Weird But True
The world is weirder than science


Compiled by Jamal Munshi, Sonoma State University
All rights reserved

the color red
statistics show that in any sport, other things being equal, the contestant or team that wears red will win more often than not. (link) (2005)
the homicide puzzle
human societies at once teach and pay some of their members to kill and decorate and honor them for killing and at the same time put others who kill to death. the crime is not killing but that the reason for killing does not have social value. (2006)
the uncoma
in some cases, brain-damaged individuals who have been in a vegetative coma for years wake up and begin talking and acting as if they had been asleep. police officer gary dockery of tennessee, car accident victim terry wallis of arkansas, and firefighter donald herbert of new york all awoke in this manner. medical science is baffled. (link) (2005)
soccer hooligans
hooliganism by english soccer fans has gotten out of hand. it may become necessary to ban the sport to regain a sense of law and order in england. (king edward ii, circa 1320). (link) (2005)
different parts of our brain receive the electrical signals generated by our eyes, ears, nose, skin, and taste buds. if the wires get crossed so do the sensations. in these cases the subject can taste color, see music, or hear fragrance. hallucinogens can induce mild forms of synesthesia. some individuals are born synesthetic. (richard cytowic 2005, link)
the ozone hole
not just religion but science too contains the doomsday cult. scientists scared us half to death for a decade by telling us that human activity was causing an ozone hole over antarctica. the hole is gone now. it turned out to be a cyclical phenomenon of nature. the doomsayers are now busy looking for other evidence of armageddon. it's going to be horrible, whatever it is, and human activity will be to blame. (link) (2005)
the nose knows
if you commit physical violence upon an acacia tree it will increase the tannin content of its leaves. at the same time it will communicate a danger signal to the trees around it and they too, in turn, will increase the tannin in their leaves. the communication occurs through a sense of smell. this sort of communication may also exist in humans and the chemicals are not only olfactory but things that don't have a smell but exert an influence as if they did. the device responsible is located in our nose and has come to be called jacobson's organ. it is our sixth sense and among its many important functions is to initiate the mating function. (lyall watson, "jacobson's organ and the remarkable sense of smell", isbn 0393049086) (2005)
we are creatures of habit
the head of certain golf clubs used to be made of wood. the hitting surface of wooden clubs can be damaged by moisture and by abrasive substances. these heads had to be covered by protective socks. nowadays the heads of these clubs are made of a titanium alloy. they are resistant to abrasion and they do not react to moisture at all; but we still cover them with protective socks. and before we invented forks, we made knives with pointed ends so we could use them to spear food pieces. we now have forks but we still make knives with pointed ends. we are creatures of habit. (2005)
we are our own worst enemy
unnatural deaths during the 20th century: caused by earthquakes, typhoons, tsunamis and other natural disasters 3.5 million, caused by man in war, murder, and political repression 185 million. (link) (2004)
we are our own worst terrorist
you can give parkinson's disease to a lab rat by feeding it a steady dose of rotenone for five weeks. rotenone is widely used for pest control and may be found on fruits, vegetables, flowers, and in fish caught in managed lakes and reservoirs. the flea powder you dust your dog with also contains rotenone. (timothy green, emory university, nov 2000)
what is music?
the average australian merino wool fiber measures 20 microns and fine wool 19 microns in diameter but wool from barry walker's ranch measured out at an incredible 11.8 microns. mr. walker plays italian opera pieces for his sheep. (2004)
a dolphin story
on oct 30 2004, swimmers off ocean beach in whangarei, new zealand became the target of an attack by a great white shark. thereupon, a group of dolphins formed a protective circle around the swimmers and herded them back to shore. (2004)
monkey police
the monkeys at the khaowang buddhist temple in phetchaburi, thailand have grown so numerous and unruly that during religous festivals the monks have to bring in a dozen or so of the temple monkeys from lopburi to maintain law and order. the simian sentries are posted along the path to the temple and they keep the khaowang monkeys from harrassing human visitors. (2004)

cone snails
If you dive or snorkel around coral reefs you might spot this pretty and benign-looking sea snail (photo). don't touch it. it is a venomous fish hunter. when it smells fish within range, it fires its venom-laden harpoon into the fish and then swallows its paralyzed prey. so powerful is its venom that i you catch just one of these harpoons you will become paralyzed almost instantaneously. death will soon follow. ( link) 2004.
