LIFE Photo Archive

Google recently announced it's struck a deal to host the entire photo archive of Life magazine. Millions of photos (including many previously unpublished ones) will be made freely searchable online. If you're the kind of person who likes to browse through archives searching for weird stuff, it's pretty much a goldmine.

Only about 20% of the archive is online so far, but I've already had fun browsing through it. Below are a few photos I found doing a search for bird experiments.

The LIFE captions are pretty dry. I thought they could be improved by coming up with new captions in the style of LOL Birds. I'm sure the WU readers can come up with better captions than I was able to.

LIFE caption: Visual perception experiment on chickens, showing chick wearing a rubber helmet with prisms in the eyepieces, 1953.

My caption: "Mommy told me to wear my safety helmet!"

LIFE caption: A vision experiment being done on pigeons at Maryland University, May 1962

My caption: "I'm watching you!"

LIFE caption: Chicken playing baseball during an animal experiment, October 1948.

My caption: "Canz I play too?"

Posted By: Alex - Wed Nov 19, 2008 - Comments (5)
Category: Photography and Photographers, Science, Experiments

Shrimp on a Treadmill

Scientific researchers placed a shrimp on a shrimp-size treadmill in order to measure its speed and endurance. This information, they say, "will give us a better idea of how marine animals can perform in their native habitat when faced with increasing pathogens and immunological challenges." Luckily for us, they videotaped the experiment.

The video has become hugely popular on the internet, spawning numerous remixes. For instance, witness Shrimp Jamming to Muzak:

There are so many of these remixes you could probably spend an entire day watching them.

Posted By: Alex - Tue Nov 11, 2008 - Comments (8)
Category: Animals, Nature, Science, Experiments, Video

Guess the Scientist, #2

What scientist wrote the following passage? The answer is in extended (and on the comments page).

A small experimental room was fitted with a bed and other items conducive to a normal sexual response. The bed was placed directly against a wall through which an opening was made. Both sides of the opening were covered with a thick sheet of foam rubber. Slits were made in the foam rubber so that the leads to the instruments could be passed to the recording room while still maintaining the privacy of the experimental room. All of the subjects were married and were between the ages of 22 and 30.

To record the heart rate four electrocardiographic leads, fashioned from wire mesh attached to an elastic bandage, were fastened to the upper thighs and the upper arms. With this technique the ECG was readable even during the periods of greatest muscular activity. During foreplay, records were taken each minute on two Sanborn direct writing electrocardiographs. During coitus continuous recordings were made, and after withdrawal records were again made a 1-minute intervals. Three tests were performed on each of three couples.

More in extended >>

Posted By: Alex - Mon Oct 20, 2008 - Comments (9)
Category: Quizzes, Guess the Scientist, Science, Experiments

Anger and Landscape Art

Do you feel angry and frustrated sitting in your windowless cubicle grinding away at a dead-end job? Recent research (published in the journal Environment and Behavior) indicates there may be an easy way to brighten your mood, at least if you're a man. Hang a few art posters.

Researchers at Texas A&M University conducted an experiment in a simulated office. Participants were told that the researchers were investigating performance on a variety of computer tasks. In reality, the computer tasks were designed to "provoke stress and anger." The question was whether the artwork hanging on the wall (abstract art, nature posters, abstract and nature posters, or no art) would modify people's moods. The conclusion:

We found that nature and abstract art posters have a significant influence on state anger and stress for male participants but not for female participants. Male participants experienced less state anger when there are art posters on the wall of the office setting than when no art posters are present. They also experienced less stress when there were mixed abstract and nature art posters or all nature art posters.

It's not clear why men are calmed by wall art, but not women. Maybe men are just simpler creatures.

Posted By: Alex - Mon Sep 29, 2008 - Comments (5)
Category: Art, Science, Experiments

Donation Meters

How to solve the problem of unruly panhandlers?

The donation meter!

The picture here portrays one in Denver, which I found on the Flickr page of msitarzewski.

Read all about Atlanta's recent experiment with donation meters here.

Posted By: Paul - Mon Sep 29, 2008 - Comments (10)
Category: Bums, Hobos, Tramps, Beggars, Panhandlers and Other Streetpeople, Entertainment, Government, Money, Charity, Signage, Stupidity, Experiments

The Mighty Powers of Hagfish Slime

My high-school pal Sherry Mowbray, who grew up to be a top-flight biologist, points me with glee to this video illustrating how powerful is the slime secreted by the awesome hagfish.

