More Strange Cases in Science

The following is an article from The Annals of Improbable Research, now in all-pdf form. Get a subscription now for only $25 a year!

Strange Cases of This and That, From Here and There
compiled by Stephen Drew, Improbable Research staff

The Schmarb Puzzle
“The Strange Case of John Shmarb: An Aesthetic Puzzle,” Steven M. Cahn and L. Michael Griffel, Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, vol. 34, no. 1, Autumn,1975, pp. 21-22. The authors, at the University of Vermont and the City University of New York, explain:

[Newspapers] reported that a grandson of a former student of Brahms, rummaging through an old family trunk, had unearthed some dusty pages that turned out to be an original Brahms manuscript: a fifth symphony completed just prior to the composer’s death in 1897. It had never been performed or published, and, in fact, Brahms seems never to have even mentioned it to anyone....

Incredibly, the Symphony had actually been the handiwork of a young American composer, John Shmarb, who had called a press conference to announce his achievement.... When asked why he had concocted such an elaborate hoax, young Shmarb replied: “For the last ten years publishers and critics and musicologists have been dismissing my work as inconsequential because they claimed all I did was copy nineteenth-century music. Well, I finally got fed up. They weren’t being fair to my music....”

Word soon followed that the Berlin Philharmonia had eliminated the Symphony from its re-cording schedule, that plans to publish the work had been abandoned at considerable cost to the publisher, and that all announced performances had been cancelled.

Further Thoughts on the Schmarb Puzzle
“The Strange Case of John Shmarb: An Epilogue and Further Reflections,” Neil Courtney, Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, vol. 34, no. 1, Autumn 1975, pp. 27-28. The author, a member of the Philadelphia Orchestra, explains:

John Shmarb was lucky to get his symphony past the sycophants and self-deceiving opinion makers the first time. He would never survive extended exposure to true music lovers.

The Strange Cases of the Exploding Teeth (1975)
“Oddments in Dental History: The Strange Cases of the Exploding Teeth,” M.E. Ring, Bulletin of the History of Dentistry, vol. 23, no. 1, 1975, pp. 17-18.

Exploding Teeth (2015)
“The Mysterious Case of ‘Exploding Teeth’,” Louis. I. Grossman, British Dental Journal, vol. 219, 2015, pp. 376-377. The author, at the University of Pennsylvania, writes:

So there you have it. Four cases of exploding teeth, all of them remaining a mystery and perhaps more cases that remain unsolved.

(More About) Sentences Saying of Themselves Strange Things
“Further Reflections on Sentences Saying of Themselves Strange Things,” Elia Zardini, Logic and Logical Philosophy, epub March 2017. The author, at Universidade de Lisboa, Portugal, explains:

Milne [2005] argued that a sentence saying of itself that it does not have a truthmaker is true but does not have a truthmaker. López de Sa and Zardini [2006] worried that, by parity of reasoning, one should conclude that a sentence saying of itself that it is not both true and short is true but not short. Recently, Milne [2013] and Gołosz [2015] have replied to López de Sa and Zardini’s worry, arguing in different ways that the worry is ill-founded. In this paper, I’ll address these replies and argue that they fail to dispel López de Sa and Zardini’s worry.


This article is republished with permission from the September-October 2017 issue of the Annals of Improbable Research. You can download or purchase back issues of the magazine, or subscribe to receive future issues. Or get a subscription for someone as a gift!

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