Blog posts from the perhaps-inscrutably-named but nonetheless hilarious NCBI ROFL have been a mainstay of DISCOVER’s site for years now. What’s not to love about the authors’ explication of why a smile conceals more than a poker face, whether Gollum suffers from multiple personality disorder, or how one girl apparently got pregnant via oral sex?
That’s why we’ve decided to give them their own space.
Discoblog will be retiring, and NCBI ROFL will be taking on a new identity: “Seriously, Science?” Because it’s not just ROFL science in their sights, but interesting, crazy and weird science that gets you thinking, blushing, or scratching your head. The new-and-improved version is already up and running with a post about how the sound of vomiting affects your moral judgements—so click over and check it out now! And while you’re at it, update your bookmark and your RSS feed so you can stay on top of their daily posts.
Because—seriously—you don’t want to miss this science.
Hundreds of millions of people suffer from parasitic infections, like hookworm. And how do doctors diagnose these infections? Stool samples.
An accurate diagnosis is key for doctors to better understand and treat parasitic worms. The current diagnosing method relies on counting worm eggs in stool samples, but doctors often miss infections if they are mild or unevenly distributed throughout a sample.
Scientists in Côte d’Ivoire set out to see how they could improve the diagnosing process. The researchers necessarily have a sense of humor about their study, which they titled “An In-Depth Analysis of a Piece of Shit,” published in PLoS Neglected Tropial Diseases last week.
The researchers found that homogenizing the stool samples made for more accurate egg counts with particular infections, and that storing stool samples on ice or covered with a wet tissue prevented the decay of certain worm eggs. Their findings may help doctors better identify, treat and control the spread of these serious infections. Their turd-dissection diagrams are pretty entertaining as well.
Image courtesy of Stefanie J. Krauth et al.
Now that the holidays are winding down, you may be wondering what to do with some of the less-than-desirable presents you received this year. Despite Santa’s good intentions, are you ever going to wear that gaudy scarf? And will you ever actually take that awkward foot bath out of the box?
A practical solution would be to regift these items—to pass them on to someone who would appreciate them more than yourself. But that pesky taboo surrounding regifting makes you think twice. What do you do? Researchers from Harvard, Stanford, and the London Business School analyzed the psychology behind regifting to determine what people really think about it, and how much the social stigma comes into play. Their results, published by the Association for Psychological Science earlier this year, suggest that with a little rebranding, regifting may not be such a bad idea after all.
My sister, a medical student who has worked in a pathology lab, recently mentioned in passing that specific strains of bacteria, grown in an incubator, can have some pretty unusual smells. When I asked what she meant, she drew me this table (on some handy Discover stationary).
Now, I’ve grown plenty of yeast in my day, and they just smell like gym socks. Maybe, if you get some wild ones in there, like gym shorts (I’ve never enjoyed fancy beer made with wild yeast. Too redolent of crotch).
This level of olfactory whimsy, then, was totally new to me: Pseudomonas aeruginosa smells like flowers? Streptococcus milleri smells of browned butter? Clostridium difficule, scourge of elderly intestines, bringer of fecal transplants, smells like horse poo? I’ll confess, I never quite thought about what happens when you get millions of a single kind of bacteria all together in one place and take a nice long sniff. I did not think it would ever be pleasant. I was wrong.
Truly one of the strangest figures we’ve ever seen in a paper.
Good news, kids: turns out we humans feel pretty awful about harming other people. That much you’d expect. But there’s a question about exactly what this feeling is: is it more that we feel the victim’s pain, or that we feel especially bad for causing the pain?
Psychologists put this question to the test in a paper called “Simulating murder,” which does, among other things, exactly what the title suggests. They made participants perform a slew of fake violent acts, such as pointing gun at someone’s face or smacking a baby against a desk, and asked partipants to either perform them or watch them being performed. If the victim’s pain was what matters, participants would presumably react the same in both situations.
Instead, participants had higher blood pressure and more constricted blood vessels—indicators of higher stress–when they were the guilty party. The subjects also performed similar but not objectionable physical tasks, like smacking a broom instead of a baby, to make sure simple physical exertion didn’t account for the difference.
The intersection in question.
For two Fridays in June 2011, from 3 to 6 pm, two experimenters sat near an intersection in San Francisco and watched the cars. They arranged themselves so that drivers couldn’t see them, and every now and then, they recorded the make and physical appearance of a car and tried to guess the gender and age of the driver. As their chosen cars pulled up to the intersection, they kept track of which ones cut off others. Later, in another study, they positioned an experimenter at a crosswalk. They took note of which cars neglected to stop for the pedestrian.
No, this is not performance art—it’s science! Read More
As technology marches ever onward, robots have taken on more and more of life’s necessary jobs: heavy lifting, precise mechanical manipulations, and, of course, predicting the future.
Peppering the fairs and festivals of India, striking in their boldly colored if battered armor, are a fleet of robots that are part fortune cookie, part street-corner psychic. These bots wait in perpetual readiness to dispense their pre-programmed wisdom, and for only 5 rupees or so, the robot’s handler will allow you to plug a pair of headphones into its metallic underpants and listen as it tells your fortune.
The fortune-telling robots come in a range of shapes and sizes to best suit your fortune-telling needs (there is, in fact, a Flickr pool devoted to the various specimens). One of our favorite designs is the mod/retro combination of a smattering of LED lights and an analog clock, for those mortals bogged down in the worldly concerns of time (below).
The robots’ wisdom, apparently, comes on prerecorded tapes, audio fortune cookies that foresee the future in Hindi, Tamil, Kannada, and Telgu. Not having heard the tapes ourselves—and not having any languages in common with the robots—we aren’t certain about the scope of these predictions. Do the robots whisper ticker symbols and stock market prices of the day after tomorrow? Do they speak of wars and famines, or the mundanities of day-to-day life? We wish we knew. Do you?
Images: Jitendra Prakash / Reuters; courtesy of Paul Keller / Flickr