November 2012 Archives

Why Are Crocodiles so Ugly?

Crocodiles are nasty critters. They're built like armored tanks; they eat almost anything -- including humans, pet dogs, footballs and diapers; and, if you haven't noticed, their skin is cracked and ugly. Now, scientists at the University of Geneva think they...

Do Elections Constitute True "Wisdom of the Crowd?"

On matters of general knowledge, quantity estimation, and spatial reasoning, an aggregated answer from a large group is often better than a single answer from an individual, even one supplied by a supposed "expert." This peculiar phenomenon is commonly known...

The Earth Goes on Tilt

It's late November, and you find yourself driving (or walking, bicycling, subway-ing, Segway-ing...) home from work immersed in twilight. By the time you get home to see your loved ones, have dinner or do anything else, night has already fallen. We, in the...

Seeing Dead People? Don't Worry, You're Not Insane.

What's that, out of the corner of your eye, lurking in the periphery? It's a colorful shape of some kind, slowly creeping into the foreground. But wait, now it has taken the form of a bright, pink pig, oinking with gusto. The shimmering swine hovers in midair...

How Do Antifreeze Agents Work?

Preventing ice crystals from forming in undesirable locations is a constant challenge. We add salt to icy roads, and we put antifreeze (a mixture of ethylene glycol and water) in our cars' radiators to prevent them from freezing. The cells of some organisms...

Aristotle's Thoughts on the Thanksgiving Food Coma

Tomorrow, the vast majority of Americans will join with friends and family to sit around long, festively decorated tables -- landscapes beset with colorful mountains of sweet potatoes, cloudy lakes of gravy, hearty plateaus of turkey, and endless fields of...

Getting Runner's High

Picture a dedicated distance runner. You probably wouldn't imagine him or her going behind the garage to get high. Runners, though, get high more than almost anyone else. They are like junkies, jonesing for a chemical rush. However, their fix is delivered not...

Pseudoscience from the Luxury of a Full Stomach

I often wonder if our ancient ancestors -- when they were sowing the very first crops -- were aware of how their modest, earthly toils would transform the human race. Because, without question, agriculture was the advancement that allowed our species to...

The Scientific Method: For Science, for Life

Science comes in all shapes and sizes. There's aeronautics, agronomy, archaeology, optics, psychology, ethology, neuroscience, ecology, mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, seismology, linguistics, and hundreds, perhaps thousands, of other equally...

Interspecies Airborne Transmission of Ebola

Ebola virus (EBOV) causes a deadly hemorrhagic fever. The symptoms initially resemble a very bad case of influenza, but they progress to include a rash, splotchy purple skin, and internal and external bleeding. Blood loss is not the primary cause of death,...

A License to Smoke?

"Anybody got a match?"That was the first line uttered by Lauren Bacall in her storied Hollywood career, spoken in an early scene of the war-romance To Have and Have Not. The sleek, sultry actress needed a light for her cigarette. Humphrey Bogart acquiesced to...

String Theory Now on Life Support

There are plenty of reasons not to like string theory. Philosophical and logical arguments against the theory have long been apparent. Strong scientific evidence is increasingly joining them. The discovery of the Higgs boson exactly where the...

Why Do Guys Have Spines on Their Genitals?

It's a clear, pristine midsummer night in the skies over eastern North America, and love is in the air... No literally, lovemaking is taking place in the air.The sky is aflutter with the flapping wings of mating eastern red bats. Males and females join...

Where Are All of the Baby Squirrels?

It's been a banner year for gray squirrels, and not everyone is nuts about it. The adorable, poof-tailed mammals devour crops, chew building wires, strip trees clean of their bark, and, as evidenced by the video below, can wreak havoc on your kitchen and...

How Do Feminists Explain Immunology?

In certain circles, it is politically incorrect to suggest that men and women are different. (Just ask former Harvard president Lawrence Summers.) Ignoring the entire field of biology, feminist icon Simone de Beauvoir famously philosophized that, "One is not...

Stopping a Seizure in a Flash... of Light

"If I ever have a seizure, just step back and watch the show. Or, if you feel up to it, you can move away any dangerous objects from where I'm shaking and maybe throw me a pillow, but don't get too close because apparently I kick and bite. I might yell and...

Seeding Life: Asteroids Giveth and Taketh Away

Frequently, a formidably large chunk of space rock zooms past Earth, unseen until it is far too late. These random agents of chaos are the first thing that comes to mind when you think of asteroids. Surprisingly, however, most asteroids spend their time...

What Transformed a Marine into a Mass Murderer?

Charles Whitman was a bright, upstanding individual. An IQ examination at the age of six yielded a phenomenal score of 172. At only twelve-years-old, he became an Eagle Scout, an exemplary achievement at such a young age. Whitman followed up this...

A Voter's Guide for the Scientifically Savvy

In case you haven't noticed, there is an election coming up on November 6. A couple of states have issues on the ballot which -- either directly or indirectly -- are related to science. What are they, and how should a scientifically savvy person...

Legalize Marijuana? But Think of the Pets!

On November 6th, Washington, Colorado, and Oregon could become the first states to legalize recreational use of marijuana. If passed, the ballot initiatives would allow adults to possess small amounts of the drug under the load of strict regulation and...