Ticklish Spots

“Laughter is a defense mechanism,” she warned me. 

I smiled, “Yeah, it’s my favorite one!”

Ticklish spots are located in the most vulnerable parts of your body. They’re highly sensitive locations, dense with receptors for touch and pain. If you’re a particularly ticklish individual, they’re often places of tension, where thick layers of fascia wrapped around the muscles have solidified, forming adhesions. They’re the places where you could feel excruciating pain if anyone were to dig in too deep.

But few will ever get that far. A light touch on the spot will send you into a bout of laughter, a playful grin on your face as you retract away and shake the hands off of you. You complicate the job for doctors and lovers and TSA agents, but you complicate it with a smile.

And through the discomfort, all you will do is laugh and shake them off–so long as no one comes in too close and presses too hard.

Sometimes you wonder what might happen if you were to let someone keep digging through the tight spots. You would laugh more and more until you couldn’t anymore. Eventually, as they’d comb through the knotted layers of flesh, it might break up some of that scar tissue, release some of that nagging tension, un-train your convulsive reflex.

But as the blood vessels tangled up in those knots would rupture, the blood flowing to the surface, dark bruises would reveal to the world just where you can be hurt. And the unmasked pain on your face would reveal just how much.

So you remind yourself that, tight and twisted as it may be, you built up that impenetrable wall of fascia for a reason. And maybe not all knots are meant to be unraveled.

Besides, laughing is cute and releases endorphins.



Null results in scientific research are kind of like non-white people in Hollywood or women wearing clothes above a size 4. It’s true they’re the majority, but you wouldn’t know that from looking at big publications.

Here’s the thing about research: a lot of the time, you just don’t find anything new. If you were to follow the scientific method as impartially as the diagram in on your second grade classroom wall suggested, that’s a perfectly valid outcome. But when it comes to publication, papers with no significant results are more often tossed in favor of more striking, significant data with sexy little p-values* to flash around.


Plus, even if null results make it into a journal, it’s unlikely that normal people will pay attention to them anyway. Have you ever clicked on a trending headline that said “Scientists ran an experiment–and you’ll totally expect what happened next!”?

Null results may not seem exciting or “groundbreaking,” but leaving them out makes for a seriously warped knowledge base. If you try enough times, you’ll get the occasional significant result showing that eating gummy bears prevents earthquakes (about one in 20 times, at a p ≤ 0.05 significance level). And if only those flukes get published, any literature review or meta-analysis is gonna conclude that California residents should adopt a gummy-bear-based diet (which also happens to be the theme of next week’s Dr. Oz show).

There have been efforts in some fields to counteract that bias with null results sections and registries, but that still doesn’t sound cool enough to catch on.

So maybe what we need is a super trendy nulls-only journal–any discipline is fine, but exclusively plus-sized p-values. And if you think that it won’t catch the attention of the science media machine, no need to worry: I’ve got some of flashy pop-science headlines to bring the hype:

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*No worries if Stats class was your nap time during high school senior year. In theory, a p-value is basically the probability of seeing results as extreme as yours just by chance, if there is no real effect at the population level. In common practice, it’s something that researchers really want to be small (sometimes through statistically questionable means).


Camp Notes: Science Edition

Sometimes, actual science is cooler than what kids think:

I was with a group of 8-year-olds toward the end of the day, some of whom who were getting tired, commenting on how much time was left, and not moving quickly enough. So for some reason, I thought it was a good idea to bring in special relativity.

“Hey, did you know that if you move really fast you can warp time so that time in the outside world goes by quicker?”

“That’s not possible.”

“It’s true, but you have to go super fast, almost lightning speed.”

“You’re just making stuff up.”

“Actually, Einstein discovered it.”

“No way! I bet you don’t even know Einstein.”

In their defense, I had also recently told kids that I had fairies at my house, so maybe I’m not the most reliable source.

But I think I’m going to add “alleged creator of special relativity” to my resume.

Sometimes, actual science is way less cool than what kids think:

I was having a conversation with a 5-year-old about how there used to be more planets before scientists decided to get rid of Pluto. Several minutes later, he asks:

“How did they take down Pluto, again? They used rockets to blow it up, right?”

I had to explain that Pluto was still there, and the scientists just sat in a room and decided to reclassify it as a dwarf planet. The kid was not impressed.