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Thursday, December 18, 2014
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Published: Tuesday, 12/5/2000

Boneheads, halfwits, and Al Gore

This space has on occasion been accused of failing to display any appreciable intellectual standards - one unkind critic even compared it to reading the ingredients on a candy bar wrapper.

Well, I just hope that critic sees the paper today, because we're going to talk about reports on two very important scientific studies that people should know about - and both of them have to do with the brain. I doubt that you could get much more intellectual than that.

One report deals with a scholarly study presented last week at a meeting of the Radiological Society of North America. This organization, in case you're not familiar with it, is a highly scientific group that is dedicated to providing continuing education for radio personalities - who I'm sure we all agree could use all the continuing education they can get.

This study was designed to help researchers physically locate the human “funny bone.” Armed with that information, radio programming experts presumably hope to design new formats that would allow stations to broadcast signals that directly stimulate the funny bone, bypassing listeners' ears completely. This would allow them to significantly reduce costs by eliminating all of their on-air personnel.

Using a small group of lab subjects, the researchers probed everywhere for funny bones, with no success. They were about to call in a team of proctologists to assist them when somebody thought to examine a subject's brain. To their surprise, there was a funny bone, lodged in among the frontal lobes of the brain, located right behind the eyebrows.

To confirm their discovery, researchers made the lab subjects watch videotapes of Al Gore explaining why we need another recount in Florida, and they monitored the activity in the subjects' frontal lobes. The lobes pulsated with mirth until they nearly wet themselves, and the researchers realized excitedly that they had indeed found the humor center of the body. This, they reasoned, could explain why middle management types who repeatedly beat their heads against a wall often lose their sense of humor.

The triumphant researchers immediately dubbed their study The Bonehead Project.

Our second report comes from the International Society for Magnetic Resonance in Medicine. That's another little-known group whose name makes it sound like it might have something to do with measuring the sound your head makes when you hit it with one of those little rubber mallets that a doctor uses to test your reflexes. Who knows?

Anyway, this group's researchers made the discovery that men listen with only one side of their brains, while women use both sides. (Gee, there's an astounding revelation that any married women - and most single ones, too, for that matter - would never have guessed on their own.)

In this study, lab subjects wearing earphones listened to taped excerpts from a novel, and they were hooked up to monitors so researchers could track their brain waves. In the female subjects, both sides of the brain picked up on the action in the novel. In the male subjects, only half of the brain focused on the novel. The other half was busy thinking about football, nachos dripping with cheese sauce, and Claudia Schiffer.

While important, the significance of this discovery remains open to debate. It could mean that men are literally halfwits whenever you're trying to talk to them, and women are much better listeners. Then again, it could mean that men only NEED half a brain to process information, thus freeing the other half up for random creative musings or short catnaps.

By the way, a Tootsie Roll contains corn syrup, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, cocoa, and soya lecithin. I know at least half of your brain was wondering about that.

Mike Kelly is a Blade columnist. E-mail him at mikekelly@theblade.com.



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