Monthly Archives: November 2012

Full Moon Myth Debunked

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“It must be a full moon.”

This is a common phrase heard in professions of dealing with emergencies, from police officers to emergency room nurses and doctors. Many claim that during a full moon, there is a tendency for people to act strangely and more aggressively. The legend is that the full moon brings out the worst in people, meaning more accidents, more violence, and more reckless behavior. Is there any scientific evidence to explain this popular myth?

                Studies have been done that analyze records of hospital room visits to attempt to find a correlation between periods of high occupancy and the lunar cycle. Researchers examined over 160,000 records of emergency room visits and found no difference between a full moon and any other night. The same result was found when looking at surgery incidence. Doctors are no more likely to mess up during a surgery no matter what point the lunar cycle is at. A study conducted in 2005 by Mayo Clinic researchers reported that there was no major jump of people coming in during a full moon compared to any other night. The only positive correlation found with the full moon was pet injuries. According to Colorado State University Veterinary Medical Center, researchers found that based on around 12,000 cases of animal emergency visits, there was a 23% higher chance for cats and a 28% higher chance for dogs.                       

                Though there is not much scientific evidence in favor of the full moon myth, it still persists. Some who favor the myth argue that because the body is made of 75% water, the moon’s gravitational pull may be affecting us more when moon is full. However, scientists argue that the pull of the moon on our bodies is minimal and is not strong enough to measurably change anything. Another possible explanation for the myth is that when people know there is a full moon they’re more likely to note weird encounters when they’re more aware of them. Have you heard of the full moon myth? Do you find to encounter more unusual circumstances with people during a full moon? Do you believe there is an explanation even if science hasn’t found it yet?

Works Cited:

http://www.livescience.com/7899-moon-myths-truth-lunar-effects.html

http://www.abc.net.au/science/articles/2012/03/27/3464601.htm

Unbreak My Heart

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Often associated with a break-up or another comparable tragic event, a broken heart has been a word with a negative connotation, but there has always been some criticism behind the phrase. Since a heart does not actually break, it would be weird to say that you are actually brokenhearted. Inspired by another post, I was looking for a connotation between emotional distress and physical hurting and discovered that broken heart syndrome actually exists. I decided to investigate…

Broken heart syndrome refers to a sensation similar to a heart attack. When a person is overcome by overwhelming amounts of stress, they may experience chest pain like a person having a heart attack will. However, the pains are not as serious and only occurs in a specific part of the heart that enlarges. The rest of the heart acts as it normally would, which makes broken heart syndrome less severe than other heart conditions that have severe consequences. Broken heart syndrome can be cured in about a week, depending on the severity.
The main difference between broken heart syndrome and a heart attack is the damage they bring about. Whereas a severe heart attack can really damage a person’s heart, broken heart syndrome does not result in any damage to the heart. There is pain, certainly, but normally your heart is unscathed after the syndrome passes, unlike a heart attack which can be scarred for a lifetime after a heart attack. It must also be noted that John’s Hopkins medicine research has found that broken heart syndrome mostly occurs in older women, although it is not sure if this means that risk for heart attack is higher for men as a result. Perhaps women are a bit more susceptible to broken heart syndrome, but are not in as much danger to having a heart attack? There is a bit of a silver lining with broken heart syndrome (also called stress cardiomyopathy): once you experience it, you most likely will never have it again. Unlike a heart attack which can occur more than once for a person, broken heart syndrome (a relatively new discovery) is only a one time thing.
It is unsure what kind of stress actually causes a person to fall victim to broken heart syndrome. While some people are able to handle stress well, others can fall victim to anxiety very easily. Sure, a tragic event like a death, break-up, or accident can result in a stress overload, but it would be interesting to see how much stress a person could handle before incurring broken heart syndrome. What do you guys think?

Can animals talk?

Earlier this month, the New York Times published an article about an elephant in South Korea who can “talk” – that is, he can mimic a handful of words that he has picked up from his human caretakers. 

