Findings — From the July 2009 issue
- Current Issue
SIGN IN to access the Harper’s archive
Biophysicists at the Monell Chemical Senses Center discovered that red pandas can taste aspartame, neotame, and sucralose and will consume large amounts of these substances if given the chance; lions, meanwhile, proved indifferent to artificial sweeteners. Researchers who injected goldfish with morphine or saline and then attached small heaters to the fish noted that the placebo-group goldfish experienced cognitive pain—fear, anxiety, and wariness—in addition to reflexive pain, which was also observed in the drugged fish. Entomologists tricked Argentine ants into disposing of live pupae by dousing the living antlings with the smell of the dead. Male Trinidadian guppies’ sexual harassment of female guppies was found to cause the females to shun other females they know and to seek out new friends. Swedish scientists identified the human body’s pleasure nerves, which activate when a person is stroked at a speed of 4 to 5 centimeters per second. Other Swedish scientists found that Swedes were becoming increasingly logical. A growing number of sentiment-analysis programs were tracking the emotional content of blogs, and researchers who watched more than 5,000 videos of dancing animals on YouTube determined that fourteen parrot species are capable of keeping time to recorded music. Due to bandwidth scarcity, experts feared imminent Internet brownouts.
Male African-American CEOs are more successful if they are baby-faced, whereas white male CEOs are less successful in direct proportion to their baby-facedness. An attempted infanticide was observed among tuxuci dolphins. Gay-rights activists, pointing to a study of rising anti-gay violence in Brazil, warned of a “homocaust.” An island of fairy penguins was successfully defended against foxes and feral dogs by Maremma sheepdogs, and an English hedgehog suffering from spinelessness was taken to Tiggywinkles Wildlife Hospital in Buckinghamshire. Chinese officials were distributing contraceptive pills to gerbils in the Gurbantunggut Desert. Biologists remained unsure why spotted hyenas giggle but theorized that the giggles may express frustration. Japanese scientists correlated higher levels of lithium in drinking water with lower rates of suicide among local populations. Tundra swans were dying en route to Alaska after consuming lead in Idaho. Kentucky is the saddest state.
Texas scientists created a carbon-based supermaterial more rigid than diamond, stronger than steel, and almost as light as air. Computer models of the growth and collapse of mountains on the surface of neutron stars revealed the stars’ crusts to be 10 billion times stronger than any terrestrial metal. An infrared survey of white dwarfs concluded that many dead stars are surrounded by dead planets that hurl smaller rocky masses toward the stars, where they are torn apart by gravitational tides. Astronomers continued to search for rogue black holes that have been wandering the universe since the Big Bang. Dust in Earth’s stratosphere was found to be older than the Sun. Physicists determined the source of the plasmaspheric hiss, a faint ssh sound in the upper atmosphere, to be a “chorus” of electromagnetic waves. Magnetic tornadoes were observed on Mercury. Mars may have mud volcanoes and pools of brine, and the center of the Milky Way tastes like raspberries and smells like rum. A professor of clothing at Japan Women’s University invented stink-free underwear for astronauts. South Korean scientists created beagles that glow.
More from Rafil Kroll-Zaidi: