From left: Fame Pictures, Oxford U. Press, Texas A&M
The weirdest science stories of the year included, from left, the four-eared cat who
sparked an Internet sensation; the world's oldest marijuana stash; and the
rediscovery of the Furby-like pygmy tarsier, which was thought to be extinct.
How do you follow an act like glow-in-the-dark kitties? The competition for our second annual Weird Science Awards includes an ample helping of animal weirdness, ranging from see-through fish to a four-eared feline. But 2008 saw plenty of all-too-human oddities as well, including the world's oldest marijuana stash and the "lost" Amazon tribe that wasn't.
Our awards program is meant to salute the past year's scientific foibles: the sorts of discoveries that merit a wink and a nod (such as the sex habits of spiders), a goofy smile (such as the study that found buyers prefer cars that look angry) or a roll of the eyes (such as this year's trumped-up Bigfoot hoax).
Here's how it works: We're serving up a list of two dozen science stories from the past year that caused a spike in the weirdness meter. Do as much research as you need to do, then register your ironically unscientific vote for the story you think most deserves the Weird Science Award. Feel free to check back on the Live Vote to see how your favorite is faring. We don't mind if you recruit your friends for a little online ballot-box stuffing.
If we've missed any science story you think is a contender for a Weirdy, feel free to cast a write-in ballot as a comment below. Get 10 other commenters (e.g., friends) to support your nomination, and we'll add it to the official ballot. The top 10 vote-getters will be celebrated in a Weirdy gallery to be published with much fanfare (and maybe even a caveman musical salute) during the week of Jan. 5.
And so, without further ado, here are this year's 24 Weirdy finalists:
Scientists create mind reader: Brain scans can tell what you're looking at, or perhaps even dreaming about.
Size matters to sex-crazed spiders: Small is beautiful when you're a male spider looking for a mate.
When pandas attack: Ah, pandas ... so cute, so cuddly, so peaceful ... Hey, he bit my leg!
Dogs know when you're being unfair: Canines, like kids, get huffy when they're slighted.
Oldest pot stash totally busted: 2,700-year-old grave in Gobi Desert yields almost two pounds of marijuana.
Scientists turn into virtual body snatchers: Out-of-body experiences created in the lab.
Male lizards do push-ups to impress the babes: Exhausting ritual serves as visual display.
Real-life Furbys rediscovered: Rare pygmy tarsiers are spotted in Indonesia for the first time in more than 70 years. (I realize there are other, more common species of tarsiers that are native to the Philippines and other regions of the world, and are just as weird-looking.)
Meet the Flintsteins: Scientists find the 4,600-year-old remains of a nuclear family in a German grave.
Ancient joke book parrots Monty Python: A 1,600-year-old Greek document contains a version of the British comedy group's famous "dead parrot" sketch.
Original 'Gladiator' tomb found: Second-century monument honors Roman hero who inspired Russell Crowe's movie character.
Shark's virgin birth confirmed: DNA shows that a shark pup received no genetic contribution from a father.
People love angry-faced cars: Research reveals that car buyers humanize their purchases, and prefer a dominant, masculine look.
Some pig: Sow nurses tiger cubs: Ukrainian pig looks after cats abandoned by their mother.
Whale whisperer teaches beluga to 'talk': In Japan, beluga whale makes different sounds when shown different objects. What's the whale word for "weird"?
It's not easy being a green polar bear: After swimming in algae-laden waters, Japanese zoo animals cause a stir.
Bigfoot is just a gorilla suit: Big scientific find turns out to be bigger scientific fake.
Tree shrew is a world-class beer drinker: Tiny mammals live on the equivalent of an all-beer diet but never get drunk.
Cavemen had an ear for music: Prehistoric humans created their paintings in cave chambers where singing would sound best.
'Lost tribe' isn't that lost: Brazilian researchers draw attention to "uncontacted" tribe that they've known about for decades.
Penguin gets a wetsuit: Biologists create a suit that lets an aging, balding bird swim again.
Scientists breed see-through fish: It may sound frivolous, but these fish could help with the fight against cancer.