The NYT gave examples of some of the Korean words that Koshik, the 22-year-old male elephant, can speak:

“His vocabulary includes “annyong” (hello), “anja” (sit down), “aniya” (no), “nuo” (lie down) and “choah” (good).”
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jih5c-F7TBo

Researchers at the University of Vienna conducted a study in which native Korean speakers wrote down what words they thought they heard elephant say, and their answers lined up with what everyone else thought the elephant was saying.

This lead me to wonder if there have been other cases in which animals have picked up words from humans, and if they’ve actually seemed to understand what they’re saying.

There are a lot of reports from pet owners who claim their dog or cat has picked up a few words. A simple YouTube search will give you a ton of clips of dogs saying “hello”, “I love you”, and even “I want my mommy.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qXo3NFqkaRM

It seems as though it’s not all that rare for animals who spend their lives around talking humans to start picking up a few words and mimicking them – similar to how babies start speaking.

While researchers have been able to teach animals to communicate with a human language by using computer programs, seeing as different species have unique cognitive abilities and vocal systems, teaching animals to audibly speak and visibly comprehend more than a handful of words has proved to be much more difficult.

Back to Koshik – while I have no doubt that this elephant can mimic the words he’s probably had said to him all of his life, because he doesn’t comprehend the meaning of these words, I don’t find his ability to speak to be anymore interesting than any other cool trick. Furthermore, I’m really not buying this wild speculative conclusion from the researchers: 

The researchers think that Koshik started imitating human speech out of a need to socialize. For seven years when he was a juvenile and at a critical stage in his development, he was the only elephant at the Everland Zoo.”

Because it links the elephant’s ability with his past living situation, this conclusion could be a product of the Texas sharp shooter problem. Having it come down to “a need to socialize” assumes that elephants and humans have similar socialization and communication needs. I’m not saying it’s a completely off-base speculation, and there’s definitely a chance that Koshik started speaking because he was lonely. But it would be difficult to thoroughly analyze an animal’s past experiences and the effect of those experiences on his current emotions without more similar cases to study. 

Oh My Oxytocin

In class on Tuesday, we discussed the altering of data and fraud in science. I found this very interesting because, as I have mentioned in many past blog posts, the public puts a heap of trust in science. Society leaves the questioning of data to other scientists and politicians, rather than question results themselves; they simply accept the information as fact because it is labeled as a “science.” So my question is, what makes us trust?

According to Readers Digest, there are two extremes when it comes to trusting others. On one end there are those who are incapable of trusting anyone, and they are labeled with paranoid personality disorder. In contrast, there are those with a genetic disorder that cause them to trust just about anyone and anything. For the most part, the public finds themselves somewhere in the middle.

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The article claims trust develops at an early age, as young as 14 months. We long to trust people because it releases a gratification hormone called oxytocin, but our brains are not so blinded to have faith in someone who has let us down in the past. The article mentions a study that had men inhale oxytocin or oxygen, and the ones who inhaled oxytocin had increased levels of trust.

Lets break down the study

1.     It is an experimental study. The scientists know who is in the control group and who is in the experimental group.

2.     Hypothesis= Inhaling oxytocin will increase trust.

3.     Putative Causal Variable= Oxytocin

4.     Putative Response Variable=Trust

5.     The study rules out reverse causation because of the element of time. Increased levels of trust cannot cause the inhalation of oxytocin because the oxytocin is inhaled first.

The results of the study could be a false positive, due to chance, or due to a third variable. It was a relatively small experiment and was only done using men, which leaves a lot of questions unanswered. How does oxytocin affect women? Is it easier for men to trust than it is for women? 

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After this study was released a product called Liquid Trust (containing oxytocin) that claimed to make others more likely to trust you when you spray it on. The only drawback… oxytocin does not erase the memory, so if you have not been a trustworthy person, Liquid Trust will not make people forget it. Would you buy Liquid Trust based off the results of this study?

 

 

The Unforgiving Truth: How to Avoid Weight Gain This Holiday Season

The holidays are upon us and while this may be the season of giving, the food we decide to eat can be unforgiving on our waistlines. These next few weeks are calorie bombs- our targets: plates of cookies, mashed potatoes, and one-too-many Peppermint Mocha’s. But this year, instead of worrying that you’ll pack on the pounds, let a new study from the University of Rhode Island assure you that perhaps the key to staying slim isn’t what you eat- but the speed you eat it at. 

