RealClearScience Quick and Clear Science

Brief and Straightforward Analysis of the Latest Research

We Continue to Gradually Defeat Cancer

Ross Pomeroy - January 14, 2021

Cancer will not be vanquished in one fell swoop. No singular breakthrough will blare across television, smartphone, and computer screens signaling once-and-for-all victory, sending jubilant thousands into the streets to cheer the demise of one of humankind's greatest mortal foes. Instead, many small advances wrought by dedicated scientists building off prior research will gradually bring malignant tumors to heel. A recent example: researchers in Israel used CRISPR gene editing to destroy cancerous cells in mice without harming other cells, doubling the creatures' life expectancy compared to...

Curious Case of Reindeer Cannibalism May Have Led to Deadly Prion Disease

Ross Pomeroy - December 21, 2020

About four decades ago, reindeer in the high alpine Nordfjella region of Norway began to engage in a bizarre, new behavior: They would eat each other's antlers. Termed osteophagia, the act actually isn't all that rare amongst hoofed mammals. Animals have been known to gnaw on shed antlers to make up for mineral deficiencies in their diets. However, in this case, reindeer were eating antlers straight off their herdmates' heads! In 1984, surveys suggested that about 8% of Nordfjella reindeer showed signs of having their antlers gnawed. In 2009, that rate climbed to 72 percent. In a new survey...

Mask Wearing May Result in Less Social Distancing

Ross Pomeroy - December 10, 2020

Studies suggest that wearing face masks effectively slows the spread of the coronavirus, but according to French researchers at the University of Lille, it does somewhat backfire in a key respect. Face masks seem to lull people into a false sense of security, leading them to socially distance less. Since distancing is arguably much better than mask-wearing at limiting the spread of the coronavirus, the net positive effect of public mask-wearing could be being blunted, though it's difficult to gauge exactly how much. The researchers discerned the result from an Internet-based experiment with...

Do Pet Pigs Interact With Their Owners Like Dogs?

Ross Pomeroy - December 4, 2020

Dogs and pigs are surprisingly similar. Both are four-legged, social, and inarguably cute. Moreover, as omnivorous critters, their domestication storylines began with the same humble beginnings, lurking around human settlements eating leftover food. But while dogs ended up cuddling with humans near the campfire, pigs ended up roasting over it. Pork is now the most widely eaten meat in the world. At the same time, owing to the creation of novel, smaller breeds and the publication of studies attesting to their remarkable intelligence, pigs are increasingly living with people as pets. Amidst...


Why Do Some People Ignore Their Left Side?

Ross Pomeroy - November 30, 2020

A recent case report published to the journal BMJ Case Reports tells the story of a 75-year-old Japanese woman who was taken to Tokyo-West Tokushukai Hospital after a sudden and strange neurological episode: "Her son spoke to her and noticed that she was staring at her right side. He approached her from her left side and talked to her, but she did not seem to notice him as if she was ignoring him. In addition, the son also noticed that only the left half of the leeks laid out on the cutting board remained uncut. The right half of the leeks had already been cut and cooked in a pot of miso...

Scarce Food Turns Monarch Butterfly Caterpillars Into Monsters

Ross Pomeroy - November 20, 2020

North America's monarch butterflies are widely viewed as peaceful, fluttering icons of nature. Their squishy, cute, tiger-striped caterpillars are seen in a similarly positive light. But as biologists from Florida Atlantic University (FAU) recently reported in the journal iScience, these blubbery 'teddy bears' can turn into aggressive monsters when food is in short supply. Monarch caterpillars feed almost exclusively on milkweed, voraciously devouring the plant's leaves over the few weeks the insects spend as caterpillars. Alex C. Keene, a Professor in Biological Sciences at FAU, and his...

"Avocado Hand": As the Fruit Soars in Popularity, So Do Gruesome Injuries

Ross Pomeroy - November 9, 2020

Over the last decade, emergency room physicians started noticing it more and more... Patients, primarily in their early thirties, coming in with grisly knife injuries to their non-dominant hands, almost all of which required surgical repair. Each time, the cause was the same – they were slicing an avocado. The trend has since garnered a name: "Avocado Hand," and deservedly so. A study published earlier this year to the American Journal of Emergency Medicine found that between 1998 and 2017 there were an estimated 50,413 avocado-related knife injuries in the United States. The bulk...

