William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Science Proves Farting On Airplanes, Exposing Buttocks To Sun Healthy

Pommergaard: Let it go!

According to the latest in medical science, I sat next or near to an exceptionally healthy individual on my last flight. My keen olfactory senses alerted me that a fellow passenger, almost certainly my seatmate, though he was shy and tried to hide his vitality behind a magazine, was in fact hale and hearty—and probably ate a burrito for breakfast.

Hans-Christian Pommergaard, author of the seminal “Short-term sun exposure of the gluteal area is safe”1, has released a new peer-reviewed work into the aether. “Flatulence on airplanes: just let it go”2. According to the abstract:

Flatus is natural and an invariable consequence of digestion, however at times it creates problems of social character due to sound and odour. This problem may be more significant on commercial airplanes where many people are seated in limited space and where changes in volume of intestinal gases, due to altered cabin pressure, increase the amount of potential flatus. Holding back flatus on an airplane may cause significant discomfort and physical symptoms, whereas releasing flatus potentially presents social complications.

Some physical symptoms of gaseous temperance are (as quoted in the press) “discomfort and even pain, bloating, dyspepsia (indigestion), pyrosis (heartburn)…”

The paper particularly warns that pilots never dare hold it in, as doing so could cause “impaired concentration” and even “affect his abilities to control the plane”! On the other hand, there are consequences from wanton degassing. “[H]is co-pilot may be affected by its odor, which again reduces safety onboard the flight.” Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. The paper doesn’t mention the effects of the newer, probably airtight, security doors which entrap gases in a confined area, concentrating them.

Solutions? The airlines could “alter the fibre content of airline meals in order to reduce its flatulent potential.” Or the TSA could finally be of real use by scanning passengers with portable gas chromatographs or “methane breath test[s]”. Those whose emissions exceed Level Orange would be barred from flying. Since one of Pommergaard’s findings was “that a woman’s fart smells worse than a man’s”, passenger profiling by sex is inevitable.

I don’t want to cause Pommergaard any grief, nor brag about my family, but my old grandpa was years ahead of medical science. He often used to recite this poem (which unfortunately he didn’t publish, thus quashing his chances for a Nobel):

Better to fart
And bear the shame
Than not to fart
And bear the pain

Since it is healthier to let go, yet acknowledging fruitier efforts can cause deadly pilot-error, Pommergaard “humbly proposes” putting actived carbon adjacent to passenger bungholes. Not just in the seats, but “active charcoal may be used in trousers and blankets to emphasise this effect.” The TSA could improve their now-useless strip searches by administering trouser pads.

I know what you’re thinking: what about the short-term sun exposure of the gluteal area? Seems Pommergaard collected six Dutch buttocks, handed out thongs, and headed down to the tanning parlour. There, the “right and the left gluteal regions” of the buttocks “were randomised to either 20 or 40 minutes” exposure.

Then, he and his team of crack scientists peered over the pores. Why, they even calculated an “erythema score” and performed a “pixel colour analysis”, all to the sultry beat of the Bee Gees’ “How Deep Is Your Love?”

I’m only guessing about the Bee Gees. But the scientists did say that due to “social norms and the use of clothes the gluteal region of the body is only partially exposed to sun.” This is a good thing, apparently, because the radiation research revealed “[a]ll outdoor activity without clothes should be limited to 20 minutes to avoid skin damage.”

Finally, relevant science music:

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Thanks to Al and Ann Perrella and the Blonde Bombshell for telling us of this wind-breaking research.

1Ugeskrift for Laeger 2012; 174 (49) 3071-4.

2Journal of the New Zealand Medical Association, 15-February-2013, Vol 126 No 1369.

Updated to remove typo and calm the nervous.

17 Comments

  1. Is your next post going to be about pee-values?

  2. Nothing like a team of crack scientists doing their job… makes a pun addict’s day, so it does!

  3. Active/activated charcoal/carbon has nothing to do with radioactivity. Do a quick search if you don’t believe me.

  4. Did your grandpa also invent the “Here I sit lonely hearted ….” song? You should be ashamed of your scatological puns, but I am glad to see that you are a Bee Gees fan.

  5. “Activated charcoal” isn’t “radioactive carbon.” Or at least any more than any other random charcoal. Say what?

  6. This seems to be a somewhat on topic link.

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/foodanddrink/foodanddrinknews/9877560/Calorie-levels-on-food-packaging-wildly-misleading.html

    This also supports claims that I have made in the past about the impossibility of controlling weight through calorie counting, although the author of the article does not entirely get the point. This would also be a good link for your philosophy of data post.

  7. It’s link day! The following is appropriate for this web site.

    http://www.numberwatch.co.uk/statistical_bludgeon.htm

    You might not like his definition of the p-value, Briggs, but you should like the rest. He makes you look mild mannered and agreeable, but then he is retired. Number Watch by John Brignell is a must read web site and you may already be familiar with it.

  8. Charlie Martin,

    Activated Charcoal is a form of carbon processed to be riddled with small, low-volume pores that increase the surface area available for adsorption or chemical reactions.

    It is typically used as a filter material.

    It is also available in a pill form as a dietary supplement to reduce flatulence and / or reduce the odor level of it.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Activated_carbon

  9. All passangers should be fitted with under-eze anti-flatulence underpants.

    http://under-tec.com/

    Women’s farts smell worse then men’s? I would like to see his peer-reviewed evidence to back up that claim? As discussed in previous blog-posts there is no differnce between men and women!

    Has he examined the quantity / quality trade off. Some people are prolific gassers, and some are potent but only a lucky few are both.

  10. To save embarrasment and ill feeling the dispersion of frequent and random foul odours could be engineered into the air conditioning systems of passenger aircraft.

  11. Or else like we used to have smoking and non-smoking we could have farting and non-farting.

  12. Farts are no laughing matter. Don’t you realize that farts contain a gas known to cause global wqrming, I mean climate change? I read that wooley mammouth farts caused the end of the last ice age.

  13. Ray,

    It is also a bad idea to fart around an open flame as farts contain flammable gasses. :)

  14. Briggs,
    Night music and perfume can change marital dynamics; perhaps population-control advocates can apply his findings to their endeavors.
    TSA will be more interested in foods consumed the day before passengers depart; I am uncertain of the period between ingestion and initial gas release – anyone here up-to-date on this?

  15. Do you suppose they were careful to guard against…

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hindsight_bias

  16. Tubing with a slight negative pressure could be routed through the plane to the seats. Disposable tips could be handed to passengers whilst boarding.

  17. “Where ere ye be
    Let your wind go free,
    For the pinch of a fart
    Was the death of me”.

    Supposedly on an old headstone.

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