Archive for the 'Weird Science' Category

Duuuh Scientific Study of the Day

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Excess weight gain during pregnancy linked to bigger babies

Mothers who gain more weight than recommended during their pregnancies tend to have babies with higher birth weights than normal. But medical researchers haven’t known whether it’s the expectant mother’s weight gain or perhaps her genes that influence how much her baby will weigh.

From “White Coat Notes” in the Boston Globe Aug.6

Well, duuh. If you ingest enough calories to gain 50 pounds, your baby is going to get his or her share of them. You’re connected, remember? What really blows the mind is that the Dowbrigade spent much of one career (we have had several) doing research into birthweights in various environments within the developing world, all places where LOW birthweights were the blight to be obliterated and the whole concept that birthweights could be too HIGH was non-sensical. Even here in the US, when we were little, back somewhere in the past century, people bragged about how much their babies weighed. Fat babies were GOOD. Future NFLers. How times have changed.

DNA Determines Dork Destiny

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For Crime, Is Anatomy Destiny?

http://media.comicvine.com/uploads/0/77/599289-beagle_large.jpgPoverty, greed, anger, jealousy, pride, revenge. These are the usual suspects when it comes to discussing the causes of crime. In recent years, however, economists have started to investigate a different explanation for criminal activity: physical attributes.

A small band of economists has been studying how height, weight and beauty affect the likelihood of committing — or being convicted of — a crime. Looking at records from the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries, they have found evidence that shorter men are 20 to 30 percent more likely to end up in prison than their taller counterparts, and that obesity and physical attractiveness are linked to crime.

from the New York Times

OK, so just because of an abnormally high concentration of short, ugly fat guys in prison over the past 200 years, we can conclude that being an unattractive dwarf leads to a life of crime, or at least a propensity to crime, or at the very least a propensity for getting caught, convicted and sent to prison for a crime. No wonder Danny Devito was so convincing as the Penguin.

Actually, the Dowbrigade has been working on a research project of his own over the past several years which would fit into this category of sociological speculation. After rigorous field research and biometric measurement, we have determined that short, overweight and physically unattractive individuals are statistically overrepresented among the MIT student body. The clear conclusion is that these physical traits increase the danger that a given individual will develop into a genius.

Our methodology was impeccable.  In a classic double-blind study, subjects were shown mixed sets of photos of the MIT freshman class and the freshman class at the Barbizon School of Modeling. When asked which photos showed individuals they would like to meet in a mosh pit, subjects overwhelmingly chose the Barbizon students.  However, when asked which photos represented individuals who were also geniuses, the subjects also identified the Barbizon group.

To insure experimental integrity, both the subjects and the questioners were recruited from the Perkins School for the Blind in nearby Watertown, guarenteeing impartiality. Of course, the results should not be construed as supporting biological determinism. Clearly, not all short, chubby pug-uglies end up at MIT. Some, like Quasimodo, feel the call of the cloisters.

How it worked

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Consider the Bear Stearns Alt-A Trust 2006-7, a $1.3 billion drop in the sea of risky loans. Here’s how it worked:

As the credit bubble grew in 2006, Bear Stearns, then one of the leading mortgage traders on Wall Street, bought 2,871 mortgages from lenders like the Countrywide Financial Corporation.

The mortgages, with an average size of about $450,000, were Alt-A loans — the kind often referred to as liar loans, because lenders made them without the usual documentation to verify borrowers’ incomes or savings. Nearly 60 percent of the loans were made in California, Florida and Arizona, where home prices rose — and subsequently fell — faster than almost anywhere else in the country.

Bear Stearns bundled the loans into 37 different kinds of bonds, ranked by varying levels of risk, for sale to investment banks, hedge funds and insurance companies.

If any of the mortgages went bad — and, it turned out, many did — the bonds at the bottom of the pecking order would suffer losses first, followed by the next lowest, and so on up the chain. By one measure, the Bear Stearns Alt-A Trust 2006-7 has performed well: It has suffered losses of about 1.6 percent. Of those loans, 778 have been paid off or moved through the foreclosure process.

