Amorous ostriches

Friday 7 March 2003

The courtship behaviour of ostriches towards humans is to be explained at a series of public events aimed at promoting science.

As part of the IgNobel National Science Week Tour 2003 – organised by the British Association for the Advancement of Science in conjunction with The Times Higher Education Supplement – Dr Charles Paxton, a statistician and ecologist at the University of St Andrews, will talk at the University of Manchester and the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh next week.

His scientific paper, “Courtship Behavior of Ostriches Toward Humans Under Farming Conditions in Britain”, which was published in the journal British Poultry Science, showed that the birds became aroused in the presence of humans and won Dr Paxton and co- author Charles Deeming an IgNobel late last year. A spoof on the Nobel Prizes, the awards are run by the science humour magazine Annals of Improbable Research.

Dr Paxton said, “During the ostrich farm boom in the mid 1990s, the farmers wanted to raise egg fertility and reproduction but the ostriches didn’t reproduce much. However, the ostriches always seemed to engage in courtship behaviour every time anyone looked. But, in fact, what we discovered was that this behaviour was directed primarily at human beings and not other ostriches!”



To contact Dr Paxton, please call 01334 461811 today./


Further information (provided by “The IgNobel National Science Week Tour 2003”)

The IgNobel National Science Week Tour 2003 Supported by THES

Description of the shows

These will be similar to the kind of shows Marc Abrahams (editor of the Annals of Improbable Research and founder of the IgNobel awards) has been doing in the U.S. for a decade or so now — especially the shows every year (and to which the public is invited) at the annual meeting of the AAAS (American Assn for the Advancement of Science).

The purpose is to entertain the audience and, without being overt about it, seduce them into becoming curious about science.

The common thread to everything in the show is that it first makes people LAUGH, then makes them THINK. All of it centers on the IgNobel Prizes, which are awarded to people whose achievements do exactly those two things.

Marc will show lots of extraordinary pictures (probably using PowerPoint) of things that have earned IgNobel Prizes, and introduce several extraordinary IgNobel Prize winners, each of whom will do five-to-ten-minute demonstration/talks.

Some of the participants will be:  Charles Paxton and Charles Deeming — co-authors of the research report “Courtship Behavior of Ostriches Toward Humans Under Farming Conditions in Britain.”  Robert Matthews — who demonstrated, both theoretically and empirically, that buttered toast often falls butter-side up.  Chris McManus — author of the research report “Scrotal Asymmetry in Man and in Ancient Sculpture.”  Michael Berry and Andre Geim — who used magnets to levitate a frog  Jonathan Wyatt, Gordon McNaughton, and William Tullett — authors of the medical report “The Collapse of Toilets in Glasgow.”  Karl Kruszelnicki — who performed a comprehensive survey of belly button lint.  Len Fisher — who calculated the optimal way to dunk a biscuit

Several of them, especially the latter two, are of course already well known (via books, radio, etc.) as being greatly entertaining popularizers of science.

The shows will be approximately 90 minutes long.

Other components of the show may be:

 some good, short, Tom Lehrer-ish songs that have been performed at various IgNobel ceremonies.  “The Heisenberg Certainty Lectures”  The IgNobel show will also feature 24/7 where contestants have to explain their research in 24 seconds and seven words. Details of this nationwide competition are on the THES website ( ) Dates and times:

07 March 2003 – Main Lecture Theatre, Institute of Electrical, Savoy Place, London, WC2R 0BL, Time: 7pm

10 March 2003 – Staff House Lounge, University of Manchester, Burlington Street, Oxford Road, Manchester, M13 9PL, Time: 7pm

11 March 2003 – Main Hall, Royal College of Surgeons, Nicholson Street, Edinburgh, EH8 9DW, Time: 7pm

12 March 2003 – Queen’s Hall, Percy Gee Building, University Road, Leicester, LW1 7RH, Time: 6.30pm

13 March 2003 – Planetarium, Harbourside, Bristol, BS1 5DB, Time: 7pm

For booking see the National Science Week website: www.the- or call 020 7973 3062

Issued by Beattie Media on behalf of the University of St Andrews For more information please contact: Claire Grainger on 01334 462530, 07730 415 015 or email cg24@st- View University press releases on- line at Ref: ostriches/standrews/chg/7march2003

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