Posted By: Paul - Wed Sep 10, 2008 - Comments (11)
Category: Animals, Science, Experiments, Body Fluids

One Touch of Homer Makes the Whole World Kin

In this NEW YORK TIMES article from today, scientists reveal their latest findings about which brain cells are excited during the recall of memories, and how closely memory tallies with literally re-enacting the events. And they use a tantalizing example:

After briefly distracting the patients, the researchers then asked them to think about the clips for a minute and to report “what comes to mind.” The patients remembered almost all of the clips. And when they recalled a specific one — say, a clip of Homer Simpson — the same cells that had been active during the Homer clip reignited. In fact, the cells became active a second or two before people were conscious of the memory, which signaled to researchers the memory to come.

Why is Homer Simpson singled out as the test case? Obviously because the human brain has specific neurons that emulate or actually induce and compel Homer-Simpson-style behavior.

And there in a nutshell you have the whole basis for ninety-nine percent of the contents of WEIRD UNIVERSE.

Posted By: Paul - Fri Sep 05, 2008 - Comments (13)
Category: Celebrities, Science, Experiments, Psychology, Stupidity, Television, Husbands, Cartoons

Help Zimbardo Study Helping

Dr. Phil Zimbardo, famous for conducting the Stanford Prison Experiment which revealed how quickly average college students will embrace the roles of sadistic prison guards and passive prisoners, and most recently author of The Lucifer Effect, is now turning his attention to helping behavior. From the hero workshop blog (via boing boing):

The goal is to discover how individuals perceive the behavior of helpfulness.
The first step is to conduct a survey with as many participants as possible. That’s where you come in. The survey takes about 30 minutes and can be found at

I took one look at the length of time and thought, "30 minutes! I don't want to take a survey for that long!" I'm basically unhelpul and selfish. But this made me realize that the only people taking the survey will be those that are more helpful than most. It'll be a biased sample.

Zimbardo and his co-researchers are very smart people, so I'm sure they realize this. I'm guessing that the real purpose of the survey may be to find out how many people actually take it, versus how many visit the link. That could provide a quick snapshot of how many helpful people there are on the internet. (Thanks to Joe Littrell!)

Posted By: Alex - Wed Aug 27, 2008 - Comments (1)
Category: Science, Experiments, Psychology

Sonic Boom Simulation Chamber

During the 1960s NASA sponsored research into the effect of sonic booms on human subjects. This was in response to growing concern about "the nature of the boom phenomena" as supersonic aircraft were flying with increasing frequency. Shown in the picture is one subject (unidentified) about to be locked inside the "Sonic Boom Simulation Chamber."

I like the juxtaposition of the prim-and-proper woman and the massive audio system. Unfortunately there aren't any pictures of what she looked like after being repeatedly blasted with simulated sonic booms.

The image comes from NASA Contractor Report CR-1192, "Relative Annoyance and Loudness Judgments of Various Simulated Sonic Boom Waveforms."

Posted By: Alex - Wed Aug 20, 2008 - Comments (2)
Category: Science, Experiments, Technology

Catatonic Rats

Old science books and articles are a great source of weird images. For instance, I found the two pictures below in Of Mice, Men and Molecules by John Heller (published in 1960). The images are titled "Catatonic rats" and have this explanatory caption:

These rats will maintain these weird positions for 15 to 30 minutes without moving. This catatonic effect has been induced by a minute amount of a chemical. The effect wears off completely in about an hour.

Unfortunately, Heller doesn't reveal what the chemical is that caused the rats to freeze in these positions. My guess is that it's LSD.

image image

Posted By: Alex - Mon Aug 18, 2008 - Comments (3)
Category: Animals, Drugs, Science, Experiments

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Who We Are
Alex Boese
Alex is the creator and curator of the Museum of Hoaxes. He's also the author of various weird, non-fiction, science-themed books such as Elephants on Acid and Psychedelic Apes.

Paul Di Filippo
Paul has been paid to put weird ideas into fictional form for over thirty years, in his career as a noted science fiction writer. He has recently begun blogging on many curious topics with three fellow writers at The Inferior 4+1.

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