But by many other measures, it’s a toxic portfolio. Of the 2,093 loans that remain, 23 percent are delinquent or in foreclosure, according to Bloomberg News data. Initially rated triple-A, the most senior of the securities were downgraded to near junk bond status last week. Valuing mortgage bonds, even the safest variety, requires guesstimates: How many homeowners will fall behind on their mortgages? If the bank forecloses, what will the homes sell for? Investments like the Bear Stearns securities are almost certain to lose value as long as home prices keep falling.

from the NYTimes

Ants are from Mars

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Photo of ancient ant speciesMartialis heureka is a living relic of the earliest stages of ant evolution. Scientists have unearthed an ancient ancestor of ants from the soil of the Amazon rain forest that is probably the species from which all other ants evolved.

University of Texas at Austin evolutionary biologist Christian Rabeling, who discovered the blind, subterranean and predatory ant, dubbed it Martialis heureka, or “ant from Mars,” because of its alien characteristics.

Genetic analysis revealed that it is of a new species, genus and subfamily — the first such ant discovery since 1923.

It also appears to be from the very base of the family tree for all the world’s ants.

Martialis heureka has survived relatively unchanged by remaining hidden underground in a stable tropical environment, free of competition from other ants, Rabeling wrote in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

from EarthWeek

Forcast for Jupiter – Cloudy and Windy

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Time-lapse sequence from the approach of Voyager I to Jupiter, showing the motion of atmospheric bands, and circulation of the great red spot. NASA image.Using data from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft and two telescopes on or near Earth, an international team of scientists has found that one of the solar system’s largest and newest storms – Jupiter’s Little Red Spot – has some of the highest wind speeds ever detected on any planet.


Jupiter’s “LRS” is an anticyclone, a storm whose winds circulate in the opposite direction to that of a cyclone – counterclockwise, in this case.

It is nearly the size of Earth and as red as the similar, but larger and more well known, Great Red Spot (GRS).

The dramatic evolution of the LRS began with the merger of three smaller white storms that had been observed since the 1930s. Two of these storms coalesced in 1998, and the combined pair merged with a third major Jovian storm in 2000. In late 2005 — for reasons still unknown — the combined storm turned red.

The LRS’ maximum winds speeds of about 384 miles per hour far exceed the 156 mile-per-hour threshold that would make it a Category 5 storm on Earth.

(The article, “Changing Characteristics of Jupiter’s Little Red Spot,” is available online at:

from Eureka Alert

Beelzebufo, the Demon Frog

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A team of researchers, led by Stony Brook University paleontologist David Krause, has discovered the remains in Madagascar of what may be the largest frog ever to exist.

The 16-inch, 10-pound ancient frog, scientifically named Beelzebufo, or devil frog, links a group of frogs that lived 65 to 70 million years ago with frogs living today in South America.

Discovery of the voracious predatory fossil frog — reported on-line this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) — is significant in that it may provide direct evidence of a one-time land connection between Madagascar, the largest island off Africa’s southeast coast, and South America.

“Beelzebufo appears to be a very close relative of a group of South
American frogs known as ‘ceratophyrines,’ or ‘pac-man’ frogs, because
of their immense mouths,” said Krause, whose research was funded by the
National Science Foundation (NSF). The ceratophryines are known to
camouflage themselves in their surroundings, then ambush predators.

from Eureka Alert

Good thing these babies are extinct! As anyone who has ever been attacked by “Pac-Man” frogs knows, those things can eat their way through a cloud of skeeters in about two shakes, and they are tiny!  Imagining what a ten pounder could do is enough to keep us awake at night.

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Watch Out, MIT

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Frankel.Ferrofluid.jpg

A photograph of a 3 cm drop of ferrofluid, a suspension of magnetite in oil.

Harvard University today unveiled a brand-new website, HarvardScience, devoted to all matters related to science at the various schools, departments, institutes, and hospitals of Harvard University.Now, although Harvard is not as scientifically astute or as storied as its geeky neighbor MIT, it has indeed been the scene of numerous momentous moments in the history of science.

