sciencehabit writes: Think potty training a child is hard? Try teaching a cow when and where to do its business. The bovines can defecate nine to 16 times daily, and pee seven to nine times, creating big hygiene problems on dairy and beef farms. So cueing the animals to go in the right place would be a big help for managing manure. But past techniques—including training cows to respond to mild electric shocks—have proven ineffective or impractical for wide use. To see if they could come up with a better potty prompt, the scientists tested a series of stimuli on a dozen Holstein cows. The milkers stood in or walked through a footbath filled with water, for example, or had air or water sprayed on their feet. Alas, "[n]one of our tests reliably stimulated defecation," the team reports. Maybe bovine diapers instead?
sciencehabit writes: Scientists have found that, when it comes to mental recall, people are far more likely to remember the text of idle chitchat on social media platforms like Facebook than the carefully crafted sentences of books. The team gathered 200 Facebook posts from the accounts of undergraduate research assistants, such as "Bc sometimes it makes me wonder" and "The library is a place to study, not to talk on your phone." They also randomly selected 200 sentences from recently published books, gathered from free text on Amazon.com. Sentences included, "Underneath the mass of facial hair beamed a large smile," and "Even honor had its limits." Facebook posts were one-and-a-half times as memorable as the book sentences. The researchers speculate that effortless chatter is better than well-crafted sentences at tapping into our minds' basic language capacities—because human brains evolved to prioritize and remember unfiltered information from social interaction.
sciencehabit writes: Even Charles Darwin marveled at the length of the barnacle's penis. In some species, it's up to eight times the body length. Not all barnacles are so well-endowed, however, raising the question of how animals that can't reach their neighbors get it on. Now, new research suggests that at least one short-penised barnacle, the Pacific gooseneck barnacle, oozes sperm directly into the water for females to capture, a mating approach that researchers previously considered too haphazard for the sedentary crustaceans.
sciencehabit writes: In a new article, four London doctors warn of a professional who is committing malpractice and getting away with it: the tooth fairy. They report on an 8-year-old boy who was sent to an allergist because of his epic runny nose. Regular old medical treatment didn't work, so the next step was a CT scan. The scan showed signs of inflammation in the sinuses. But it also revealed something more surprising: a tooth in his left ear canal. It turned out that 3 years before, the boy had woken up "extremely distressed" because the tooth fairy had taken the tooth from under his pillow and jammed it in his ear.
sciencehabit writes: Subtlety doesn't seem to be reigning at this weeks meeting of the American Geophysical Union. Professor of geophysics and complex systems Brad Werner of the University of California, San Diego, has livened up this year's conference with a suggestive title talk. Drawing on Werner's computer modeling of the relationship between human society and environmental systems, "Is Earth F**ked? Dynamical Futility of Global Environmental Management and Possibilities for Sustainability via Direct Action Activism" makes some disturbing conclusions. (Asterisks are included in the official title of the talk.) "[T]he dynamics of the global coupled human-environmental system within the dominant culture precludes management for stable, sustainable pathways and promotes instability," Werner's abstract says. This appears to suggest the answer to his provocative question, then, is yes. At press time, AGU had not responded to a request for comment about the title.
sciencehabit writes: Before you down that pint, check the shape of your glass—you might be drinking more beer than you realize. According to a new study of British beer drinkers, an optical illusion caused by the shape of a curved glass can dramatically increase the speed at which we swill. The researchers recruited 160 Brits, and asked them to watch a nature documentary while they drank beer from straight or curved glasses. The group drinking a full glass of lager out of curved flute glasses drank significantly faster than the other group--possibly because the curved glasses impaired their ability to pace themselves while drinking.
sciencehabit writes: "Fairy circles"--bare patches of soil, 2 to 12 meters in diameter, that freckle grasslands from southern Angola to northern South Africa--have confounded humans for centuries. Locals say they're the footprints of the gods. Scientists have thrown their hands up in the air. But now, using satellite images, one scientist has discovered something no one else has: the circles are "alive". That is, the appear and disappear at regular intervals, with an average "lifespan" of about 41 years.
sciencehabit writes: Older folks give off a characteristic scent that's independent of race, creed, or diet. In a new study, researchers confirm--through some fairly unpleasant sniff testing--that there really is a smell people associate with the elderly. The ability to sniff out someone's age may have conferred an evolutionary advantage, the team reports. It's possible that those who lived longer were assumed to be stronger, healthier, or smarter and would have children who would be better equipped to survive. Thus they'd be seen—or smelled—as the most desirable mates.
sciencehabit writes: Physicists have shown that everyday mug sizes produce natural frequencies that just happen to match those of a person's leg movements during walking. This means that walking alone, without any other interference, is tuned to drive coffee to oscillate in a mug. But the researchers also found that even small irregularities in a person's walking are important: These amplify the wilder oscillations, or sloshing, which bumps up the chance of a spillage.
sciencehabit writes: Researchers hoping to better understand fish distributions by recording the sounds they make have picked up something unusual: barely-audible, cricket-like noises they think could be nighttime fish farts. The team programmed a torpedo-shaped robot called a glider to head out to sea from Tampa Bay and back, running up and down the water column in a saw-tooth pattern, sampling ocean sounds for 25 seconds every 5 minutes. The probable farts were recorded shallower than 40 meters, and were most likely a group of fish, including menhaden and herring, releasing gas from an internal buoyancy organ called a swim bladder.
sciencehabit writes: Researchers have long hypothesized that objects weigh less at Earth's equator because the planet's spin and shape lessen gravity's pull here versus at the poles. Satellite accelerometers have confirmed this, but a digital scale manufacturer decided to test things the old-fashioned way. Enter the Kern garden gnome. When placed on a scale at the South Pole, the intrepid ornament weighed 309.82 grams versus 307.86 grams at the equator, a difference of 0.6%.
sciencehabit writes: Red dresses muddle men's minds, just ask The Matrix's Neo. In a scene from the 1999 sci-fi film, the hero is famously ambushed after becoming distracted by a woman on the street wearing a slinky red outfit. Now, a new study shows how such duds attain their sway. Men rate women wearing red clothing as being more interested in sex, hinting that humans may be conditioned to associate the color with fertility.
sciencehabit writes: How can you make people better at sports? Tell them they're using equipment that previously belonged to a professional athlete. A new study finds that golfers significantly improved their putting ability when they believed the putter they were using belonged to a celebrity golfer.
sciencehabit writes: Being an identical twin might seem like a great way to fool a DNA test and get away with the perfect crime. But furry forensic experts can make sure justice is served. In a new study, researchers instructed a group of children, including two sets of identical twins and two sets of fraternal twins, to swab the insides of their cheeks and place the swabs in glass jars. Working with ten police German shepherds and their handlers from the Czech Republic police, the researchers then ran a mock crime scene investigation. The handler presented one twin’s scent to the dog and then told it to go find the matching scent in a lineup of seven jars, which included the other twin’s scent. In twelve trials per dog, none of them ever identified the wrong twin as a match, the researchers report online this week in PLoS ONE, even though the children lived in the same home, ate the same food, and had identical DNA.
sciencehabit writes: For years, scientists have speculated that armadillos can pass on leprosy to humans, and that they are behind the few dozen cases of the disease that occur in the U.S. every year. Now, they have evidence. A genetic study published in The New England Journal of Medicine shows that U.S. armadillos and human patients share what seems to be a unique strain of the bacterium that causes leprosy. If an armadillo's blood "got on my tires of my car from running [the animal] over, I would wash it down," advises one expert. "And I would not dig in soil that has a lot of armadillo excrement."