Useful Things

Chainsaw Science &
Improbable Research

It’s often said that some branches of modern scientific research are way too dependent on funding, and that many a medical think-tank can be accused of putting commercial consideration ahead of the need for new therapies.
Perhaps. Fortunately, there are honorable exceptions. And to prove that scientific rigor is not incompatible with sense of humor, many an important breakthrough was achieved pursuing an initial formulation that could as well serve as a comedy routine.
That’s exactly what Improbable Research means to promote. With its motto, “To Make People Laugh and Then Think,” it publishes unusual scientific papers on its magazine, the Annals, and every year chooses winners for its Ig Nobel Prizes.
Blood and Tissue Spatter Associated with Chainsaw Dismemberment,” a serious investigation on the effects of such gruesome, but not very rare, scenario, was one of the articles in a recent issue of the magazine.
It’s the kind of story that would please both followers of the cable series “Dexter,” about a serial killer who’s also a specialist in crime-scene blood spills, as well as those strictly bent by a criminal mind. Besides, of course, the scientists themselves.
With the same rigor and sobriety, the Annals also focused, a few months back, on a research about the process of decay of bananas, and ways to gauge its progress, through a fractal analysis of the spots it produces on the fruit.
It’d be foolish to regard as important only the paper about blood spatter, for all its obvious applications. Crime may always grab the headlines, but the astronomic costs to the powerful global food industry, of preserving and packaging its product, can never be underestimated.
The experiment with the electric chainsaw was conducted after police investigators unexpectedly found relatively little blood and tissue spatter at the site where a body had been dismembered.
They did then what any sensible forensics researcher would: they’ve dismembered a large carcass with a chainsaw, and studied the spatter pattern and tool marks on bone and skin. Of a pig carcass, you psychos out there.
Even if that’s not the method that the fictional Dexter would prefer, the results helped the team of investigators understand what really happens based exclusively on reality, not on the gory expectations of a mature, albeit slightly disturbed, TV audience.
The study was conducted as a 2007 South Dakota murder case was reaching an impasse: jurors who saw pictures of the scene of the crime, thought that there wasn’t enough blood, and were having doubts whether the victim’s body had been really dismembered by the accused.
The forensics analysis proved that, despite appearances, the dismemberment had indeed occurred, helping the prosecution to secure a conviction based on that and on other evidence.

The idea of this er fruit research is surprisingly akin to the blood spatter study, in what it focused on the spots of the banana peel as indicators of its internal ripening process.
Dropping the jargon, what’s obviously important to the food industry is how to preserve the fruit from its harvest site to the point of sale.
In other words, your favorite snack, looking so fresh at the corner Korean deli, probably traveled all the way from the tropics fully packaged, before you could taste it.
The industry may be able to manipulate and delay the natural effects of decay to a certain degree. But as bananas have a relatively short shelf time, they’re harvested way before they’d be ready to eat, if they’d come from your backyard.
In the study, the fruit was stored for 10 days at 20 °C. and scans of the surfaces were recorded using a computer program. The team worked on the basis that the daily increase in banana spots might, to some extent, follow a fractal pattern.
As we’ve left the heavy machinery behind, it’s useful to mention that fractals are geometric shapes divided into parts, each a copy of the whole. The term was coined by Benoît Mandelbrot but that’s as far as we’ll go paraphrasing Wikipedia.
Do be fooled by the unassuming nature of this research. In fact, you wouldn’t believe how much that means to the food industry, but we bet, scientists are not getting a penny out of it.
That’s the kind of science they ought to be teaching second graders. Instead, kids are sadly being primed to merely pass tests. No wonder they hardly eat any fruit these days. Sorry, kids, no fun for you.
Which is not to say that it doesn’t get better. Just look at the these kind of studies. Someone has to conduct them. Hopefully Improbable Research will be there to document them too.
Other topics recently covered: Combining Kangaroo Care and Harp Music Therapy, Apparatus for Facilitating the Construction of Snowman, and Problems and Solutions with Chinese Pickles.

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