In 1689, for example, Godswabber Hackenthorne, a Calvinist predicator and Isaac Newton Professor of Alchemy, scientifically established once and for all that witches’ specific gravity is not necessarily greater than that of water in all cases, as anecdotal evidence had suggested for years.

Later, in 1875, pioneering psychologist and philosopher William James discovered the mind-clarifying effects of Nitrous Oxide, and began a scientific tradition of “huffing” between classes that continues to this day.

In the 1960′s iconic neural scientist Dr. Timothy Leary blazed a trail by turning Harvard Yard into a revolutionary “acid test”, engendering a psychedelic movement which transformed the American consciousness. For a while, he was actually paying undergraduates $20 to drop acid, in the name of science.

Then, in 1976, the Dowbrigade himself participated in a seminal investigation into the effects of cocaine and mescaline applied simultaeously to the nasal membranes, one to the right side and the other to the left, affecting opposing brain hemispheres.

Somehow, we doubt that any of these achievements will appear on the HarvardScience web site. We were born too late, and now is no time to rehash the past. However, now there is a place for milestones like these which occur in the future. Ladies and Gentlemen, start your computers.

Study: Kid-Biting Dogs Have Emotional Problems

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Dogs that bite children have often not bitten kids before, but they tend to have underlying behavioural or medical problems, indicates research in the journal Injury Prevention.

The same can be said of children who bite dogs.

The research team analysed the circumstances surrounding 111 cases of dog bite over a period of four years. All the 103 dogs involved had bitten children and had been referred to the same veterinary behaviour clinic.

Young children were much more likely to be bitten when dogs felt their food or other resources, such as toys, were under threat.

Hey, even the Dowbrigade has been known to get snappish when his food or toys are threatened.

Behavioural analysis revealed that, the guarding of resources and territory were the most common causes of aggression among the dogs.

As among nations of men.

Three quarters also exhibited anxiety, when left by their owners, or when exposed to noise, such as thunderstorms or fireworks.

Are they talking about the dogs or the children?

Demonstrable fear may signal a tendency towards biting when faced with a perceived threat, say the authors

“May”?

And young children in particular can be noisy and unpredictable in their movements, both of which could frighten an already anxious dog.

Or a curmudgeonly college professor. Watch out kids.

from Eureka Alert,

The Details are in the Devil

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Australia’s new $200m synchrotron in Melbourne could contribute to the fight to save the Tasmanian devil from the outbreak of facial tumour disease currently decimating devil populations, according to Dr Jeff Church from CSIRO Textile and Fibre Technology in Geelong.

Dr Church says he will use the synchrotron to see if the disease causes any biochemical changes in the devils which could be detected in their hair before the disease becomes apparent.

“If we find a consistent change, it could lead to the development of a test which will allow detection of the cancer before the tumours become evident,” he says. “This would make any quarantine strategy easier to establish, as well as much more efficient.”

The idea is based on Australian research showing disease-related changes in the composition of human hair. The suggestion is that similar changes could occur in Tasmanian devils’ hair when the facial tumour disease is triggered. “But, the theory needs to be fully tested,” Dr Church says. “It might work or it might not.”

“If a diagnostic test for the facial tumour disease using the synchrotron does look possible, only having a machine nearby would make it viable. Having to queue-up for time on a synchrotron at least nine hours flying time from Tasmania – more likely further – would make the whole thing very difficult, particularly in terms of biosecurity concerns because we would need to transport biological samples between different countries.”

from a Eureka Alert press release

We figure Australian taxpayers wouldn’t mind schlepping a few of these $200 million babies out to the outback so they can be in place on the frontlines of the war on facial tumors afflicting carnivorous marsupials.

In related news, American scientists have announced plans to retask Fermilabs Tevitron 4-mile particle accelerator in order to investigate the efficacy of using top quarks to treat genital herpes lesions in ferrets.

The Tall and Small

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Tall and small in ChinaIn terms of height they are worlds apart. The world’s tallest man, Bao Xishun today shook hands with He Pingping who claims to be Earth’s shortest.

But these two men actually hail from the same region of Inner Mongolia.

While Mr Xishun, 56, towers above everyone at an astonishing 7’10″, 19-year-old Mr Pingping is a mere 2’5″ high.

