offensive in any way, just amazing and funny.

This is a book to dip in and out of - if you read too much at a time you forget what you've read as the last weird fact is pushed out of your brain by the next weird fact - perhaps someone should do some research on this. It's a bit like looking a paintings in a gallery - no matter how much you want to look at them and how beautiful they are you soon reach overload and diminish the experience. It's also wise not to rush through it as pacing yourself means you can enjoy it for longer.

Reading a few pages a day will keep you interested and amused for months - not to mention anyone sitting near you.
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10 of 18 people found the following review helpful
A very simple recipe. Take scientific papers or patents which have superficial elements which can be cast in an amusing light. Interpret them out of context. Write some smug and self-congratulatory twaddle which makes the scientists look stupid. Repeat until you have 150 pages. Publish.

The ironic thing is that of the few amusing patents and papers presented in this book, the majority were clearly written tongue-in-cheek by the original authors. Clearly missing the obvious irony, Marc Abrahams represents them as though the original authors were not writing tongue-in-cheek, then shows us how stupid the scientists were for not seeing how silly their research was. At least he picks up on the joke in the end... well done, Americans do get there in the end. Only it is less funny when it is so farcically laboured.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars different... 25 April 2013
The book is very random but it's funny to read and generally entertaining for anyone reading it, fast delivery and it doesn't cost the earth.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.9 out of 5 stars  9 reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing and Hilarious 28 Jan 2013
By G. Poirier - Published on
To think that serious research was done (and most likely continues to be done) on the topics outlined in this book just boggles the mind. Fortunately, the author has such a way with words that reading about these works is an absolute pleasure, which would not likely be the case if one were to read the original papers. On average, each work of research is described in just one to two pages. These are grouped into twelve chapters, each of which has its own particular topical slant.

Once again, this book's most important feature, in my view, is the author's continuous tongue-in-cheek and often absolutely hilarious summaries of the research. His careful choice of words to suit each topic is absolutely priceless. Despite the fact that I found some of the research summaries to be rather uninteresting, in many of the other cases I laughed to the point of having tears in my eyes. And it's mainly for these many prize winners that I gave this book a perfect score.

All in all, because the author has ensured that the book is devoid of specialized jargon (unless included for effect) anyone looking for laughs can enjoy this book tremendously, while, as a bonus, learn about how some hard-earned research money is being spent.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book! 26 Jan 2013
By mom - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
If you, or someone you're buying a gift for, loves science, this is a great book. It's intelligent, interesting, funny, and enjoyable! My son loves science, physics, math, and all that is connected with that. I got the book as a gift for him. There are few books that make those topics fun -- yet savvy for someone who thinks in that realm. It's a great read. I even liked it!
2.0 out of 5 stars It's a fairly boring book. 24 July 2013
By Jesse Clarke - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Filled with short re-written accounts of published research. The author fits some humor in, but each account was so short it left me wondering what I had just read about, and most of it I didn't enjoy.
1.0 out of 5 stars Not at all what I was expecting 14 April 2013
By Diane - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
There is no meat on this chicken. This is like reading headline news. Waste of time. I recommend not buying this book.
4.0 out of 5 stars This is Improbable.... (no, it isn't!) 24 Jan 2013
By Marshal Shlafer - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This is a very well written and rather fun little book about what might be described as "stranger but true 'research.'" If, like me, you've been struggling to get funded for research, and getting it published (for that necessary publish or perish mentality of academia), you'll be consoled. Despite your self-doubts about your research (yes, you have them!), criticisms from grant review and funding committees, journal editorial boards, and maybe even your colleagues, you'll get a chuckle out of the absolute CRAP that gets passed off as "important" research and actually gets published (usually in junk journals). If Senator McGovern and his Golden Fleece awards were still around, most of the stuff described in this little tome would top the list for their "Ignobility." Most of the "studies" were conducted either long ago or, more often, not in the US (at least not at major research centers), so you can take some solace (I surely hope) that your hard-earned taxpayer dollars didn't fund this garbage.

The author frequently uses puns, and although they're often considered the lowest form of humor they really add to this book. To add to the readability of this book, the descriptions of so-called research are short and to the point (and include citations to the publication sources, just in case you think the author is making this ridiculous stuff up), so if you need a short break from work you can pick up the book, read just a few pages if you like, put it down, and then start reading again anywhere you want.

The purchase price of the book is small in comparison with the chuckles you'll get, the head shakes of disbelief, and perhaps even the firm knowledge and consolation that there's a hell of a lot of research going on that's worse than your own.
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