Knifefish Suck So Hard They Can Make Water 'Boil'

Ross Pomeroy - November 3, 2020

Biologists Victor M. Ortega-Jimenez and Christopher P. J. Sanford at Kennesaw State University have discovered that black ghost knifefish can create suction with enough speed and power to make water cavitate, a form of boiling, in laboratory settings. Cavitation creates bubbles which form and collapse in the blink of an eye, producing powerful compressional waves and extremely high temperatures in the process. It results from sudden, immense changes of pressure. Ortega-Jimenez and Sanford detailed the amazing underwater feat in a paper published last week to the journal Scientific...


Europe's First Industrial Complex Shows the Brilliance of Ancient Engineers

Ross Pomeroy - October 26, 2020

An international team of scientists has reconstructed the hydraulic operations of the 1,900-year-old Barbegal industrial watermill complex in southern France, revealing the subtle brilliance of antiquity's engineers. The Barbegal watermill complex was a set of sixteen water wheels arranged in two parallel columns of eight along a thirty-meter slope near the French town of Arles. It's been hailed as having the "greatest known concentration of mechanical power in the ancient world." Each wheel was connected to a grinding mechanism, which milled grain into flour, perhaps as much as 25 tonnes per...

Impressive Water Purification System Found at Ancient Maya City

Ross Pomeroy - October 23, 2020

More than 2,000 years ago in the ancient city of Tikal in northern Guatemala, Maya people apparently utilized a mineral called zeolite to purify their drinking water. The discovery, published in the journal Scientific Reports by anthropologists from the University of Cincinnati, represents the oldest known example of water purification in the Western Hemisphere. Enduring for more than a millennium, Tikal was an impressive metropolis. For much of its history, extending from roughly 400 BC to 900 AD, it had thousands of structures and was home to tens of thousands of inhabitants. Key to...

The Great NFL Thursday Night Football Debate: Does It Result in More Injuries?

Ross Pomeroy - October 15, 2020

All-Pro National Football League cornerback Richard Sherman hates Thursday Night Football. "I just don’t understand why the NFL says it’s taking a stand on player safety, then increases the risks its players face by making them play on Thursday, before their bodies are ready," he wrote in 2016. Sherman was referring to the NFL's custom, started in 2006, to play one game per week on a Thursday night. He thinks that the mid-week game is a "poopfest" of substandard play that leads to increased injuries on account of players not having adequate time to heal after their previous games,...

Monkeys Filmed Working Together to Save a Juvenile From a Boa Constrictor

Ross Pomeroy - October 12, 2020

Anthropologists from Tulane University have captured incredible footage of capuchin monkeys teaming up to rescue one of their own from the strangling clutches of a Boa constrictor. The video, along with the scientists' description of the incident, were recently published in the journal Scientific Reports. In the summer of 2019, Professor of Anthropology Dr. Katharine M. Jack and her colleagues were following a group of 25 white-faced capuchin monkeys in Sector Santa Rosa of the A?rea de conservacio?n in Guanacaste, Costa Rica. A few of the juveniles were enjoying a light-hearted play...


A Woman Accidentally Swallowed a Fish Bone and It Pierced Her Aorta

Ross Pomeroy - October 6, 2020

A woman's fish dinner almost turned fatal when a bone she accidentally swallowed cut through her esophagus and pierced her aorta just above the heart. Doctors from Zhejiang University School of Medicine in Hangzhou, China recently described the incident in the Journal of Cardiothoracic Surgery. After eating her meal, the 31-year-old began experiencing severe pain when swallowing. She visited the hospital two days later. A CT scan revealed a sharp object that slashed through her esophagus to lodge in her aorta, just above the heart. The aorta is the largest artery in the body, running from the...