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In this study, conducted by professor Kathleen Melanson, a correlation was found between the subject’s BMIs (Body Mass Index) and the speeds at which they ate. Those who ate slower (2 ounces per minute) had lower BMI’s compared to the subjects who ate more quickly (3.1 ounces per minute). Professor Melanson explains her findings in this article, posted on science news site, Eurekalert.org. She says, “It takes time for your body to process fullness signals, so slower eating may allow time for fullness to register in the brain before you’ve eaten too much.” These findings are important and should help us remember that finishing our plate isn’t always a race. 
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Melanson’s observational study is valid, but there are definitely some possible confounding variables I wonder about. For example, I believe that people who are slim are generally more health conscious and may be more educated on appropriate portion size than those who are overweight. What I mean by this statement is that, it shouldn’t matter how fast your eating the meal, it should only matter how much of it your eating. I wonder if Melanson has taken this into account in her results/study. 

It’s common procedure to celebrate the holiday season every day from Thanksgiving until New Years. However, this may be the downfall for anyone trying to maintain their weight. While occasionally indulging on your roommates famous holiday cookies isn’t a problem, everyday snacking can become an issue. Remember that its called a holiDAY for a reason. In my opinion, focusing on healthy eating throughout the season is the best way to survive this time of year without packing on the pounds. 
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music, sweet music

 

            Being a musician, I encourage people all of the time to take up a musical instrument and learn about its essence. Not only do musical instruments provide a relief from stress but also they make an individual look more “cool”.

 

            So, someone may assume the focus with a musical instrument would distract someone from more significant things like school work. But, this is not entirely true.

 

            According to this website, discipline with music helps the brain increase cognitive ability. As a result, test scores across the boards would go up for the individuals who have a music background, “…Johnson, professor of music education and music therapy and associate dean of the School of Fine Arts at KU, found jumps of 22 percent in English test scores and 20 percent in math scores at elementary schools with superior music education.” Here, Professor Johnson did an experiment with schools across the nation. From their results, it is shown that a background in music could raise standardized test scores for college applicants and high school students.

 

            The famous Mozart effect has a similar benefit. As a reminder, the Mozart Effect is the idea that someone who regularly listens to classical music will have better test scores; also, this idea relates to pregnant women who listen to Mozart when they are pregnant to make their offspring “smarter”. This theory has been seen in particular situations, but some scientists have failed to manipulate the effect with research. Because of this fault, this theory can be concluded as chance because there were not consistent trials.  Those individuals who did not sho

 results with cognitive ability probably don’t have a taste in classical music so they couldn’t stimulate relief.  There are other third variables that can be put into context.

 

            But, in general terms, music is an art form that allows people to be relaxed. On the other hand, a musical instrument requires more than just pleasure: dedication is essential. The determined musicians who study their instrument for months and years have trained their brain to function in a musical fashion.  So, when they sit down to take a long test, they can attack problems with a music basis to guide them through the test.  On a personal note, when I am taking a midterm or an accumulative assessment, I will always hum and tap to the rhythm of that song in order to make my brain make sense of the information on the assignment. So, research a musical instrument and get involved with lessons and dedication. 


website URL: http://www.researchmatters.ku.edu/2008/march/music.shtml 


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picture site 

Science Behind Astrology?

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 In the morning paper, one might flip through news stories, crossword puzzles, and perhaps check their horoscope. While reading horoscopes, many people get caught up in the eeriness of the similarities between what is written how it can relate to daily life.  My roommate will even dismiss unusual behaviors of others with, “He must be a Taurus.” There is no doubt that astrology holds an important and even spiritual place in many lives, but is there any actual proven leverage to any of it?

                Most scientists have left astrology untouched, dismissing the whole concept as a sham until a French psychologist and statistician named Michel Gauquelin came along. Michel had been highly skeptical of the validity of astrology. He conducted research to find a correlation between a person’s chosen profession and their natal chart. His research shows a tendency of a person’s profession to correlated with the positioning of the stars. Critics of Gauquelin’s work indicated that the only correlation present was those of members of higher professions rather than unskilled workers.

