"There are many chemicals out there — and new ones being produced all the time — that we don’t know the effects of. But when it comes to mercury, we know where it comes from, we know where it ends up, we know what the human effects are. Now we have to think about whether we want to do anything about that." —Marine scientist Celia Chen, discussing a new report on why fish are full of mercury, has the adorable idea that we might actually give some thought to reducing our emissions to help reduce those levels.
Today's Odor: Hot mothballs in a manure fire. Gentle kisses of body odor stained carpet.
— Gowanus Canal (@Gowanus_Daily) November 20, 2012
"It is the nasal equivalent of white noise, researchers report today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Just as white noise is a mixture of many different sound frequencies and white light is a mixture of many different wavelengths, olfactory white is a mixture of many different smelly compounds." —Hoping that the Gowanus Canal's "Today's Odor" is the newly discovered "olfactory white" soon.
"Our intelligence and behaviour requires optimal functioning of a large number of genes, which requires enormous evolutionary pressures to maintain. Now, in a provocative theory, a team from Stanford University claim we are losing our intellectual and emotional capabilities because the intricate web of genes which endows us with our brain power is particularly vulnerable to mutations – and these mutations are not being selected against our modern society because we no longer need intelligence to survive."
"And Court Street, where it passed through Carroll Gardens and Cobble Hill, was the only Brooklyn, really—north was Brooklyn Heights, south was the harbor, and the rest, everything east of the Gowanus Canal (the only body of water in the world, Minna would crack each and every time we drove over it, that was 90 percent guns) apart from small outposts of civilization in Park Slope and Windsor Terrace, was an unspeakable barbarian tumult." —Last week, a team of eager scientists at the NYU's Polytechnic Institute launched a solar-powered remote-control robot equipped with underwater cameras and sensors to measure the water's chemical make-up. Photos and data will be uploaded [...]
"Our latest estimations show that for many cancers, adjusting for age, death rates are set to fall dramatically in the coming decades." —University of London cancer researcher Peter Sasieni discusses cheery recent medical science data. Meanwhile, in the field of military science, Californian airship manufacturer Aeros is designing the Aeroscraft Ballast-less Variable Buoyancy Cargo Airlift Vehicle. This looks like a super-cool spaceship that could bring food to starving people in desolate, difficult-to-reach places. But judging from the video above, which is enjoyably labeled "DO NOT COPY OR DISTRIBUTE" on YouTube, it will instead be used to bring tanks to the Antarctica for when we go to WW III [...]
“The first year after a fire is when the magic really happens.” —University of Montana ornithologist Richard Hutto says the United States Forest Service should stop doing their "controlled burns" and let massive conflagrations blaze on unabated.
"The experiment we're doing is very similar to an experiment one might do to see whether there is life on Europa. We know Europa has an icy crust and an ocean beneath it. If there's life on Europa it'll be living in a very similar way to life in Lake Ellsworth with total darkness, lots of pressure and using chemical processes rather than sunlight to power biological processes." —University of Bristol professor of geosciences Martin Siegert tells the BBC that the life forms that he and his colleagues are hoping to find by drilling through the two miles of ice that have kept the waters of Antarctica's Lake [...]
"For more than 1000 years, people believed that hyenas were hermaphrodites, since female hyenas have long, fully-erectile pseudopenises that mimic male genitalia. Seeing a hyena play the role of mom while sporting what looks like a penis would bewilder even an astute naturalist. Not only do female hyenas look like males, they are also the more aggressive and socially dominant sex, exhibiting aggression more than three times more often than male hyenas do." —There's a lot of hyena genitalia on display in the above video, and some graphic usage thereof. But if that kind of thing doesn't bother you (or, hey, if that kind of thing is precisely what [...]
"Scientists have discovered a gene variation that affects the human body clock so profoundly that it even predicts the time of day when an individual is most likely to die." What time of the day would you want to die? I am not very picky about these things, but ideally it would happen after the cocktail hour, although if I am honest I should probably note that somehow my cocktail hour, over the last few years, has swept back the hands of the clock so subtly yet persistently that I find myself ready to have a drink these days not too long after lunch, which I don't really [...]
"While dogs above seven months of age catch human yawns, younger dogs are immune to yawn contagion. Contagious yawning is not just a sign of sleepiness or boredom. Previous research has shown contagious yawning in humans, adult chimpanzees, baboons and dogs, and suggests that it can be used as a measure of empathy. Empathy, mimicking the emotional responses of others, is difficult to measure directly, but contagious yawning allows assessment of a behavioral empathetic response, the researchers say." —Or maybe they aren't as jaded and bored by the emptiness of existence that the older dogs have, through the brute process of being, learned the hard way. Did you [...]
"From the promotion of eugenics to justify genocide in Nazi Germany, to the mass-produced and homogenous population of Aldous Huxley’s dystopian future in the novel ‘Brave New World’, to ‘Frankenfood’, genetic engineering has amassed a reputation as a treacherous pursuit. However, a recent development appears to have slipped under the public radar: human pre-natal diagnosis. Screening foetal genomes to eliminate genetic ‘defects’ may lead to incremental changes in the human genetic reservoir, a permanent shift in our characteristics and eventually, self-domestication." —Scientific American's Zaria Gorvett makes a strong argument against the increasingly easy and common practice of pre-natal screening. The counter-argument is difficult to avoid, though: prospective parents [...]
"The ants are savage, relentless, capturing as many as 30,000 prey items in a single day. They scale trees to pull down giant scorpions, raid wasps’ nests and overwhelm the defenses of even the most violent Africanized bees. Any life form lying in the ants’ path knows its only chance is to try to leap away—and the antbirds know it, too. The birds swoop down and pick off as many of the harrowed menu items as they can get away with, a kleptoparasitism that ends up reducing the ants’ hunting success by one-sixth. Each of the three types of antbird makes its grab from a particular position around the [...]
"We can see different physical properties of different bonds, and that's really exciting." —Dr. Leo Gross, an IBM scientist in Zurich, talks about why he likes Daniel Craig even more than Sean Connery. No. He's really talking about the fact that he and his colleagues recently published "single-molecule images so detailed that the type of atomic bonds between their atoms can be discerned." The pictures are amazing. The 13 atoms in this one molecule called a "fullerene" arrange themselves in a hexagonal shape that looks like a turtle (so, I guess that would be Timothy Dalton. Just kidding!) Or, if you're a religious person of the Jewish persuasion, [...]
I will not attempt to come up with a better title for an article about how scientists are making brain cells out of urine than Scientific American did here, with "Brain Cells Made From Urine."
"Next Holtzman and Strube assessed the students’ personalities and their tendencies towards narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism. They asked the students to rate themselves and to provide email addresses for a few of their friends so that the researchers could ask them to provide ratings as well. This combination of self and peer ratings was used to calculate a final set personality scores for each student. Furthermore, the students’ ratings on narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism were combined into create a composite 'dark triad' score. The dark triad score was positively correlated with their 'dressed-up' attractiveness – a finding that mirrors previous findings. However, the dark triad score was not related [...]
"Over the last few decades, popular songs have switched from major to minor keys: In the 1960s, 85 percent of the songs were written in a major key, compared with only about 40 percent of them now. Broadly speaking, the sound has shifted from bright and happy to something more complicated." —Researchers E. Glenn Schellenberg and Christian von Scheve studied songs from the past fifty years of Billboard's Hot 100 charts and have determined that we're growing ever more miserable as a society. (Or not. I could easily believe that an affinity for sad songs indicates a happier state of mind. And I think comparative analysis of something as [...]
"Underwear designed to jolt the buttocks with electricity may be able to prevent dangerous open wounds called pressure sores, claim researchers… Doctors at the University of Calgary tested underwear which placed two pads of electrodes on each cheek. Patients who were unable to move because of a spinal cord injury were zapped with 10 seconds of stimulation every 10 minutes for 12 hours a day." —Sometimes experiments that sound really terrible and cruel on paper end up being totally worth it. Cattle-prod underpants: a good thing for the world.
I have read this Scientific American article about how scientists have figured out how to build a clock that will continue telling time even after the universe no longer exists four times now, and a) Of course I'm not smart enough to really understand it. It has to do with creating an electric field that will trap charged ions in a four-dimensional crystal shape, and the ions' natural "Coulomb repulsion" will start them rotating in a circle. ("Coulomb repulsion" is the thing where positively charged ions push away other positively charged ions and negatively charged ions push away other negatively charged ions, like with magnets.) The [...]
"A foremost goal of modern physics is to formulate a working theory that describes the entire universe, from subatomic to astronomical scales, within a single framework. Such a theory, called 'quantum gravity,' will necessarily account for what happened at the moment of the Big Bang. Some versions of quantum gravity theory that have been proposed by cosmologists predict that the Big Bang, rather than being the starting point of time, was just 'a transitional stage in an eternal universe,' in Carroll's words. For example, one model holds that the universe acts like a balloon that inflates and deflates over and over under its own steam. If, in fact, time had [...]