Bao Xishun, a herdsman from Chifeng, Inner Mongolia, was recently married in a traditional ceremony to a 28-year-old saleswoman from his hometown. At 5ft 6″ Xia Shujian only comes up to his elbow and is half his age.

He claims he was of normal height until he was 16 when he experienced a growth spurt and reached his present height seven years later. Mr Xishun was confirmed as the tallest person by the Guinness Book of Records last year.

Mr Pingping was born nearby in Wulanchabu city, Inner Mongolia. His father claims he was only the size of an adult’s palm at birth.

He is now seeking to be registered as the world’s shortest man by the Guinness Book of Recrods.

from the Daily Mail

Hypochondriac Heaven

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davincimanComputer geek hypochondriacs have long wished for a medical diagnostic program where you tell the computer what you feel like, and it will tell you what you’ve got.

An early effort in this direction was launched in the late 70′s by our Harvard undergraduate roommate, who was developing it while a student at Colombia Medical School.

He was know as Michael Red, due to his waist-length red hair and his fire-engine red classic Porsche. He was developing a program into which doctors could feed all of their observations and test results, and get back a list of the most probable diagnoses, in order of likelihood.

Older doctors thought he was crazy, doctors didn’t use computers, the PC was still a decade away, but we knew he was on to something. Michael Red was one of the smartest people we knew.

Then one summer we came back from an incomplete internship with a shaman in South America to find out that Michael Red was dead, murdered on his grandfather’s Christmas tree farm in Conneticutt by his main colaborator on the medical software project.

But the dream lives on. Today we discovered that WebMD has unveiled a “Symptom Checker” which in some ways goes beyond what Michael had envisioned, primarily because it is designed to be used by the patient rather than the doctor.

It’s very Web 2.o.  You start with a model of the human body, and point to where it hurts.  Then you answer a series of questions about the pain, discomfort, other symptoms, your age and general health, and BINGO – out pops not one, but about 20 possible conditions you could have.

Obviously, this is like a winning lottery ticket for a hypochondriac, and a goldmine for WebMD. Within minutes of discovering the site, we were convinced that we had dermatomyositis, a helicopactor pyori infection, and an aortic aneurysm.

Of course, information on each of these life-threatening conditions is just a click away on the WebMD site.

But don’t take our word for it.

Check it out for yourself here.

Virgin Sacrifice in IT Sector

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geeksexA Dutch escort agency is launching a special virgin service for computer geeks.

Sociology student Zoe Vialet, who set up Society Service last year, says she has had a lot of demand from virgins.

She says most of them work in the IT sector and added: “They are very sweet but are afraid of seeking contact with other people. They mean it very well but are very scared.

“Every booking lasts three hours minimum. Longer is possible, shorter not. We take the time to take a bath together, do a massage and explore each others body.

“When the date is over, you will have had a fantastic experience, and you will be able to pleasure a woman.”

Zoe and her colleague Marieke have specially trained five girls to look after the needs of virgins, reports De Telegraaf.

She added: “You better practise before having a girlfriend. Woman expect men older than 30 having had some experience.

“Some men need a little bit of help. But it makes them happy and they are glowing .There is nothing more terrible than dying as a virgin.”

from Ananova

As if the feng shui requirements of the Wari civilization in pre-Columbian Peru weren’t terrible enough! The Wari were wont to sacrifice a dozen young virgins when breaking ground on new construction, burying them at strategic points beneath walls, columns and spiritually significant areas. They would even sacrifice three or four when they were just renovating a room, which was quite often, since their buildings were built on top of ruins of previous generations of the same culture, often eight or ten successive layers which archeologists have sifted through and catalogued, each with its quota of dead virgins meticulously murdered and buried in auspicious locations and positions

One would think that living, working, eating and sleeping among so many dead virgins would be spooky and odiferous, not to mention unhygienic, but the Wari were masters of mummification and the climate in costal Peru is hot and extremely dry, so it wasn’t a problem.

As to the Dutch escort agency, we wonder if they are offering franchise deals to area agents. If so, we want to wrap up Cambridge, Mass. as our personal territory. We could probably run a shuttle out of Logan….