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(Gauquelin’s Mars Effect Chart)

                Michel Gauquelin’s most controversial work regards a correlation he calls the ‘Mars effect’.  He split times into segments when planets passed through the sky and noted that there was a spike of athletes that were born just after rise and culmination when Mars occupied two particular zones. He states that Mars is in these two zones more often for generals, physicians and sport champions and less often for painters and musicians. Critics of Gauquelin’s work argue that he did not adjust the statistical significance of the Mars Effect for multiple comparisons and failed to address this issue  in any of his publications. Recent scientists have failed to reproduce his work.

                There is no strong scientific evidence of any proof of astrology, though that doesn’t stop people from believing it wholeheartedly. Do you think the idea of astrology is too far fetched for scientist to attempt to explain rationally? Do you see any correlations between your personality and that of your astrological ‘ zodiac sign’? Do you put much faith into horoscopes? To check if your personality matches your sign, follow this link.

Works Cited

http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2004/may/18/research.highereducation

http://www.planetos.info/marchron.html

http://www.planetos.info/sertel.html

ARACHNOPHOBIA

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My best friend has always been extremely afraid of spiders.  Once, she even almost caused an accident when we were driving because she saw a spider in the car and literally jumped on my lap while I was driving.  I had to pull over and kill the spider.  I always ask myself…is it possible that someone can be THAT afraid of a little harmless spider?!  I guess I can’t understand because I am not afraid of spiders myself, but I decided to research if arachnophobia is really an actual thing.  As it turns out…arachnophobia is very real.  A phobia is an irrational, persistent fear of things or situations (Mental Healthy).  More specifically, arachnophobia is an extreme or irrational fear of spiders.  In the US, 50% of women and 25% of men say they have some degree of arachnophobia.  Someone is arachnophobic when their fear of spiders reaches a level that is irrational, illogical, and unhelpful (Mental Healthy).  A very intense panic reaction can be caused.  Some symptoms are sweating, increased heart beat, breathing difficulties, light-headedness, dry mouth, extreme fear, nausea, and more.  This was a shock to me.  I couldn’t believe that a little spider could cause such strong reactions in people.  Phobias are different than rational fears, and they can have a negative affect on people’s lives and might require treatment.  Arachnophobia has been around for a while.  Studies have shown that arachnophobia in Europe can be traced back to the Middle Ages.  Different people develop arachnophobia for different reasons.  Some people have a bad experience that evokes the phobia.  Other people have had no awful experiences with spiders but have just always been afraid of spiders, usually from childhood.  When people with arachnophobia see a spider, a fight or flight response is provoked.  For people who have the phobia very bad, it can affect their lives a lot.  They might not want to go anywhere where they could even see a spider, like on a camping trip.  This phobia can be overcome with counseling for many.  I always thought my friend was overreacting and being a drama queen.. But I guess she wasn’t joking around!  Are any of you guys arachnophobics?  Would you ever consider counseling to overcome it?  What draws the line between being very afraid of spiders, or having an actual phobia of them?

Work Cited

http://www.mentalhealthy.co.uk/anxiety/phobias/arachnophobia.html

http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-arachnophobia.htm

http://arachnophiliac.info/burrow/catch_arachnophobia.htm

Dangers of Playing Hockey

I have been on ice skates since i was 5 or 6 years old. I had a stick in my hand before I could ever remember. Every year I would play summer and winter leagues. I have gotten hit hard and knocked out for a while, but I always recovered. I’ve gotten my finger sliced by a skate, but my finger is still there. Hockey is definitely a dangerous sport, but what if one of the most dangerous parts of being a hockey player (or figure skater in this case) wasn’t in the sport? What if the most dangerous part lied in the air you were breathing?