highway robbery
during the sugarcane harvest in eastern thailand, elephants roam the highways looking for sugarcane trucks. when they find one they block the traffic and rob the sugarcane truck. (2004)
holy termites
just as cows are holy in india so termites are holy in thailand. when termites attack their home the thais don't kill them. they burn candles and incense and they worship them. they feel blessed that the holy termites have chosen their home for destruction. (2004)
temple fish
in the part of the river that fronts a buddhist temple in thailand the density of fish exceeds that of the rest of the river by an order of magnitude. the fish know that the temple offers them a safe haven. no thai would ever harm a fellow creature in front of a temple. (2004)
the sea squirt
when the sea squirt is born it has eyes, a brain, and a tail. it needs these tools to swim around and find an appropriate host to live off of. once a host is found the squirt eats its own brain and turns into a plant-like animal. in its new secure condition the brain is no longer needed for survival. we are descended from this creature. no matter how we romanticize our existence, we are essentially biological agents whose only purpose is to survive and reproduce. we have a brain because it serves that purpose. [photo] [photo] (2004)
how we read
take each word in any sentence and change the order of the characters keeping only the first and last characters of each word in their places. you can still read that sentence. the order of the intervening characters is not important. it has to do with the way we read. (2004)
the fall of baghdad
the invaders attacked with overwhemling military might and advanced weaponry. they fired hundreds of rockets each exploding on impact and laying waste to an entire city block. the iraqi army quickly capitulated and by april baghdad had fallen to the mongols. it was april of 1258 ad. (2004)
lingua franca
in pre-roman times, the language of choice for scholarly discourse in the arts and sciences of western civilization was greek. in roman times, and right up until the 18th century it was latin. in the post british colonial era and particularly after the ascent of american hegemony, it has been english. it was never french. in fact, the phrase that refers to the universality of the french language is itself in latin.
the alphabet
the phoenicians had consonants but no vowels. the vowels were inferred according to the spoken language that predated the alphabet. so when the greeks decided to write down the homerian tales they had to first invent a whole new alphabet with vowels because some of homer’s words were not commonly spoken. it is literature that gave birth to the alphabet and not the other way around. (milman parry, 2004)
in chicxulub, mexico, there is a crater that measures 180 km across and is about 65 million years old. coincidentally, dinosaur bones can be found in geologic formations dating back about 65 million years and older but not since. it is tempting to conclude that climate change induced by a meteor caused a mass extinction of dinosaurs - until you take a closer look. there is at least a 300,000 year gap between the supposed meteor event and the last of the dinosaur bones. no one can come up with a good reason for climate change to take that long to cause mass extinction; or for meteors to take that long to cause climate change. (2004)
was there a big bang?
if there had been a big bang then the farther out we looked the older would be the universe and therefore more disorderly the heavens but that is not the case. as far as we can look we still find orderly arrangements of heavenly bodies. bruce woodgate, 2004 (link)
plain of jars
imagine a stone sculpture in the shape of a giant urn that is as tall as your house and twice as heavy as your car. now imagine hundreds of them laid out in a geometrical pattern over a large flat plain. this is the weirdness you encounter in the 'plain of jars' in laos. we know they have been there for thousands of years but we don't know what they are, who made them, why they made them, how they were made, or how they were moved. (photo) ( link) 2003
naga fireballs
about once a lunar year on average, under a full moon, in a bend in the mekong near nong khai in thailand, the river belches up crimson fireballs for hours at a time. the balls shoot up into the sky and disappear. the only known explanation is a mythical one. predictably, "scientists" describe the fireballs as a methane phenomenon. some locals suspect a hoax. (photo, link) (2003)
the magic of coconut water
the clear refreshing water that you drink out of a green coconut in the tropics is so much like blood plasma that it may be used as a substitute. in an emergency you could be fed coconut water intravenously. (btw: coconut water also kills intestinal parasites, heals kidney and urethral ailments, relieves cholera symptons, accelerates the absorpition of drugs, and is the best known rehydration agent on earth.) (link) (2003)
the magic of marijuana
if you live on a fatty high cholesterol diet, plaque deposits inside your arteries will cause them to get narrower and narrower and force your heart to work harder and harder until cardiovascular failure occurs; unless you also smoke marijuana. cannabis contains an active agent that reverses the process. (francois mach, geneva university hospital, (link), (2005)
the magic of pizza
Many a prolonged confrontation between cops and entrenched felons has been resolved peacefully when the cops resorted to the ultimate weapon and sent in the pizzas. (2005)
the magic of eleven
1x1=1, 11x11=121, 111*111=12321, 1111*1111=1234321, and so on all the way up to 12345678987654321. the square of a number formed with n 1's is a number formed with a mirrored sequence of digits that goes from 1 to n and back down to 1 again as long as n is not greater than 9. (2005)
the galileo myth
aristotle's idea that heavy things fall faster than light things went unchallenged until galileo's experiments proved him wrong. is that what you were taught in college? it's a lie. galileo only extended the work of medieval scientists who had already written about the constancy of gravitational acceleration. (pierre duhem) (2003)
a flawed model
remember all those statistical studies that claimed a racial and gender bias in the pay scale? they're all wrong because their regression model is mis-specified. they did not include height as a variable. height adds $789 per inch per year to our paychecks on average according to timothy judge. ( link) (2003)
