Archive for August, 2008

The Air Over There: As the Olympics End, a Look Back at Air Quality

By Boonsri Dickinson | August 26, 2008 2:26 pm

beijing.jpgThe Olympics have come and gone amid a flurry of panic over the air quality in Beijing. But now that the athletes are packed up and boarding planes, we have a consensus: The air wasn’t nearly as bad as everyone feared. We described last month how the Chinese government closed down factories near Beijing and only allowed cars on the road every other day. Months into the clean air diet and billions of dollars later, Beijing set a record of its own: It had eight straight days of “excellent” air, the longest stretch of good weather the city has seen in a decade.

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MORE ABOUT: china, olympics

Angry Crows Recognize Humans—Even Dick Cheney

By Andrew Moseman | August 26, 2008 2:03 pm

crowsBirds aren’t just smart; they remember when they’ve been wronged.

John Marzluff, of the University of Washington in Seattle, wanted to prove his gut feeling that the crows he studied could identify individual human faces. So he and his students brought out some props. They donned a series of Halloween masks—one was a caveman, which the scientists wore when they trapped the birds. They then let the birds see them in “neutral” masks, like one resembling Vice President Dick Cheney (though this is probably one of the few times Cheney has been referred to as “neutral”).

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Komodo Dragons Attack Villagers; Villagers Blame Environmentalists

By Andrew Moseman | August 25, 2008 4:05 pm

KomodoTen-foot-long reptiles in Indonesia have the taste for human flesh, and it’s the fault of…the Nature Conservancy?

That’s what some of the locals are saying. According to the Wall Street Journal, a Komodo dragon killed a young boy last year near the dragons’ main home, Komodo National Park, and since then dragon attacks on people have become much more frequent. And one reason the Komodos have started feeding on the locals, they say, is that they have stopped feeding the Komodos.

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August: A Lousy Month for Space Exploration

By Andrew Moseman | August 25, 2008 1:33 pm

nasa crashIf you’ve been thinking of launching your very own rocket into space, maybe you should wait until September. August, by all accounts, has been a dismal month for space agencies everywhere. Here’s a rundown of the month’s miseries:

August 2: The SpaceX company’s Falcon1 rocket, which was supposed to separate into two parts and propel one of the parts into space, does not.

This mission, SpaceX’s third unsuccessful attempt to reach orbit, was particularly disheartening for a couple reasons. First, NASA had hoped that private companies like SpaceX might be able to accelerate their development of space travel technology because soon the U.S. won’t have any of its own—after the last space shuttle is decommissioned in 2010, NASA will have to rely on the Russians for space travel because the Orion vehicle (more on this later) won’t be ready until 2014 at the earliest.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Aliens Therefrom
MORE ABOUT: space flight

Bizarre Disorder Makes People Want to Sever Their Own Limbs

By Andrew Moseman | August 25, 2008 12:49 pm

amputeeWe’ve heard a lot about “cutters” and other people who feel compulsions to hurt themselves. But there’s an extra, extreme level above that: Body Integrity Identity Disorder.

BIID‘s somewhat cryptic name belies a strange affliction—its sufferers feel that their normal bodies are wrong, and that they were born to be paraplegic or handicapped. The compulsion is so strong that some with the disorder try—and succeed—at amputating their own limbs. Newsweek mentions one who, after many failed attempts to lose his left hand, cut it off with a power tool and then lied to his family that he lost it in an accident. Another man froze off his own leg.

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MORE ABOUT: mental health

Weekly Science Blog Roundup

By Andrew Moseman | August 22, 2008 1:36 pm

Yee-haw! It’s the blog roundup.· Cosmic Variance finds a hole in the math of the decathlon: If you run slowly enough, you can guarantee victory.

· More weird fallout from high oil prices—it could bring back the American steel industry.

· Don’t believe ocean animals are in steep decline? Just look at the numbers. (Warning: Really depressing.)

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Taking Blood Pressure Meds? Better Lay Off the Juice

By Boonsri Dickinson | August 22, 2008 12:56 pm

grapfruit.jpgDon’t take Viagra with grapefruit juice. Researchers have performed the first human-controlled study to show that when certain blood pressure, cancer, and antibiotic drugs are taken with fruit juices including grapefruit, orange, and apple, the drugs became “useless.”

Canadian researchers found that only half the allergy drug fexofenadine was absorbed when volunteers drank the pill with juice. A chemical in grapefruit juice called narigin blocked a key molecule that carries the drugs from the small intestines to the bloodstream, and therefore prevented the drug from going to the right targets. In oranges, the chemical to blame for blocking drugs is hesperidin. The researchers are still trying to figure out what chemical in apple juice causes the decrease in absorption.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” says David G. Bailey, a professor of clinical pharmacology at the University of Western Ontario. “I’m sure we’ll find more and more drugs that are affected this way.”

If you really are craving juice, then just leave some time before you take the medicine and drink it. Just remember that it’s best to take meds with water anyway.

Images: flickr/ Joshua Yospyn


Congratulations! You've Given Birth to Your Grandchild

By Andrew Moseman | August 22, 2008 10:15 am

babyScience: It sure can make those family relationships confusing.

A 61-year-old Japanese woman has given birth in Japan, which is extraordinary enough given her age. But this was no normal birth—the baby was her own grandchild. The Nagano hospital says the woman served as a surrogate mother for her own daughter, who does not have a uterus.

News reports are saying that the baby was born last year, despite the fact that the hospital didn’t announce it until today. That delay could have a lot to do with the attitude toward in vitro fertilization and surrogate births in Japan. They’re legal, but most hospitals and clinics won’t do them because the Japan Society of Obstetrics and Gynecology has banned its members from using the procedure. However, the doctor who runs the Nagano clinic in this case was booted from that organization a decade ago for providing in vitro fertilization for unmarried couples.

The hospital has not even divulged the baby’s sex, but says the birth went off without a hitch. Now all they have to do is figure out whose mother belongs to whom.

Image: iStockphoto

MORE ABOUT: sex & reproduction

Can Not Sleeping Erase Your Memories?

By Boonsri Dickinson | August 21, 2008 3:23 pm

sleeping-baby.jpgPeople are losing sleep over the Olympics, which could be a big problem if not getting enough sleep really does have the same effect as three to four drinks of alcohol. We know sleep helps improve procedural skills such as playing the piano, but now a new study says that sleep also helps determine what we remember and what we forget.

Harvard researchers tested 88 college students and put them into three groups—one that stayed awake all day, another that got to sleep for 12 hours and were tested in the morning, and a base group that was tested 30 minutes after images were shown. All groups were shown images of a car parked on a street in front of shops and a totaled car parked on a street to measure which had the greatest emotional impact, and how sleep affected how the subjects remembered details of the pictures such as the background and the street.

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Bloated Giant Squid Was No Vicious Killer

By Andrew Moseman | August 21, 2008 2:21 pm

SquidA person’s first thought of a giant squid might be the bloodthirsty behemoth that attacks seafarers in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. But the animal’s reputation is a little over-inflated—the giant squid discovered last year might have been just a docile blob.

A New Zealand boat fishing in the Antarctic brought in the 1,000-pound female squid, and scientists have been studying the sea creature over the last year. But looking at its biology, they found that it’s unlikely the animal was a great ocean predator. Rather, the female squid bore quite a mother’s burden; the thousands of eggs she carried caused her to expand into a big blob as she got older, says marine biologist Steve O’Shea.

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