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Science Roundup: Feb. 6, 2006

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Does Alcohol Labelling Encourage Sensible Drinking?…Jake: No

Clear labelling on shop-bought alcohol, showing the alcohol units contained and health advice, may not be effective in promoting sensible drinking, says a letter in this week’s BMJ.

In a snapshot survey of 263 supermarket shoppers in Edinburgh, two university lecturers investigated whether information labels on alcoholic drinks influenced drinking awareness.

Although most of those surveyed could define what constitutes a unit of alcohol, less than a fifth of men and just a quarter of women used the information to monitor how much they drank.

Very few – just 8% of women and 5% of men – were aware of the current guidelines which outline sensible daily drinking levels (brought in to help people avoid drunkenness). Many instead estimated the maximum number of units per day from older guidelines defining weekly levels, while a third offered no suggestion at all.

So you are saying that telling people how much is “sensible” doesn’t help them drink responsibly? Wow, who saw that coming.

It doesn’t matter what you put on the label. It is the same deal as cigarettes. You could attach a giant neon sign to each box that say “Don’t under any circumstances consume this product. You will not make it out of the store alive,” and it wouldn’t discourage anyone.

Besides, telling someone how much they are drinking isn’t going to discourage them. If anything it will encourage them. It helps you keep score.

Awwww: Dads-to-Be Pile on the Pounds, Too

Dads-to-be pile on the pounds during their partners’ pregnancy too – at least in some monkey species, new research suggests. The findings may illuminate the biological changes that occur in men to encourage effective fatherhood, since the primates studied are exceptionally good parents.

Pregnancy is something that not all expectant fathers miss out on – male ‘sympathetic pregnancies’ have been reported in humans but never systematically studied. They are often regarded as psychosomatic events.


“We found that the males gained on average an extra 10% of their body weight during the pregnancy,” says Toni Zeigler who led the research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison National Primate Research Center. The weight gain was not as pronounced as for the females, but was acquired earlier in the pregnancy – about midway. The majority of female weight gain occurred during the final weeks of gestation.

Gains a couple sympathy pounds…great…very cute.

Gains 60 or 70 sympathy pounds and starts talking to his guy friends on the phone all day about how swollen his ankles are…decidedly less cute.

So does this sympathetic pregnancy make for better dads? ‘We know that prolactin promotes paternal care from studies in birds, where higher levels of the hormone cause the fathers to feed the chicks more often,’ Zeigler says, ‘but we don’t know what other roles it has in primates or humans.

‘But marmoset and tamarind males are excellent fathers and remain monogamous for life, so it could help explain what biological changes are necessary in humans to produce a good dad.’

Yeah that’s right. MARMOSETS make good Dads. They can be monogamous. Not just knock me up and leave town saying you have “lots of monkey business” to take care of. Bastard… Maybe I should marry a Marmoset. Those tails are kind of hot.

Saving British Squirrels from American Squirrels

Part of that dwindling can be attributed to the loss of the squirrels’ natural habitat, but a significant cause is the Eastern grey squirrel, an interloper first introduced from North America in 1876. It has turned out that greys are able to out-compete the reds with relative ease, and they can easily digest acorns, while the red squirrel cannot. Also, they carry a squirrel pox that is frequently fatal to reds, but to which the greys themselves are immune. The result is that over the past century red squirrels have been forced into smaller and smaller pockets of woodland and are now rarely seen outside northern England and Scotland. In Britain, grey squirrels now outnumber reds by approximately 66 to 1.


The strategy recognizes that greys have the upper hand in all woodland areas except conifer blocks, Pow says. “We need to fight where we can win and not where we will ultimately lose,” he told reporters in November when the strategy was launched. The chosen woodlands will also be carefully managed to get the right mix of tree species and age structure to support healthy populations of red squirrels, but which are less well-suited to the higher energy demands of the larger grey squirrel.


The campaign generated a lot of support in the op-ed pages of British newspapers, with letters and editorials cheering the plan to rescue Squirrel Nutkin. But according to the European Squirrel Initiative, an anti-grey squirrel pressure group founded in 2002, the latest plan doesn’t go nearly far enough. They have called for total elimination of the American invader, pointing out that the greys are harming more than just their ginger-hued cousins.

Damn you American squirrels! With your competitive ways, your strong acorn-accepting bowels, and your dreaded “squirrel pox.” How do you expect us to compete?

Good Lord, even our squirrels are screwing the Brits over.

‘Tenth Planet’ is Bigger Than Pluto, Pluto Insists It’s How You Use It That Matters

The chilly world dubbed Xena on the outskirts of the solar system has at least as much claim to be a planet as Pluto, according to a new study confirming that the ‘tenth planet’ is by far the larger of the two.

Astronomers first spotted Xena, known more formally as UB 313, in 2003, but the discovery was not made public until July 2005. By then they realised it was amazingly distant – at times, about three times as far from the Sun as Pluto is.

From its brightness and distance, astronomers estimated that it must be slightly larger than Pluto – assuming that, like Pluto, it reflects just over half the sunlight that falls onto it.

To calculate Xena’s size more directly, Frank Bertoldi of the University of Bonn in Germany and his colleagues measured its light at a wavelength of 1.2 millimetres using a telescope array in the Spanish Sierra Nevada. Xena emits this radiation in response to being warmed by the Sun, regardless of the shininess of its surface.

The amount of millimetre radiation suggested Xena is about 3000 kilometres wide – 30% wider than Pluto.

Oh come on. We all know it isn’t the size that matters…it is how close your surface temperature is to absolute zero.

Global Effort Needed to Keep Bio Advances Out of Hands of Wackos and Other Mad Scientists

Biomedical advances have made it possible to identify and manipulate features of living organisms in useful ways — leading to improvements in public health, agriculture, and other areas. The globalization of scientific and technical expertise also means that many scientists and other individuals around the world are generating breakthroughs in the life sciences and related technologies. However, coordinated global efforts are needed to reduce the growing risk that new advances in these areas will be used to make novel biological weapons or misused by careless groups and individuals, says a new report from the National Research Council and Institute of Medicine of the National Academies. The report recommends multidisciplinary measures to identify and mitigate such dangers over the next five to 10 years.

‘Our increasingly interdependent global society needs a broad array of integrated, decisive actions to successfully anticipate and manage the potential misuse of biomedical research and the technologies it generates,’ said Stanley M. Lemon, director, Institute for Human Infections and Immunity, University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, and co-chair of the committee that wrote the report. ‘The opportunities to inflict harm are unparalleled.’

For example, we need some sort of rapid response spy organization to confront the threat of evil scientists wherever and whenever they present themselves. Some sort of 007 to parachute end and confront them before they can hold the world hostage with their perverse knowledge.

Frankly I am probably just the kind of wacko they want to keep this knowledge from, but I still think it is a good plan. I wouldn’t trust me either.

More science news at Pure Pedantry.

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