In this last year, a hockey player I briefly knew had been battling serious cancer. He lost his eyesight, and many thought he would not make it. But recently, his tumors have been getting better and he has been recovering better. And now, in this last week, a great kid who I have played with my entire life in travel, and played against in high school, was diagnosed with brain a brain tumor. It has definitely hit my town very hard. Please pray for them.
The point of me bringing this up is because something clicked in my head. I have always heard how the exhaust from zambonis (machine that cleans the ice) was dangerous. And that exhaust sits in the rink, while all of these players skate around and breathe in this air at a quick pace. I’m not necessarily saying that this exhaust causes cancer, because that would be a serious scientific break through. But I have a gut feeling that this exhaust is seriously dangerous and I would like to explore this matter further.
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It turns out that when I research ‘zamboni smoke’, ‘zamboni exhaust’, ‘zamboni dangerous’, there aren’t that many articles. Most of the articles are stories about players being hospitalized and ill because of the zamboni exhaust. I did learn that zambonis are powered by natural gas or gasoline, which can release carbon monoxide and ultrafine. According to Wikipedia, carbon monoxide is toxic to humans and animals when encountered in higher concentrations. In further research, I found out that when breathed in, carbon monoxide replaces oxygen in the blood, thus killing off cells and starving vital organs of oxygen. A large dosage of carbon monoxide can kill you within ten minutes. Long term effects of breathing in carbon monoxide can result in brain damage, heart problems, major organ dysfunction, and memory or cognitive problems. The thing about carbon monoxide is that its tasteless, odorless, and colorless, so you can not detect it with human senses. Ultrafine particles are deposited into the lungs. They can penetrate tissue and be absorbed directly into the bloodstream. Ultrafine promotes lung disease and other systematic defects.

Clearly, carbon monoxide and ultrafine are 2 things you don’t want to be inhaling. I also couldn’t find much more research on what other chemicals or particles are in zamboni smoke, because I’m sure there are a lot more. And when I researched whether cancer was related to zamboni exhaust, I could not find any results. This is a serious matter, and I still have a feeling that there is a connection. I also worry about my own fate because of how many hours of my young life I have spent in an ice rink with a zamboni powered by gas. There is nothing better than a fresh cut ice, but I think zamboni’s have to be studied a little farther.

If anyone has ever known a hockey or figure skater with cancer, please post a comment. And please pray for Mike Weltner and Corey Dineen.

Suicide in the Animal Kingdom

Today’s lesson about the feasibility of a zombie virus began with a series of gruesome videos in which organisms invaded other organisms. While watching the especially awful video of wasp larvae in a caterpillar, I couldn’t help but wonder if the caterpillar knew what was going on. Granted, the larvae eventually took over its brain, but did it ever realize that another organism was inhabiting its body? And if it did, wouldn’t it try to kill itself before the invader did? That question led me to the biggest question of all-do animals have suicidal tendencies? This subject is a very interesting one that has many societal and religious implications. For example, St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine both determined that suicide “was an unrepentable sin” on the grounds that it was not natural. This kind of logic is similar to the argument that homosexuality is not natural either. However, based on our discussion in class it appears as though that argument is not valid, as might be the case in regards to suicide.

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It is important to note that there is very little research and data on animal suicide. In fact, nearly all evidence that it exists is anecdotal. Though observational experimentation is feasible, a randomized control trial on organisms other than bacteria and possible rodents would be unethical. Discovery News published an article in 2010 about the topic. As the article explains, “Animal suicides were often seen as acts of abuse, madness, love or loyalty-the same causes then given for human suicides”. This certainly gives a new perspective on the matter, perpetuated in research published in 2010 by the British journal Endeavour. Sadly the article is only available in print in the university library, but luckily one of the authors, Edmund Ramsden, offered commentary in the Discovery News article. He explained the significance of research on animal suicide, stating that “You begin to challenge the definition of suicide…it’s not necessarily even a choice”.
One example of suicidal behavior in animals is the case of the pea aphid, an insect that, as the article in Nature explains, is known to explode itself thereby sacrificing its life in order to protect its surrounding relatives from predators such as the lady bug. Worker ants are also known to die in order to protect the colony. There is also folklore and anecdotes that reference animal suicides.
While suicide in the animal kingdom is a fascinating issue, it’s difficult to draw any clear conclusions on the topic. Most of the occurrences are anecdotal, which of course does not follow the scientific method whatsoever. However, more research on the topic could have some interesting implications about human suicide and how to prevent it. Is it really possible for an animal to consciously end its life for the same reasons as people? Do you think more research should be done on the topic? Or is this something that will simply remain a part of folklore for a long time to come?