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October 01, 2010

The best of the Ig Nobel prizes 2010

Best of the Ig Nobel prizes 2010 - opinion - 01 October 2010 - New Scientist
Bugbeard Like the other Nobels – five recipients of which were on hand to present the awards – the Ig Nobels committee, convened as always by the Annals of Improbable Research, can take its time to make an award. Manuel Barbeito, Charles Matthews and Larry Taylor of the Industrial Health and Safety Office at Fort Detrick, Maryland, for instance, were honoured for a laboratory peril first recognised in 1967. "A scientist who had never given us any problems grew a beard when he was working in containment lab," Barbeito explains. The scientist refused to shave, because there was no evidence that his facial fuzz posed a hazard. So Barbeito and three volunteers grew their own beards for 73 days, then sprayed them with harmless bacteria and demonstrated that it was harder to wash the germs out of a beard than off clean skin. Not content with that, they put a fake beard on a mannequin, sprayed it with pathogenic bacteria, and exposed it to hapless chickens and guinea pigs, some of which in due course got sick. Their bearded colleague capitulated, and shaved. (Applied Microbiology, vol 15, p 899).
*Full disclosure: Mojonaut and friend of the site, Le Diva, is part of the Ig Nobels*

September 30, 2010

Squirrels masturbate to avoid sexually transmitted infections

Squirrels masturbate to avoid sexually transmitted infections | Not Exactly Rocket Science | Discover Magazine
There’s a famous picture that has probably been burned into the retinas of anyone who spends a lot of time on the internet. It’s a squirrel, standing up, with a surprisingly huge pair of testicles dangling beneath him. That’s a Cape ground squirrel and the image isn’t a fake. Males have a scrotum that’s 20% of their body length (excluding the tail) and their penis is more than twice as long. These mighty genitals suggest that sex, and sperm in particular, is a serious business for Cape ground squirrels. To get the best odds of fathering the next generation, they need to ensure that it’s their sperm that fertilises the female’s eggs and not those of rivals. So they make a lot of it; hence, the oversized testicles. . . . The final explanation is that masturbation is actually a form of self-medication. By cleaning their genitals, males reduce their odds of contracting a sexually transmitted infection. It’s a new hypothesis that Waterman herself put forward, but it’s the only one that actually fits with all of her data. If it’s true, you’d expect males to masturbate more frequently after sex than before it, which they do. You’d expect them to masturbate more frequently during the time of month when females are ready to mate, which they do. And finally, you’d expect their tendency to masturbate to increase as they get more sex, which it does. A masturbating squirrel gets cleaner genitals in two ways – it scrubs the outside bit and flushes out the inside ones. Many other rodents will groom their genitals after sex and experiments with rats have shown that this does actually help to prevent infections. This might also explain the fact that some fruit bats practice fellatio during sex. In terms of flushing out the genital tract, some studies have suggested that this is why human men feel the need to go to urinate after sex. Cape ground squirrels, however, are a desert species and conserve water by very rarely urinating. Masturbating may be the next best thing and indeed, by eating their ejaculates afterwards, the squirrels can prevent the needless loss of water.

Earth-like planet discovered that can probably support life

Earth-Like Planet Can Sustain Life : Discovery News
A new member in a family of planets circling a red dwarf star 20 light-years away has just been found. It's called Gliese 581g, and the 'g' may very well stand for Goldilocks. Gliese 581g is the first world discovered beyond Earth that's the right size and location for life. "Personally, given the ubiquity and propensity of life to flourish wherever it can, I would say that the chances for life on this planet are 100 percent. I have almost no doubt about it," Steven Vogt, professor of astronomy and astrophysics at University of California Santa Cruz, told Discovery News. The discovery caps an 11-year effort to tease out information from instruments on ground-based telescopes that measure minute variations in starlight caused by the gravitational tugs of orbiting planets.

September 27, 2010

Today was the hottest day ever in Los Angeles

L.A.'s hottest day ever - latimes.com
It was so hot Monday that it broke the all-time record — and the weatherman's thermometer. The National Weather Service's thermometer for downtown Los Angeles headed into uncharted territory at 12:15 p.m. Monday, reaching 113 degrees for the first time since records began being kept in 1877. Shortly after that banner moment, the temperature dipped back to 111, and then climbed back to 112. Then at 1 p.m., the thermometer stopped working.