Sunday, October 07, 2012
STAG WALKS INTO A BAR. Ever wonder why some male animals have bigger horns or other sexual ornamentation than others of their species? Working with rhinocerous beetles, zoologists led by a researcher at Montana State University demonstrated that male animals’ ornaments are insulin-dependent. According to a study published in August 2012 issue of Science, growth to gargantuan size reflects excellent nutritional status in any male showing them off. If so, obviously “hunky” male animals are also probably strong and have good endurance. It’s probably an attractive quality to females hoping to mate.
BORN TO BE WILD. Every motorcycle movie ever made suggests that some humans are more adventuresome than others. Apparently, it's true of honey bees, as well. Some consistently “take it on the road” to new territory. According to a March 2012 study in Science, there are massive genetic differences that set territorially bold honeybees apart from their fellows. At least a few relate to the molecular pathways implicated in novelty-seeking in humans.
2—HOGWASH TREATMENTS FOR AUTISM? The prevalence of autism is on the rise. But according to Vanderbilt University researchers reporting on August 27 in Pediatrics, every one of the interventions currently used for the growing numbers of adolescents and young children needing substantial support are based on insufficient evidence. The researchers examined 32 studies addressing medical, vocational, and behavioral interventions, and deemed all of them structurally flawed. In light of the current autism “epidemic,” the researchers have concluded that that more rigorous studies about care for adolescents and children with autism are urgently needed.
3—TALKING THROUGH THEIR NOSES. By creating a full map of the olfactory system of worker ants of two distinct species, a research team at Vanderbilt University has come to a new understanding of ant gender roles and ant communication. The map shows that females of the two species each have about 400 distinct odorant receptors. This is four to five times more than most other insects have, and about three times more than male ants of the species studied have. Reporting in the August 2012 issue of PLoS Genetics, the VU scientists speculate that smell is the probable fundament of ant communication. Chemical signals setting off specific odorant sensors would explain how ants live in a complex social system characterized by division of labor and the ability to collaboratively solve complex problems. The researchers suggest a reason that male ants have fewer odorant receptors than females. They are only responsible for fertilizing eggs. Females, it seems organize and do just about everything else.
4—STUMPING DARWIN. A “clade” is a group consisting of a species and all of the many species descendant from it. Given the glacial pace of evolutionary change, one of the most fundamental expectations in evolutionary studies is that species richness in a clade is a measure of its age. Now that central assumption has been thrown into question. Publishing this August in PLoS Biology, evolutionary biologists from UC Berkeley, the University of Michigan, and UCLA report testing the relationship between clade age and species richness across nearly 1400 major clades of multicellular fungi, plants, arthropods, and vertebrates that collectively account for more than 1.2 million species. The team found no evidence whatsoever between clade age and species richness. “This result appears to hold across the entire tree of life, for taxa as diverse as ferns, fungi, and flies,” the scientists report.
5—SOLVING THE NUCLEAR WASTE PROBLEM WHILE PRODUCING EXTRA ENERGY. Physicists at the University of Texas at Austin have been awarded a U.S. patent for a fusion-fission hybrid nuclear reactor that could someday be used to turn nuclear sludge into usable energy. Parts of the device are still in the conceptual phase. But a “tokamak,” which uses magnetic fields to confine super-high temperature nuclear waste and produce fusion reactions, has been manufactured and is being installed in the UK at Culham Centre for Fusion Energy. CCFE, just south of Oxford, is the UK’s national laboratory for fusion research.
Thursday, September 13, 2012
Read more at Psychology Today.
Wednesday, August 29, 2012
It’s old news, perhaps. Sorry to arrive on the scene late. But in January of this year the Huffington Post reported some troubling quotes of Stacey Campfield, a Republican in the Tennessee Senate. He is the sponsor of that state’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which prohibits schools from discussing with students any sexual orientation other than heterosexual. According to HuffPo, on a radio show hosted by gay activist Michelangelo Signorile, Campfield said:
"What's the average lifespan of a homosexual? It's very short. Google it yourself."
Since last week when Missouri’s Republican Congressman Todd Akin said, “If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing [sperm fertilizing egg] down,” the country has grown another skin on its ever-hardening nub of understanding that politicians occasionally get their science wrong. But that’s no reason not to set the record straight. So, for the record, AIDS is only one of about 80 infectious diseases that humans are capable of acquiring from animals....
Read more at Psychology Today.
Friday, August 24, 2012
These peat bogs were not themselves mines. Nor were they necessarily ever sites of metal use by humans. Still, in the peat is a record of metal use over the ages. The data are in the trace minerals present in the soil because they precipitated with rain out of polluted skies.
