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Fri Aug 19th Science Roundup

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Science Roundup Metaphor Watch – Do Black Holes Play With Their Food?

Burrows’s team argues that the x-ray flares can best be explained as postnatal burps and hiccups of the newly-born black hole. Perhaps the hungry baby is feasting on ejected material that falls back into its gravitational muzzle, they report.

The finding is ‘quite surprising,’ says gamma-ray burst researcher Ralph Wijers of the University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands. But it’s not self-evident that the black hole is messing around with its food minutes after its birth, he says. Instead, the x-ray flares could be due to delayed shocks in the jets that were produced at the time of the burst, or they could be part of the early burst afterglow.


That is exactly what I was thinking. Black hole are exactly like babies — or at least as much alike as a demanding young organism and a huge gravitational vortex crushing things into nonexistence can be. (Someone at Science got a cookie for coming up with a way for this story not to be boring.)

I wonder if the metaphor works backwards. “Yeah, Bob, I gotta head off and feed the little black hole at home. He goes through food like a supermassive goes through a medium sized yellow sun. And ever since we got married, my wife looks more and more like a singularity.”

APA request game makers to make games suck more:

Playing video games with violent moves such as karate kicks, for example, leads children to use these kinds of moves when they played afterwards. Another study showed that playing video games with heroes using flame-throwers and automatic weapons made teenagers feel more “mean and angry” afterwards compared with those who had not played the game.

In the meantime, the APA has called for the entertainment industry to better link violent behaviours with adverse consequences, and to adopt a new rating system that will more accurately reflect the content of video games.


The children who had not played the video games, rather than being mean and angry, were instead bored and frustrated.

Listen, I played video games all my childhood, and it didn’t make me one lick more violent. It may have advised me on technique, but that is another story.

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t:

A British climate modeller has finally persuaded global-warming sceptics to wager money on their contrarian predictions about climate change.

James Annan, who is based at the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology in Yokohama, has agreed a US$10,000 bet with Galina Mashnich and Vladimir Bashkirtsev, two solar physicists who argue that global temperatures are driven by changes in the Sun’s activity and will fall over the next decade. The bet, which both sides say they are willing to formalize in a legal document, came after other climate sceptics refused to wager money.

Annan began his quest last winter after hearing Richard Lindzen, a meteorologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who questions the extent to which human activities are influencing climate, say he was willing to bet that global temperatures will drop over the next 20 years. ‘A pay-off at retirement age would be a nice top-up to my pension,’ says Annan.

But no wager was ever agreed. Annan says that Lindzen wanted odds of 50-to-1 against falling temperatures: this meant that Annan would pay out $10,000 if temperatures dropped, but receive only $200 if they rose. In total, Annan says he tried and failed to agree terms with seven sceptics.


Annan plans to use the money, should he win, on sunscreen, air conditioners, and hurricane insurance, whereas Mashnich and Bashkirtsev plan to use their winnings to write a big fat I told you so on the Moon. We’ll see who ends up happier with that deal.

Some flies know how to party:

Regular drinkers of ethanol–the type of alcohol found in frosty malted beverages–eventually require more and more drinks to feel tipsy. Such increased tolerance is seen as a warning sign of alcoholism. In 2000, behavioral geneticist Ulrike Heberlein of the University of California, San Francisco, found that mutations in a fruit fly gene that disrupts the synthesis of their version of the neurotransmitter noradrenaline dampen a fruit fly’s ability to acquire tolerance to ethanol.

To find other genes involved in tolerance, Heberlein and her team intoxicated 400 flies, each with a random mutation in a single gene. First, the researchers dropped the flies into an ethanol vapor-infused inebriometer, a long vertical tube with platforms on which flies can land. As the flies get drunk, they fall from ledge to ledge until they literally hit bottom, dropping out the end of the tube. The faster a fly gets drunk, the quicker it ends up on the countertop.

This work “gives us a gene and a pathway to link tolerance and the stress response,” says molecular pharmacologist Leslie Morrow of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. If the findings hold up in humans, they may shed light on why alcoholics tend to handle stress in a blunted fashion: an overactive hangoverlike gene. But she cautions that the inebriometer measures only one simple behavior–passing out–and that more complex aspects of tolerance, such as cognitive impairment, may involve additional genes.


Other complex genetic traits might include the urge to urinate in public and puking on one’s date.

By the way, they named the gene hangover? Come on. In keeping with the tradition of naming fly genes for what goes wrong, they should call it lightweight or lame or dateless or something.

Space suits are the new black:

Webb’s suit is made of a stretchy Lycra-like fabric that squeezes the body five times harder than medical support stockings. This makes it difficult to put on, admits Webb. But it is reasonably comfortable so long as the air the astronaut breathes is pressurized to match the suit’s constrictiveness. ‘Otherwise,’ he says, ‘it hurts like hell.’


This season cotour designer’s have chosen to favor a slimmer look in our astronauts. Headgear will be round and domed, and evening wear will be form fitting, white, and radiation shielded — handy for fun filled evenings on the Moon or just trucking around SoHo.

The circle of life now includes people — Lion attacks on the rise:

Villagers have a tendency to sleep in their fields to guard their crops against nocturnal pests such as bush pigs. These farmers cannot afford to buy fences, explains lead author Craig Packer of the University of Minnesota in St Paul.

So the pigs get in to the crops, the lions follow the pigs into the farms, and then the villagers fall prey to the lions.

The intensified attacks have also taken a toll on the lions, thanks to people hunting the killers in retaliation. Experts fear lion populations are now shrinking rapidly.


Haven’t these people seen the Ghost and the Darkness? Actually, here is a suggestion. Why don’t you skip killing the lions and eat the bush pigs?

Study of complementary medicine not complimentary:

Edzard Ernst, professor of complementary medicine at the Peninsula Medical School of the Universities of Exeter and Plymouth, wrote to the CAM organizations in May, asking whether they advise their members to report adverse events. He also asked for details of such events. The organizations he approached covered some 20 healing arts, from herbal medicines and homeopathy to crystal therapy and hypnotherapy.

Fewer than a third replied. Of those who did, just nine said that they advised members to report side effects. And only one, an acupuncture association, gave details of adverse reactions reported in 2004.

Ernst says that he was surprised by the general lack of familiarity with the concept of adverse reactions. ‘Some respondents said they didn’t really understand what was meant by the term,’ he says. Others denied its relevance to them. ‘Several organizations said that adverse events were only connected with mainstream medicine, but were inconceivable in their own practice,’ Ernst says.

Terry Cullen, chairman of the British Complementary Medicine Association, says that his organization does not believe the therapies it represents could be harmful. For example, he says that even if a client receiving reflexology, which involves applying pressure to the hands and feet, doesn’t end up more relaxed, they are unlikely to have any reaction serious enough to need monitoring or regulating.


Huh. Why would the complimentary specialists not be the least bit worried about the side effects of their therapies? Maybe it is because applying pressure to the hands and feet doesn’t do anything period much less anything bad.

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