science fraud
isaac newton wrote that in his experiment he observed a speed of sound exactly equal to that reported by derham. he did not know that derham had reported the average of many measurements and had not actually observed the reported velocity. the principia mathematica is full of fudged numbers. (richard westfall) (btw: he also lied a lot about dates often predating his work to be ahead of the european compeition.) (2003)
naegleria fowleri
naegleria is a flagellate amoeba (photo). it can grow flagella and swim rather than crawl when there is plenty of water around. the reason we care is that if you drink some of that water, naegleria can enter your bloodstream and swim to your brain in 3 days and kill you in a week or so. there is more than tummy aches and dysentery waiting for you at that old swimming hole these days. (link) (2003)
if you have been to beijing in the summer you have heard the desert wind moan as it blows hot dust through the city. it's the gobi desert (photo) and it's coming to town. desertification creates 10,000 square km (about the size of the greater san francisco bay area) of new desert every year as the gobi encroaches on beijing. (link) (2003)
musical rx
alfred tomatis says that listening to mozart can improve your hearing and cure autism, dyslexia, attention deficit disorder, and other learning disabilities. (link) (2003)
we can hear sound down to 15 cycles per second. below that "sound" is not heard; but there is no doubt that it is felt. infrasound can cause headaches, nausea, emotional distress, memory loss, heart palpitations, seizures, and depression. infrasound can also interfere with molecular vibrations and create a chill in the air, or cause things to fall off of shelves, or the door to shut. ghosts may turn out to be infrasound. thunder, wind, ocean waves, volcanoes, earthquakes, rivers, waterfalls, aircraft, fans, air conditioners, and pipelines are all known to cause infrasound. (link) (2003)
monkey school
in surat thani province of thailand are schools where monkeys can go to learn agricultural skills. throughout s.e. asia monkeys are used as agricultural workers particularly in harvesting coconuts. (photo, photo)(2003)
machines are us
if you attach a computer mouse or any electro-mechanical gizmo to yourself in a way that it responds to your neurological electrical activity so that you can see, hear, or feel the response; then your brain will soon learn to control the gizmo as if it were part of your body. we are just so many electro-mechanical devices, apparently. (btw: miguel attached a mechanical arm to a monkey and the monkey began to use it soon thereafter, all by himself. link)(2003)
hans mattson
hans emigrated from sweden to america in 1851 and drifted around for a while before settling in minnesota where he set up a land agency and became first the director of immigration and then the secretary of state of minnesota. It was just then that three successive years of crop failures would send a million swedes to america. the initial flow of these migrants was to iowa and illinois. hans diverted this flow to his state and to his land agency. and that is how most of the swedish migrants ended up there and why minnesota is swedish. (link) (2003)
george l. mccolm
the lenient and enlightened invasion and occupation of japan by the united states in 1945 was based on a “ten points” strategy paper written by an obscure army agricultural expert named george mccolm. It is mccolm and not macarthur who should be credited with the far-sighted and humanitarian nature of the operation that serves to this day as a model for military occupation. (tim maga, 2004, link)
nguyen tat tanh
he used more than ten aliases. in france, he had applied for admission to the colonial administrative school apparently meaning to join forces with the colonists rather than fight them. when he was in china, he betrayed independence activist, family friend, and mentor phan boi chau to the french for a reward of 10,000 hk dollars; and also bought the identity card of a dead beggar and became “ho chi minh”. later, he used the alias tran dan tien to publish an interview with ho chi minh that was mostly self exaltation. this imaginary interview became source material for subsequent biographies. (bui tin) (link) (photo)(2004)
the french connection
something else that marx, lenin, mao, deng, zhou el lai, and ho chi minh had in common is that they all germinated their communist philosophy in paris. what made france the hub of socialist thought was that it was the french revolution that gave birth to the idea that peasants could rule. (2004)
why the mongols won
the mongol cavalry that conquered most of asia to create the largest empire in history did so by surviving on a diet of horse blood and mare’s milk while on their military campaigns. This diet allowed them to go on longer operations with greater mobility and fewer logistical problems than any other army. the other secret to their success was their unique negotiation strategy. each town they attacked was given a choice between a friendly surrender and total annihilation. most chose to surrender. (2004)
the physiology of superstition
our brain is programmed to discard the usual as background noise and to record only the unusual as data because that is the most efficient way for it to secure our survival; and our survival is its only purpose. if this mechanism is used instead for the very different purpose of trying to understand the world around us, it will lead predictably to superstition and religion because the data we collect are not random but biased. most of the data are discarded and only the rare, the bizarre, and the supernormal are retained and they lead invariably to supernatural conclusions. superstition is a physiological phenomenon. it exists because of the way our brain works. (2004)
adolf golf
adolf hitler played golf with only three clubs, one to tee off, one for the fairway, and one for the green. he never used a bag, trolley, cart, or caddie. he walked carrying his three clubs in his hand. when the d-day invasion began he was on the golf course. oh, his handicap? we don't know. he played alone and did not write down his score.
the mother of all sports
what soccer, rugby, golf, tennis, badminton, boxing, and cricket have in common is that, in their modern form, they all have their origin in great britain. (2005)

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