The metal use timeline that the researchers have constructed for Iberia coincides with much of what's known about the Stone Age, the Bronze Age, Celtic and Roman culture, and the industrial revolution both locally and globally. Uninhabited and even never-inhabited areas, it seems, can be an ongoing resource for investigations of early mining and metallurgy practices, and, hence, early culture.
Wednesday, August 22, 2012
What is behind the chronic compassion deficits of some doctors, managers, police officers, school counselors, and other "bad news bears?" Why do they express so little appropriate emotion and invoke such costly wrath? Read more at Psychology Today.
Tuesday, August 07, 2012
Humans and chimps had a common ancestor 4-6 million years ago. Humans’ common ancestor with orangutans lived a far more distant 15 million years ago. This may be why chimps' personalities are like humans’ in many respects, and why orangs' personalities are like humans’ only in some.
Tuesday, July 10, 2012
To be sure, death by copulation is rare. But the data suggest that when it happens, it usually happens to adulterers, and the cause is typically cardiovascular. Read more.
Monday, July 09, 2012
MURDERS MOST FOUL: And the School Shooters in Our Midst.
Vook, Inc., 2012
Available as Kindle and Nook eBooks, and in the iBookstore.
$1.99 at Amazon.com and BarnesAndNoble.com.
More info at MurdersMostFoul.com.
Sunday, June 17, 2012
Friday, May 18, 2012
- Our immune system may be like those small bands
of Japanese “holdout” soldiers after World War II. Not knowing that
the war was over, they hid for years, launching guerrilla attacks on peaceful villages.
- With our living environment well scrubbed of germs, our body’s immune “soldiers” mistakenly fire on innocent peanuts and cat dander.
Tuesday, May 08, 2012
In the early 1960s, after the trial began in Jerusalem of Nazi Adolf Eichmann, Yale social scientist Stanley Milgram conducted an experiment in pathological obedience. The setting was a fake (but convincing) language learning lab. On the basis of his scientific authority, the experimenter convinced test subjects to administer what they thought were brutal, even life-threatening corrective shocks to "learners" trying to memorize word pairs. Eighty percent of the test subjects obeyed, and they did so despite having voiced strong moral qualms about what was being asked of them.
Milgram wanted to learn whether it was possible that the millions of guards, police, and informers complicit in the Holocaust had merely been following orders, as many had claimed. He concluded from the ease with which he convinced people to be ruthless that it was, indeed, possible. "Ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process."
Fast forward about 50 years. A team from both Aix-Marseille University and Paris West University (Nanterre) recreated Milgram's famous experiment—only this time the experimenter had no scientific authority. The experiment's setting was a reality TV show shot before a live studio audience, and the experimenter was a fashionably attired game show host. Did the unwitting "contestants" follow orders? Was the host's authority significant enough to turn contestants into monsters? And what might the new experiment's results mean for reality TV, with the shows continually besting each other to be the most barbarous?
Find out at Psychology Today.
Friday, April 13, 2012
Tuesday, April 10, 2012
What's in those disgusting balls of waste that chimps hoard and throw. Maybe—just maybe—the roots of human language. It's in my new "The Beejezus out of Me: Startling Behavioral Science" blog at Psychology Today.
Monday, April 09, 2012
A: Walls, the universe, and everything
See "Social Media, WAY Past and Present" in my new The Bejeezus out of Me: Startling Behavioral Science column at Psychology Today.
Wednesday, February 08, 2012
2 If there’s more water vapor than places for it to condense, already-formed ice crystals can also serve as seeds. As the crystals take on moisture, they may become too heavy for updrafts to support. Time for the umbrella.
3 It makes sense, then, that adding seeds to thin clouds should make them rain out. Believing the theory, 37,000 Chinese peasants shot rockets filled with silver iodide (a widely used seeding agent) into clouds.
Sunday, January 29, 2012
TMAU was first identified as a disease in 1970, and the chemical test used to identify it is common. What is special about this study is that its researchers hail from the Monell Chemical Senses Center, a flavor lab in Philadelphia. Monell's team paid its usual heightened attention to aromatic nuance. What they found was a rich and varied TMAU bouquet. Because the disease is classified as rare (fewer than 200,000 affected individuals in the United States), typically doctors sniff for the characteristic fishiness before authorizing the chemical test. The researchers in this study suggest that, by doing so, they may be missing positive cases. Which is unfortunate because, once TMAU is identified, the odor problem can be solved. A diet hygienically "clean" of the foods carrying high TMA concentrations clears the air.