A Psychological Trick Changed Diabetics' Blood Sugar Levels

Ross Pomeroy - September 28, 2020

In a fascinating experiment, researchers at Harvard University discovered that perceived sugar intake affects blood sugar levels in people with Type 2 diabetes more than actual sugar intake, at least temporarily. Psychologists Chanmo Park, Francesco Pagnini, and Ellen Langer recently published the results of their study in the journal Scientific Reports. The trio recruited thirty people with Type 2 diabetes to participate in a "Beverage Tasting Study for Diabetes" exploring the effects of "specially designed beverages on the body’s reaction and cognitive functioning." Subjects visited...

Newly Discovered Brain Structure May Grant Birds Impressive Intelligence

Ross Pomeroy - September 25, 2020

Birds are capable of some extraordinary cognitive feats. New Caledonian crows can make and use tools. Grey parrots can learn various human words and complete certain tests of intelligence at the level of four to six-year-old human children. Pigeons can remember large numbers of images for several years. But how birds accomplish these tasks despite having brains the size of walnuts has long eluded our own comprehension. Now, in two tandem studies, researchers in Germany have imaged a structure in the avian brain that might just endow birds with their impressive abilities, and maybe even grant...

Researchers Measure Neural Activity Within Breast Tumors

Ross Pomeroy - September 15, 2020

A team of researchers from Case Western Reserve University has reported the first direct measurements of neural activity within tumors. Published in Scientific Reports, the results confirm a growing body of research from the last five years suggesting that cancer cells co-opt the body's neurons to rapidly grow and spread. "In breast and prostate cancers, increasing nerve densities are associated with more aggressive tumor grades and poor patient survival," the researchers wrote. "Signaling molecules... and neurotransmitters traditionally associated with nervous system function... may play an...


Scientists Discover Remains of Antarctic Elephant Seal in Indiana River

Ross Pomeroy - September 8, 2020

In 1965, during a building excavation along the banks of the Wabash River near Lafayette, Indiana, construction workers discovered a curious jawbone buried in the mud. The find soon found its way to the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, where it was carbon dated and catalogued, but not identified. Re-examining the 1,260-year-old jawbone decades later, a trio of scientists associated with the Smithsonian Institution and Queen Mary University of London determined the deceased owner, and they were quite surprised. It turns out the jawbone is that of a male Southern elephant seal. The...

How Is COVID-19 Affecting Our Sex Lives?

Ross Pomeroy - September 1, 2020

COVID-19 is altering lives worldwide, both publicly and privately. Almost six months into the pandemic, scientists are just starting to take stock of how the coronavirus is affecting human sexuality. Dr. Nicola Döring, a Professor of media psychology and media design at Ilmenau University of Technology in Germany, specializes in sexuality-related media use and media representations of sexualities. In a recent paper published to the Archives of Sexual Behavior, Döring explored a few of the many ways COVID-19 is changing our sex lives, perhaps for the long-term. First off, it should...

Moderate Drinking May Shrink Your Brain by 1 Percent. Is It Worth It?

Ross Pomeroy - August 25, 2020

A new study published to the journal Scientific Reports suggests that moderate alcohol consumption is associated with slightly decreased brain volume. Scientists have long known that heavy alcohol use shrinks the brain, but it's not clear whether or not moderate drinking has a similar effect. Researchers from the University of Helsinki in Finland explored the possible link within a sample of 353 Finnish men and women aged 39 to 45. On average, the subject group reported moderate alcohol consumption, indicated by an AUDIT-C score of 3.92. Such a score is roughly equivalent to drinking two to...

A Male Grey Seal May Have Commited 'Fatal Sexual Interaction' With 11 Harbour Seals

Ross Pomeroy - August 17, 2020

Over a span of 41 days in Winter 2018-2019, eleven dead female harbour seals washed up along a confined stretch of Germany's North Sea shoreline. Curiously, all were pregnant or had recently been pregnant, and six had lacerations to the genitals. All apparently died of septicemia, an infection of the blood, in this case by bacteria. DNA extracted from the vaginal tracts of the deceased seals revealed the apparent perpetrator of the killings: a bull grey seal. A team of German researchers recently reported the disturbing find in the journal Scientific Reports. In the animal kingdom, sex isn't...