Tuesday, 18th September 2018
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By Bill Sones and

Rich Sones, PhD

Q. How did a 2 dollar deck of cards and boredom help solve some cold-case homicides?

A. Florida's Department of Law Enforcement and others distributed decks of cards with pictures of murder victims on them, including a short summary of the case, says Dan Lewis on his "Now I Know website.

The decks are often the only playing cards available to the inmates in the prison commissary. And here's where boredom and loose lips enter in: As one Connecticut corrections official told "Slate”:

"Inmates brag to one another about their past exploits, and when the people they brag to come across cards that match the stories they've heard, they realize they have information that could be worth money or could help them get time off their prison terms.”

Before featuring victims on the cards, their families are contacted and most are "eager to have a card assigned to their case.” Why?

According to the "New York Post,” over the last 10 years, information obtained from such programs has helped solve about 40 homicides, including "two in one week in the fall of 2017.”

Q. As the Earth's population continues to climb, a team of scientists and robots is raising about a million "six-legged livestock” a day hoping to supply much needed protein and other nutrients. What are these six-leggers?

A. They're crickets, and they "pack more protein than beef, more calcium than milk, more iron than spinach and as many fatty acids as salmon,” says Carl Engelking in "Discover” magazine. Once fully grown, they're roasted and seasoned, then mixed into granola or ground into flour. To maximize yield, researchers need massive amounts of data, and crickets with their short (a few months) life span provide ample opportunity to amass this data from billions of cricket forebears.

Feeder robots are employed to patrol bin aisles doling out specially designed formula. Currently, though, the 300,000 pounds of crickets produced at one next-gen facility are just a small fraction of the current human consumption of 8.8 billion pounds of whey powder a year. Another research impetus is the stark contrast between beef and cricket production: Cows require 25 pounds of food for every pound of beef, while crickets need just two pounds of food for every edible pound they become.

Further, the livestock industry contributes to greenhouse gas levels and drives deforestation. Says Engelking, "Insects are about as clean as it gets.”

Already, some two billion people regularly eat insects. It's called entomophagy and will become, it is hoped, "an integral part of the world hunger solution.”

Q. Looking at the really big picture, we are all part of the lucky 1% on Earth. How so?

A. We are the 1% of species not yet extinct, answers Gemma Tarlach in "Discover” magazine. "For the last 3.5 billion or so years, about 99% of the estimated 4 billion species that ever evolved are no longer around.” Based on data from fossil records, researchers have identified five mass extinctions, defined as the loss of at least 75% of species during each event. Multiple calamities, including ocean acidification and spikes in land temperatures, might be involved. However, the actual catalysts are sometimes unclear, though one usual suspect is large-scale volcanic activity spread across an entire region.In fact, volcanic activity in Siberia was likely the catalyst for the third and mightiest of mass extinctions some 250 million years ago, when about 96% of species died off. Yet despite all the destruction, adds Tarlach, one upside is that ecological hierarchies are toppled and "in that vacuum, surviving species often thrive, exploding in diversity and territory.”

For instance, the fifth extinction some 65.5 million years ago saw the demise of the dinosaurs, opening newly vacated ecological niches to quickly adaptive mammals. Now, most scientists believe we are in the midst of a "sixth extinction” brought on by human activity. As famed paleontologist Richard Leakey observed over 20 years ago, "Homo sapiens might not only be the agent of the sixth extinction but also risk being one of its victims.”

Q. If you dream about something you are trying to memorize, is that likely to improve your recollection?

A. Only dreams which occur during the REM (rapid eye movement) phase of sleep are typically remembered. But a person awakened during non-REM sleep will often report they were dreaming.

Using the forced awakening technique on 22 volunteers each tasked with memorizing 100 word-picture pairs (for example, "tree” paired with a picture of a seated child), Sarah Schoch et al. found that non-REM dreaming about the memorization task correlated with improved recollection the following day, (on the bioRxiv preprint website). REM dreams about the task, on the other hand, indicated no such correlation. The counterintuitive conclusion? Dreaming about a memorization task does improve recollection, but only if you don't remember the dream!

Q. Dogs, gorillas, horses, hyenas, sloths, giraffes, whales, herrings and snakes—just one of these mammals does not fart. Do you know which one?

A. Sloths don't do it, answers Steve Mirsky in "Scientific American” magazine. Though their gut flora produce plenty of methane, "it is absorbed through the gut and into the bloodstream before being breathed out, say zoologist Dana Rabaiotti and ecologist Nick Caruso in "Does It Fart: The Definitive Field Guide to Animal Flatulence.” In fact, almost all mammals fart. A list of the noes include sea anemones, sea cucumbers, Portuguese man-of-war, goldfish, octopuses, soft-shelled clams and the 10,000 species of birds. "Nevertheless, parrot owners have reported what sound like loud expulsions coming from their birds.” But, Mirsky concludes, "keep in mind that parrots are excellent mimics.” Q. What's in a name, you ask? Something you might not expect, the researchers say. What might that be?

A. Respect. When they looked at some 4500 online reviews by college students rating their professors in five disciplines at 17 universities, they uncovered some gender disparity, reports "Science” magazine. The students were "56% more likely to refer to male professors than female professors by their last name alone, and that form of address may confer greater respect.” Computer science showed the greatest difference, with male professors being referred to only by surnames 48% of the time, compared with 18% for female professors ("Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences”).

In related studies, Cornell University's Stav Atir and Melissa Ferguson found that men garnered more surname-only recognition in other contexts, such as talk-show pundits discussing politicians. It appears that people regard scientists mentioned by last name alone as more famous and eminent than those mentioned by full name. As the authors conclude, "women may be short-changed on professional benefits such as research funding based on nothing more than how people utter their names.”


Letters to the Editor

  • A Wonderful Harvest

    Even though the weather Gods didn’t exactly play ball over the weekend it doesn’t take away from the fact that this years Waterford Harvest Festival was yet again another wonderful success. It was great to see the streets of the centre of the city so beautifully and thoughtfully decked out. The various food stalls offering tastes from all over were great to wander around. The information and background that each of the stall holders were able to give on the provenance of their food was really interesting an …

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