Obvious science, or, Why didn’t anyone think of it sooner?

Occasionally, I read about research that surprises me because it’s based on everyday things, or is obvious it makes me wonder why no-one found it out before.

It's a tarsier. Is it just surprised, or is it shouting at you? (photo credit New Scientist website)

Today I read about how tarsiers (cute little primates) have been discovered to communicate using ultrasound. Previously, these little monkeys had been thought to yawn a lot because they are often seen with their mouths open and no sound coming out.

But no, they are calling in ultrasound, not yawning! The researchers sat tarsiers in front of ultrasound detectors, and when the tarsiers opened their mouths, sound was recorded. Ultrasound is used as a component of communication in some other mammal groups (including some primates), so it makes me wonder why nobody found this out earlier.

It's a budgie. Is it tired, or just responding to a neighbour? (photo credit talkbudgies.com)

Speaking of yawning, an example of the “I can’t believe this was published” was noticed a couple of weeks ago. When I was a kid, we had a pet cockatiel (it’s still alive, recently celebrating its 18th birthday), and we noticed that sometimes it yawned after observing us humans yawning. I should have thought about this further, because a study has been published recently demonstrating that budgies yawn contagiously too. I don’t mean to denigrate the research, but, wow, getting a paper published after sitting around watching budgies yawn? It just seems too easy.

My cat. Not drinking in this photo, but maybe she just saw me yawn?

Another example of the “I can’t believe this was published” was a paper that appeared in Science last year that described the physics of how cats drink.  This particular piece of research had me thinking two things: 1) “how is it that we did not already know how cats drink?”, and 2) “it’s a cat drinking, how the hell did it get into Science???”.  As it turns out, cats only use only the tips of their tongues to catch water in each lap. I’ve watched my cat drink many times, and have never once considered that I could get something like that published in Science. What I would like the physicists to do next is to publish results on the mechanism by which my cat manages to slop water everywhere while she drinks with just the tip of her tongue.

If these kinds of things can get published, and subsequently get picked up by the media, I want in. I’ve decided to work smarter. I need more papers and I have a very limited budget. So for me, 2012 will be a strategic year where I conduct clever but simple research. Now, where did I put my thinking cap……?

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