Cuteness is a way of aestheticizing powerlessness. [Sianne Ngai/Cabinet]
Why do humans menstruate, when most animals don’t? When you shake the tree of life, you find that only a handful of mammals aside from us – primates, a small number of bat species, and the elephant shrew – have opted for the monthly bleed. Evolution is often viewed in terms of a cost-benefit ledger: if something is costly, it must have some benefit. Women lose over half a standard glass of wine’s worth in iron-rich blood and tissue – about 90 millilitres – each time they menstruate, so the process does seem quite costly. And in the predator-filled environs of our early ancestors, leaving a trail of blood was presumably not advantageous. So how did menstruation arise? Over recent decades, evolutionary biologists have come up with three key theories to explain human menstruation. [United Academics]
Normally, tracking a criminal using DNA requires, at a minimum, that the perpetrator leaves behind a DNA sample in some form or other. As they are not often so accommodating, the role of DNA in crime busting, while significant, has its limits. Applied DNA Sciences (ADNAS) has developed a new approach to solve crimes using DNA tagging. The difference is that instead of tagging the objects being stolen, they tag the pilferer with DNA. While this has been tried before by applying the DNA to a fleeing criminal with a gun, ADNAS has adopted a more subtle approach. […] DNA Fog is an airborne suspension of artificial DNA molecules with a known but biologically inert sequence. The DNA molecules (Applied DNA’s SigNature DNA) are artificially constructed, so that a strand of DNA with 20 base pairs can have over a trillion unique combinations. A security system could use one sequence per location, one sequence for each area within the location, or even use RFID tags to instruct a sophisticated spraying device to spray a unique DNA signature for each item stolen. Once released, DNA molecules attach onto a malefactor’s clothing, shoes, hair, and skin, as well as the objects stolen. [Gizmag]
She explained how recent research, including her own, has shown that memories are not unchanging physical traces in the brain. Instead, they are malleable constructs that may be rebuilt every time they are recalled. The research suggests, she said, that doctors (and psychotherapists) might be able to use this knowledge to help patients block the fearful emotions they experience when recalling a traumatic event, converting chronic sources of debilitating anxiety into benign trips down memory lane. [Technology Review]
The psychologist Dan Gilbert calls this kleptomnesia: generating an idea that you believe is novel, but in fact was created by someone else. It’s accidental plagiarism, and it’s all too common in creative work.
The quality of a performance does not drive the amount of applause an audience gives, a study suggests. Instead scientists have found that clapping is contagious, and the length of an ovation is influenced by how other members of the crowd behave. They say it takes a few people to start clapping for applause to spread through a group, and then just one or two individuals to stop for it to die out. [BBC]
Humans are meant to walk heel-to-toe, with the leg at about a 90-degree angle to the foot and the ankle joint employing a 60-degree range of motion during normal daily activities. By wearing a high heel, “you’re altering the position of the foot and how the foot is to function. Therefore, lots of bad things happen.”
A study has found for the first time that thirdhand smoke — the noxious residue that clings to virtually all surfaces long after the secondhand smoke from a cigarette has cleared out — causes significant genetic damage in human cells. [ScienceDaily]
One skeptical hypothesis about the external world, namely that one is a brain in a vat with systematically delusory experience, is modelled on the Cartesian Evil Genius hypothesis, according to which one is a victim of thoroughgoing error induced by a God-like deceiver. The skeptic argues that one does not know that the brain-in-a-vat hypothesis is false, since if the hypothesis were true, one’s experience would be just as it actually is. Therefore, according to the skeptic, one does not know any propositions about the external world (propositions which would be false if the vat hypothesis were true). [SEP]
The US is a world leader in sperm exports primarily because sperm banks in the U.S. are run on a for-profit basis. Denmark also exports a lot of sperm because of high standards and demand for that blond, blue-eyed look.
From Bloomberg’s Jody Shenn: “Wells Fargo & Co., the largest U.S. mortgage lender, is offering 30-year fixed-rate loans at 4.5 percent, according to its website, up from 4.13 percent on June 18 and 3.88 percent on May 22, when comments by Bernanke to lawmakers and the release of the minutes of the last Fed meeting caused bonds to plummet.” So in one month, the average 30 year fixed rate mortgage has jumped by over 60 basis points. What does this mean for net purchasing power? […] Assuming a $2000/month budget to be spent on amortizing a mortgage (or otherwise spent for rent), it means that suddenly instead of being able to afford a $425K house, the average consumer can buy a $395K house. This means that, all else equal, housing just sustained a 7% drop in the average equlibrium price based on what buyers can afford. [Zero Hedge]
Where does it say in the constitution that some form of the government has to guarantee stocks go up, or guarantee that you have a house? [Zero Hedge]
Last year writer Evan Osnos chronicled on his New Yorker blog the premature decline of his courtyard house: “When the rainy season hit Beijing, our house began to show its age. About four years old, to be precise.”
In Jorge Luis Borges short story, Funes el Memorioso, the titular Funes suffers a brain injury that results in an inability to forget. At first his altered status feels more gift than impairment. He is capable of fantastic mental feats. He no longer wastes time trying to learn things by repetition. Every important detail is immediately accessible to his extraordinary brain, allowing him to spend less time on drudgery. He is also able to focus and remember minutiae like he was never capable of before. The world unfolds before him in striking clarity. No data point, however inconsequential, escapes his viselike attention to detail. Alas, this becomes his downfall. He loses focus on the important. Not forced to prioritize on initial intake due to a limited storage capacity, he drowns in a sea of the irrelevant. In his New York Times piece, “The Web Means the End of Forgetting,” legal commentator Jeffrey Rosen warns of the special problem the web presents, particularly for people’s personal lives. Rosen warns: “we are only beginning to understand the costs of an age in which so much of what we say, and of what others say about us, goes into our permanent — and public — digital files.” Although new tools like Google’s “Me on the Web” are allowing users to better monitor their personal information available on the web, there is no real means of managing this information. This article seeks to explore what it would take to have enforceable “administrative rights” to one’s personal information – the ability to edit or modify one’s online persona just as a webmaster would be able to edit or modify on an individual website. [Jamie R. Lund | PDF]
What is an electron? […] Danish physicist Niels Bohr’s answer, in 1927, epitomized his beloved concept of complementarity: in some circumstances electrons are best described as particles, with definite positions; in others as waves, with definite momenta. Either description is valid and useful, yet according to Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle they are mutually exclusive, as positions and momenta cannot be known accurately at the same time. Each depiction captures an aspect of the electron’s nature, but neither exhausts it. Modern quantum theory reinforces Bohr’s conclusion that what you see depends on how you choose to look. […] Theoretical calculations have become intricate, now including fluctuations in fluctuations in fluctuations. […] Attempts to pin down an electron’s position more accurately than this require, according to the uncertainty principle, injecting so much energy into the electron that additional electrons and anti-electrons get produced, confusing the issue. [Frank Wilczek | PDF]
In this article, we discuss why jurors and legal professionals have difficulty evaluating eyewitness testimony. We also describe the I-I-Eye method for analyzing eyewitness testimony, and a scientific study of the I-I-Eye method that shows it can improve jurors’ ability to assess eyewitness accuracy.
Are there any big misperceptions about bear attacks you’d like cleared up? The most tragic one is people playing dead during a predacious attack. Because in that circumstance, the bear just keeps on chewing.