Tuesday, January 11, 2011

In Case You Missed It

I usually don’t read Tuesday’s Science Times section of the NY Times carefully. I skim it. Today I decided to look more closely. Here’s my takeaway:

They could have titled the section “Disagreements.” For example:

Their lead story is all about whether the dwarf planet, Eris, is bigger than Pluto. It’s a scientific argument about mine is bigger than yours.

They follow with the news that the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology is going to publish a report about the existence of extrasensory perception. And so there is a big expert scientific brouhaha about whether ESP is an appropriate subject for such a respected journal.

And there’s more. The paramaceutical company Sirtris has halted clinical trials on resveratrol, the ingredient in red wine that many think can extend life. Why? Because many others think resveratrol research isn’t going to lead anywhere. Meaning they don’t think it will be a moneymaker for the company.

Will you burn more calories sitting at your desk if the thermostat is turned down? The consensus is yes, a little. It’d be better to walk up and down a few flights of stairs. About the temperature? If you shiver you’ll burn more calories. But this isn’t ideal, because if you’re fat you’ll shiver less. And besides, if you’re trying to write or use the computer these involuntary muscle contractions will get in the way. (Really, this is all in today’s Science Times.)

Another contradiction: La Nina, which we’re having right now, typically brings dry conditions to Southern California. But recently the Southland has been deluged with heavy rains. What’s going on? “Clearly, to this point, the pattern has not been panning out for Southern California,” said Michelle L’Heureux, a meteorologist with the Climate Prediction Center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Camp Springs, MD.

There doesn’t seem to be any disagreement with a new study that says an extinct flightless bird from Jamaica that belonged to the ibis family used its non-flying wings as clubs, perhaps to battle predators or fight among themselves. There is some confusion about when or why these club-winged ibis’ became extinct. Probably because their membership in the club was cancelled.

One more and then I’ll stop. A new study says that early humans and Neanderthals had about the same longevity. This information creates a problem for those who believe that a longer life span helped humans to survive while Neanderthals died out. The scientists now say we need to better understand fertility and infant mortality rates to determine what happened. Sounds like an intelligent thing to do, and I’m not even a scientist.

Maybe I’ll pay more attention to the Science Times in the future. Or maybe not.


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