Findings — From the December 2010 issue

Findings

Scientists were concerned about the lack of standardization for placebo ingredients, about the abundance of sugary sports drinks consumed by athletic children, about the increase in alcohol consumption that occurs when American college students study abroad (twofold for those twenty-one and older, threefold for those younger than twenty-one), and about the unprecedented rate of suicide among middle-aged people as baby boomers continue to age and to kill themselves. Doctors at the American Academy of Pediatrics conference revealed, in the study “How Far Toddlers Can Reach onto Standard Kitchen Countertops,” that toddlers can reach farther and more easily than expected onto standard kitchen countertops. African-American motorcyclists are more likely than white American motorcyclists to wear helmets but also more likely to die in crashes. The small black African wasps brought to Hawaii to fight invasive gall wasps were successfully protecting the state’s wiliwili trees, but the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park had failed to stop elk from eating quaking aspens, disappointing scientists who had hoped that the wolves could do so by creating a “landscape of fear.”

It was found that exposing young snails to platinum causes them to form shells on the inside of their bodies rather than the outside; researchers noted, however, that environmental platinum pollution is currently too low to spur widespread snail–slug conversion. Solomon’s lily was found to attract Drosophila flies by giving off the deceptive scent of fruity wine. Loud noise makes food taste less sweet or salty but feel more crunchy, and white noise improves the concentration of inattentive Swedish children but worsens that of normally attentive ones. Sensitivity to two common painkillers was found to vary widely between piglets of different ages; it was suggested that analgesic dosage be more carefully calibrated for piglet castration. Researchers found that congenital deafness in cats, the only animals other than humans that may be born deaf, repurposes the brain’s auditory cortex to enhance peripheral vision. Half of stroke victims experience phantom limbs, and two thirds of Americans with voice-loss problems fail to report them. Psychologist Spike Lee found that telling harmful lies makes people desire mouthwash, whereas writing harmful lies makes people desire hand sanitizer. Rhesus macaques, who normally are not self-aware, will, following brain surgery, examine their genitals in a mirror. Similar evidence of self-awareness was previously limited to higher primates, dolphins, magpies, and an elephant named Happy. Neurobiologists created mice that can smell light.

New clocks made it possible to measure the effect that one-foot changes in altitude have on the speed of time. The internal incubation of cuckoo eggs prior to laying, first theorized two centuries ago but long thought impossible, was found to be the method whereby cuckoo chicks obtain the head start necessary to bring about the deaths of their foster siblings. Killer whales were evolving into two species. The average economic cost of a U.S. murder was estimated to be $17.25 million. Tyrannosaurs once were human-sized and later were cannibals. Boston Medical Center gastroenterologists urged the adoption of the newly devised Boston Bowel Preparation Scale. “Having this standardized tool,” said a leading colonoscopy researcher, “will help clinicians across the globe accurately report on the cleanliness of the bowel.” The Paris japonica plant was found to have the largest known genome, fifty-one times the size of the human genome and surpassing even that of the marbled lungfish. The salmon of Spain were straying from their natal rivers. Scientists in New Guinea discovered a new genus of mice, which they described as “very, very beautiful.”

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