11/30/2007 8:49:57 AM
A new study from Yale University suggests that babies as young as six-months old can tell the difference between helpful and unhelpful creatures. Not surprisingly, Roxanne Khamsi reports for the New Scientist, they prefered the helpful ones. To discover this, the researchers put on a puppet show and tested the infants’ reactions. The show starred a wooden block with eyes, struggling with to make its way up a hill, while another block either helpfully pushes it up the hill or aggressively shoves it back down. Almost all the babies in the experiment preferred the helping blocks. Take a look at the video to see the adorable experiment in action:
In order to make sense of the experiment, the babies needed to know that the block wanted to go up the hill. This suggests that babies are able to understand other people’s intentions long before they can mutter their first word. The study also suggests that that very early in human development, people learn to like nice people.
11/28/2007 3:46:37 PM
Dark matter makes up about nine-tenths of all matter in the universe, which is why it’s so frustrating that people have no idea what it really is. I used to think that dark matter was where lost socks, checks-in-the-mail, and campaign promises went to hide in the universe. But then I watched this handy sixty-second Instant Egghead video from Scientific American. In the video, George Musser explains the basic idea of dark matter using crumbs, coffee and a CD. Turns out that dark matter is non-baryonic matter, and even scientists don’t know much about it. —Brendan Mackie
You can watch the video below:
11/26/2007 3:38:12 PM
My two sisters and I fit perfectly into commonly held beliefs about birth order. As a middle child, I crave attention. My older sister, as the first born, is detail-oriented. My younger sister is adept in any social situation. The question is: Why? Are our personalities the result of genetics, or the environment we grew up in?
The study of birth order also could be “post hoc quasi-science is that it is a bit like astrology,” as Steve Connor posits for the British newspaper, the Independent. It’s easy to attribute personality traits to birth order, when they fit neatly into our preconceived notions. “[R]ather like reading a horoscope and finding that it neatly explains elements of your current situation,” Connor writes.
In spite of Connor’s charges of snake oil science, research keeps coming out to support a strong correlation between birth order and personality. Connors article responds to a study from the University of Oslo in Norway that says first born children are, on the whole, smarter than second born. The study, first published in the peer reviewed Science magazine, made headlines in USA Today and the New York Times. (And was subsequently emailed to me by my older sister.)
That media attention could be due to a bias toward birth order science, according to psychologist Judith Rich Harris, quoted in the Independent. Harris says that the only birth-order studies that get media attention are the ones that support "subjective impressions based on personal experiences,” of birth order.
So are middle children as “difficult” as research suggests? You’d have to ask my sisters.
11/21/2007 10:32:37 AM
If we were all 5 feet 7 inches tall, 170 pounds, 24-years-old, and white male, then everyone would be much safer from radiation. That’s because “reference man,” a model used to test for safe radiation exposure levels on x-rays, mammogram machines, and smoke detectors conform to those dimensions. People who aren’t adult white males simply aren’t as safe, reports Julie R. Enszer of Women’s eNews.
The use of “reference man” by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) doesn’t adequately protect women and children, according to the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, quoted in the article. Women are 52 percent more likely than men to develop cancer from radiation, but “reference man” doesn’t take them into account. Radiation is most dangerous to children and fetuses, because of their vulnerability to genetic mutations and neurological problems, but the EPA doesn’t use a “reference child” nor a “reference fetus.”
The EPA has been urged to change “reference man” into a "hypothetical maximum exposed individual” that would test the effects of radiation on the people most vulnerable, including pregnant women and young girls. "We believe the government has an obligation to protect more than just adult white men from the hazards of radiation," says Lisa Ledwidge, outreach director at the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research. "Until these standards are changed, the government is not fulfilling its responsibility."
11/20/2007 9:58:58 AM
A contaminated water system and the ever-flowing (and often dirty) blogosphere are actually quite similar in the eyes of computer geeks, ScienceDaily reports. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have created an algorithm to figure out the best places to put contamination-detecting sensors in water systems. The same algorithm can figure out which blogs break big news stories earliest and as close as possible to the original source. You can read the list of blog rankings from Carnegie Mellon by clicking here.
By that logic, this blog would probably be as popular as mud. Some day soon, hopefully we can be as popular as Typhoid or Cholera.
