I’ve finally gone off the deep end, you say. What has sword swallowing got to do with science? Well, turns out, lots!
I attended and (sort of) presented about Health Care resources in Second Life on May 30 at HealthCamp Nashville, held on the campus of David Lipscomb University here in Nashville. If you are interested in the resources I compiled for that presentation you may access them at WallWisher, a Web 2.0 platform for easily collaborating on a topic. I’m not here to talk about my presentation, though, rather to share one of those interesting ways that life can surprise you with fascinating new learning if you’re open to that sort of thing.
The subject at hand is sword swallowing.
HealthCamp Nashville was set up around social/professional networking tools. In fact, I’d become aware of it through Twitter, my tech/teaching/innovation mainstay. The presentations were set up so that each presenter only had 20 minutes, with 5 more to share q and a, then 5 minutes to set up for the next presenter.
I was checking out my presentation room, the “Yellow Room.” Now, the conference had registered 150 or so attendees but only 40 or 50 showed up. Still, I wanted to do the best I could, so I decided to watch a couple presentations in the same room. I “live-blogged” it with CoverItLive and you can read about Larry Lin’s excellent presentation on Healthcare opportunities in China by visiting my personal blog at scottmerrick.net. Toward the end of Larry’s session, a tall, fit looking fellow with long blonde hair entered the room with a bag of swords. He listened attentively and when it was his turn he eased up to the front of the room.
Now, Lin’s presentation had only been experienced by about a half-dozen in the audience. Most of those filtered out in the interim and I was left with only Tim, the session timekeeper (you know, the guy with the two large cards that say “5″ and “1″ that he uses to help keep the sessions on schedule). To the new presenter’s relief, others filtered in and pretty soon we had four or five in the audience. Others came in as the twitter stream hashed #hcn09 seeped out the news that something extraordinary was going on in the Yellow Room.
I wished that I had recorded Dan’s presentation, all built around his 2006 scholarly paper published by the British Medical Journal, “Sword Swallowing and Its Side Effects.” The paper garnered Meyer a coveted (or not:) Ig Nobel award in 2007. These awards are given annually for discoveries “that cannot, or should not, be reproduced,” and are currently announced annually a Harvard University venue to great fanfare. I actually featured Ig Nobel awards ‘way back in podcast number 47 of S4theB!. Just to give you some idea of the company Meyer keeps with this award, here’s the list of 2007 award winners (from Wikipedia):
Aviation: Patricia V. Agostino, Santiago A. Plano and Diego A. Golombek, for discovering that hamsters recover from jetlag more quickly when given Viagra.
Biology: Johanna E.M.H. van Bronswijk, for taking a census of all the mites and other life forms that live in people’s beds.
Chemistry: Mayu Yamamoto for extracting vanilla flavour from cow dung.
Economics: Kuo Cheng Hsieh, for patenting a device to catch bank robbers by ensnaring them in a net.
Linguistics: Juan Manuel Toro, Josep B. Trobalon and Nuria Sebastian-Galles, for determining that rats sometimes can’t distinguish between recordings of Japanese and Dutch played backward.
Literature: Glenda Browne, for her study into indexing entries that start with the word “the”.
Medicine: Dan Meyer and Brian Witcombe, for investigating the side-effects of swallowing swords.
Nutrition: Brian Wansink, for investigating people’s appetite for mindless eating by secretly feeding them a self-refilling bowl of soup.
Peace: The United States Air Force Wright Laboratory in Dayton, Ohio, for suggesting the research and development of a “gay bomb,” which would cause enemy troops to become sexually attracted to each other.
Physics: L. Mahadevan and Enrique Cerda Villablanca for their theoretical study of how sheets become wrinkled.
You get the idea. I was prepared to scoff.
As I watched and listened, something remarkable happened: I was enthralled! Meyer had certainly done his research, and the paper was well-written and fit the mold of every academic paper I’ve read over the years. This man is a good communicator. The president of Sword Swallower’s Internationsl, he’s also, indisputably, a master of sword swallowing, as the video in this post demonstrates.
I talked with Dan after his presentation, told him that I wished I’d recorded his presentation, and incredibly, he handed me the mini-DVD tape that had recorded his 20 minute presentation. I’ll cut the audio as he prepares to do his demonstration, and you can finish with the video at blogs.vanderbilt.edu/s4theb/ !!! Here’s a link to Dan’s excellent website.
And here’s a link to the YouTube video I shot at the presentation!
Music for this show comes from Podsafe Music Network instrumentalist and composer Jean Miquel, working out of Montreal, Quebec and sharing with us his “The Sword of Fire” composition, right in line with Dan Meyer’s predilection for suspenseful music. Dan’s presentation follows!
Snacks4theBrain! episode 84 is right here, or truck on over to iTunes and subscribe!
Dan’s Twitter account @Halfdan
Dan is available to speak at science/medical events at http://tr.im/scimed
Dan’s “Have Sword Will Travel” podcasts on Itunes
Sword Swallowers Association International
Sword Swallowing x-rays www.swordswallow.com/xrays.php
Wikipedia article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dan_Meyer_(performer)
Ig Nobel awards: http://www.improbable.com/ig/