2014 was a year that provided many highs and lows of science. However, outside of the official science media and institutions, there were some surreal and baffling scientific claims, from some unlikely and dubious sources. Here are the best ones.A lot of major scientific stories broke in 2014; some good, some not so good. However, outside of the focus of the official science channels, things tend to get quite strange. Many questionable, surreal and downright bizarre scientific claims were given media attention, but under the guise of news about politics, technology, economics and so on; anything that wasn’t science, really.
Thankfully, this blog was there to keep an eye on the less obvious science stories, at the request of nobody. But still, here are some of the highlights from 2014, given that it’s almost over.
You’d think there wouldn’t be a great deal left to discover in human anatomy, given how we have the technology now for full body scans, but you’d apparently be wrong about this. There were a surprising number of news stories in 2014 that suggested/revealed that our understanding is still limited enough to throw up a few surprises. For example, there was the claim that large breasts are a deterrent when it comes to exercise (in women, according to the study cited; it’s not specified but quite likely that men with large breasts would be reluctant to exercise in public too). There were also many mentions of how human bodies can and do adapt to hot conditions, due to the seasonal (and yet still surprising to many) summer heat.
However, the most surprising anatomy news came from the UK government, via their much-criticised new pornography laws. It turns out that the human body is far more vulnerable to things like restraint, urination and face sitting than anyone realised, despite very public evidence to the contrary.
It was a good year for physics news generally (more or less), but a few more surreal “discoveries” were provided by the world of politics. In June, London mayor Boris Johnson surprised everyone by agreeing to be hit by a water cannon, the type used to suppress riots and protests, calling into doubt everything we knew about the effects of high-pressure blasts on posturing politicians.
Nevertheless, of even more interest was the identification of “Faragium”, a hitherto unknown substance that seems to make up 100% of the mass of the leader of Ukip. This strange matter, both magnetic and repulsive depending on the observer and seemingly impervious to scandal, plays an increasingly notable role in the UK political system.
As is typical of modern society, so much technological advancement occurs in such a short space of time that it’s hard to keep up. However, 2014 did show us what happens if you forcibly insert an album into every iTunes account on Earth, providing us with what may be a new Newtonian law (e.g. for every involuntary U2 download, there is an equal-but-opposite U2 backlash).
Despite this, the most scientifically interesting technological development of 2014 was demonstrating that computer programmes are now as intelligent as 13 year old boys. Apparently. Or is it the other way round? As technology becomes ever more integrated into our lives, it’s getting harder to tell.
The discovery and identification of the remains of Richard III largely dominated much of the science history news in 2014, with a few diversions to acknowledge the centenary of the first world war.
But the most surprising discovery was that scientists and science fans are among the most oppressed and marginalised people on Earth. A prominent venture capitalist stated that using terms like nerd and geek are the equivalent of the most unpleasant of racial slurs. And he’s a rich old white man, so we have to take him seriously.
A lot of psychology can be inferred from pretty much any news story involving human interaction, so there’s a lot of choice on offer for the most interesting or bizarre claim of 2014. One big option was the way Facebook decided they could use their vast platform to manipulate users and their emotions, without telling them.
But sadly for Facebook, the award for best psychology story of 2014 has to go to Ukip, for their (weirdly persistent) claims that tiredness causes racism, whether it be natural tiredness or chemically induced. This tiredness = racism link is a completely unexplored one, opening up new realms of prejudice studies for the field of psychology.
And finally, in a time of growing climate unease, news from nature is rarely good. But this year we also went a bit overboard with claims of giant rats invading Britain. But yet again, Ukip is the gift that keeps on giving (although the gifts are invariably awful) and started the year with a pearler by claiming that same-sex marriage caused the UK floods. The mechanisms and processes by which same-sex marriage causes flooding are complex and fascinating, and should keep meteorologists working for years to come.
Dean Burnett will probably be blogging less in 2015 so enjoy this retrospective, or follow him on Twitter, @garwboy