Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Applied science: Make my day edition

According to a report in the Guardian, new research published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society (the original article is freely available) considers the relative speeds of proactive and reactive movement.

In the context of a quickdraw gun duel.

The conclusion:

"You move faster if you draw second, but you're still going to die," Dr Welchman said. "You'll die satisfied that you were quicker, but that's not much use to you."

So, along with that other scientifically sound gun-related admonition ('Always aim for the head when confronted by zombie hordes') we can add something else: 'always draw first'.

We have also learned something else: it seems that Niels Bohr was handy with a pistol.

Niels Bohr, who worked on the structure of the atom at the beginning of the 20th century, tested his theory by staging his own mock duels with toy guns at his institute in Copenhagen. His gunslinging partner, the Russian-born George Gamow, drew first and lost every time.

"[Bohr] can't have won because he was quicker in reacting," Welchman said. "It must be that he was a really good shot as well as a really good physicist."

I wonder how rare that particular combination is.

Incidentally, the PRS website is full of fascinating stuff: the currently most-read article is apparently Brennan, Clark and Prum, 'Explosive eversion and functional morphology of the duck penis supports sexual conflict in waterfowl genitalia'; full text is also available for free.

The methodology in a nutshell:

We used high-speed video of phallus eversion and histology to describe for the first time the functional morphology of the avian penis.

This does not sound like quite as much fun as staging mock duels with toy guns in the lab: but it sounds pretty damned interesting.

Science is so cool.


mikeovswinton said...

How do you know who won a duel with toy guns? (Unless you had laser technology.) Isn't the point that the winner is alive and the loser is dead? If there is a way for this to be worked out you will have officially convinced me that science is cool.

mikeovswinton said...

And no, DON'T tell me they used those toy guns with sticker things shot from them. I'm not buying that one for a minute.

John Carter Wood said...

Yeah, I was kind of imagining those little rubber dart guns.

The basically silly nature of this 'experiment' being the bit that I found cool...