11/15/2007 10:19:56 AM
Next time you blame your coworkers, your friends, or your significant other for turning your hair gray, don’t look to science to back you up. So far, researchers have found no link between gray hair and stress, according to an October 24 article from the Scientific American. There are, however, plenty of unsubstantiated theories on why stress could turn you gray. It could damage hair cells, disrupting bodily signals, but the theories remain unproven. In the meantime, it’s probably best to blame your family, and their genetic coding, for all those silver tresses.—Bennett Gordon
(Thanks to 3QuarksDaily for the tip.)
11/13/2007 11:47:31 AM
“I don’t understand,” said a young boy named Anton. “How can they just not make it a planet anymore?”
Having just finished a school project on Pluto, Anton was understandably shaken up when his favorite celestial body was demoted to “dwarf” status last year. After a few strokes stroke of a pen, his favorite planet was no longer a planet.
Anton’s dad, Robert Klose, writing for the Christian Science Monitor, expresses his son’s disappointment and frustration at the loss of the beloved Pluto. Klose writes that his son felt “like a man without a country, or, in this case, a planet.”
Klose tried to console his son saying, “In eight years we’ll get our first real look at Pluto. Then who knows? Maybe they'll decide it's a planet again.”
“Do you really think so?” Anton asked with hopeful expectation. We'll have to wait and see. —Cara Binder
11/8/2007 10:26:42 AM
Giggling robots make better friends. That’s what researchers from the University of California San Diego found when they studied interactions between children and robots. The centerpiece of the study was a machine that can wave goodbye, giggle when touched on the head, and walk around without bumping into walls or toddling humans. The machine was so realistic, Mason Inman of the New Scientist writes, that children were fooled into treating it like one of their own.
People – even toddlers – usually bore quickly with robots. But children became more attached to this robot over time. The toddlers ended up relating to the robot much like a living thing: playing with it, hugging it, and taking care of it. The children would even cover the robot with a blanket and say “night night” when the robot would lie down after running out of batteries. The scientists hope their findings will lead to the development of simple robots to help out in kindergarten classes and with autistic children.
You can watch a video of children playing with the robot here:
11/7/2007 2:17:15 PM
I got excited when I read the headline “Drugs That Are Easier on the Environment” on the homepage of MIT’s Technology Review. I assumed it was going to be about less effluent drugs, possibly ones that wouldn’t pollute the nation’s water. Trace amounts of drugs like Prozac, Viagra, and Birth Control pills are often found in US waterways, according to a 2006 article from Seed Magazine. I would love to hear about innovative ways that researchers are responding to the problems.
The November/December issue of Utne Reader also has an article addressing the growing issue of drug-resistant diseases. More antibiotics means a greater resistance to drugs, so the article proposes that we protect antibiotic effectiveness as we would any natural resource. It would be fascinating to hear about ways researchers are developing more effective drugs, without creating more drug-resistant diseases.
Unfortunately, the Technology Review article wasn’t about either one of those issues. Instead, it focused on a new catalyst that uses iron, instead of chlorine or other toxic chemicals. That may be more eco-friendly, but it didn’t seem all that revolutionary. So I thought I'd take this opporunity to write about those issues anyway.
11/5/2007 2:48:17 PM
One of the most disconcerting maps I’ve seen in a while is now featured on the Union of Concerned Scientists website. The map organizes the 125 nuclear reactors in the United States, including proposed reactors and the ones that have been shut down. Up until this point, I had been living in blissful ignorance that there are at least two working reactors housed within my home state of Minnesota.
The nearest nuclear reactors to me both have serious safety concerns, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. There’s a multi-reactor site about 55 miles away from me that has reported groundwater leaks. There’s another reactor about 40 miles away that, according to Union of Concerned Scientists, has deficiencies that make it “vulnerable to a terrorist attack.” See if there are any near you by clicking on the link.
11/1/2007 3:38:00 PM
As humans, our ability to speak in full sentences may be the reason why so many people are right-handed. On the blog Developing Intelligence, Chris Chatham, a University of Colorado graduate student, wrote that a preference for the right hand evolved when humans developed of language. Chatham dug up a paper from 2003 saying that the reason why so many people are right handed, and so many other animals are not, is because both communication and the right hand are controlled by the left side of the brain. As humans evoleved, and communication skills improved, so did the left side of our brains, making more people right handed.
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