Your Favorite Whimsical Research Paper
November 11, 2010 8:54 PM   Subscribe

What are your favorite whimsical research papers? I am familiar with the IgNobels but I am looking for essays like "The Hardest Natural Languages" that combine whimsy with genuine fact-finding and insight.
posted by storybored to Writing & Language (26 answers total) 60 users marked this as a favorite

The new paper on how cats drink, which just went online at Science, is a strong contender.
posted by lukemeister at 9:17 PM on November 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Richard Strauss completed a postgraduate thesis on the history of his favourite car, which was published as Up For Rego: A Social History Of The Holden Kingswood. That's him on the cover, which gives you some idea of the tone of the contents.

Aside: he also taught me year 10 high school history. He's a legend.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 9:18 PM on November 11, 2010

Sounds like the blog NCBI ROFL might be the sort of thing you're looking for.
posted by peacheater at 9:21 PM on November 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

The Effects of Moore's Law and Slacking on Large Computations — for certain large computations overall productivity can be increased by "slacking" (i.e. waiting for some period of time before purchasing a computer and beginning the calculation).
posted by RichardP at 9:43 PM on November 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

You say "fact-finding", but does it have to be empirical? One of the most famous in economics is Paul Krugman's "Theory of Interstellar Trade." There's also Axel Leijonhufvud's "Life Among the Econ" - an anthropological study making fun of the varieties of academic economists.
posted by milkrate at 10:01 PM on November 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

Growing a Language by Guy Steele (co-inventor of Scheme) is about programming languages. It starts a bit oddly, but once you realize what the gimmick is, the paper itself becomes a beautiful example of the point it's trying to make. The effect is even better when it's read aloud.
posted by teraflop at 10:05 PM on November 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

A stress analysis of a strapless evening gown. It's an entire book full of the kind of thing you're talking about.

And yes, there really is such an analysis, showing how the dress designers avoid malfunctions.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 12:09 AM on November 12, 2010

I like English sentences without overt grammatical subjects. It's a serious linguistic analysis of curse words, but written by someone with the pen name "Quang Phuc Dong" from the "South Hanoi Institute of Technology" (S.H.I.T)... and it goes from there.
posted by forza at 1:00 AM on November 12, 2010

Mexican waves in an excitable medium by Farkas et al

(ya rly)

Published in Nature in 2002
posted by TheOtherGuy at 2:06 AM on November 12, 2010

When I was doing research into scatter patterns on archaeological sites, I came across "Child's Play: A Distorting Factor in Archaeological Distribution" (JSTOR link) The gist of the three page paper is that the author brought his kid to a refuse pile and watched the kid's distribution of rubbish as he played with it. Sample size is too small to really draw conclusions, IMO (n=1), and it's totally not fair that a 3 year old got to be lead author.
posted by cobaltnine at 5:25 AM on November 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

> It's a serious linguistic analysis of curse words, but written by someone with the pen name "Quang Phuc Dong"

Just to give credit where credit is due (it's a classic paper), the author is James D. McCawley.
posted by languagehat at 6:52 AM on November 12, 2010

The recently FP'd Contrastive Focus Reduplication in English (The Salad-Salad Paper) is a great example of this.
posted by bookish at 6:53 AM on November 12, 2010

University of Ottawa's Department of Mathematics paper "When Zombies Attack!: Mathematical Modelling of an Outbreak of Zombie Infection."
posted by Panjandrum at 7:04 AM on November 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Body Ritual Among the Nacirema is something of a classic in this genre. See also the wiki entry on it - though read the article first, as the wiki contains spoilers.
posted by googly at 8:09 AM on November 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

The Christmas issue of BMJ (British Medical Journal) usually contains several of these articles - I specifically remember Harry Potter Casts a Spell on Injury-Prone Children from a few years ago, but they do it every year.
posted by mskyle at 8:51 AM on November 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Fuck by Christopher M. Fairman

'This Article is as simple and provocative as its title suggests: it explores the legal implications of the word fuck. The intersection of the word fuck and the law is examined in four major areas: First Amendment, broadcast regulation, sexual harassment, and education.'
posted by T.D. Strange at 11:25 AM on November 12, 2010

Santa Clause: A Public Health Menace? and other BMJ Xmas articles are good for this.
posted by lalochezia at 1:34 PM on November 12, 2010

The Annals of Improbable Research sponsor the IgNobel awards, but they also have a site and a newsletter. Just in case you didn't realize that.
posted by ctmf at 1:49 PM on November 12, 2010

Wow, this is great! I love you all.
posted by storybored at 8:54 PM on November 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

The Complexity of Songs
posted by storybored at 8:41 AM on December 1, 2010

I went to a talk yesterday that featured Snowball the dancing cockatoo, who has now been the lone subject in several articles:
Experimental Evidence for Synchronization to a Musical Beat in a Nonhuman Animal and Studying Synchronization to a Musical Beat in Nonhuman Animals are the ones that pop up when I GScholar. There will be an article in the future listing and analyzing Snowball's variety of dance moves.
posted by knile at 4:24 PM on December 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

More funny research papers in this thread.
posted by storybored at 2:58 PM on February 23, 2011

« Older An Organizationally Odd Couple   |   Firefox homepage/keyword hijacked. How do I rescue... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.