Finally, a study that tells you how to save money at the bar: people who used diet sodas as mixers, as opposed to sugary ones, got 18% more drunk. The researchers gave two groups of eight people the same amount of alcohol, but one group had diet mixers. That group’s peak breath alcohol level was 0.091, whereas the sugary group’s was only .0.077. Which, if they decided to drive, that diet soda would’ve been the difference between a DUI and not — the legal limit is 0.08 in all 50 states.
The scientists’ explanation is that sugar helps your body absorb the alcohol more slowly — the same reason you get drunk more slowly on a full stomach than an empty one. So, drink regular Coke if you wanna be more sober, but diet Coke otherwise. (Though, keep in mind that diet soda is not particularly good for you. Soda water probably works just as well, since it has no sugar.) And if you’re driving, get a breathalyzer, because none of the study subjects felt impaired. They even make ones for the iPhone now.
The study will be out in the April issue of Alcoholism.
(That’s right: the headline does rhyme.) Research done in Spain seems to indicate that advice like having a big breakfast and not eating late dinners are actually not old wives’ tales. The study followed 420 fat people (equal numbers of each gender) for 20 weeks: half of them were early eaters, that ate their big meal before 3pm, and half were late eaters. This was a weight loss study, so they all ate a paltry 1400 calories per day, and got similar levels of exercise and sleep. But, the ones that ate early, lost 30% more weight: 22 lbs vs 17 lbs for the late eaters.
The scientists don’t really know why, or if it’s even a causal relationship — a third factor, say… nervous pacing, could’ve caused both the early eating and faster weight loss. But if you’re trying to lose weight, it’s worth giving it a try; after all, what you believe about weight loss has a significant impact on how effective it is.
A study from UC Berkeley shows that the quality of sleep in older people is a lot worse than in younger, healthy people and that this prevents memories from being moved from short-term to long-term memory. The study was done on 18 people in their 20s and 15 people in their 70s: scientists made them memorize some new words, then measured their sleep statistics, and finally quizzed them in the morning while getting an fMRI. The quality of sleep in the elderly was 75% that of younger people, and their recall was 55%. (The summary doesn’t say, but hopefully the scientists calculated their statistics properly, and didn’t just discover that old people forget and, independently, that they also don’t sleep well.) The decline in sleep quality is correlated to age-related deterioration in the frontal lobe, which normally generates slow brain waves during sleep.
If lack of quality sleep is the cause of memory loss, then the issue might apply also to younger people who are also forgetful — perhaps because they don’t sleep enough or have sleep apnea. As for older people, there are ways to improve quality of sleep: pills, electrical stimulation of the brain, or, best of all: blueberries, vitamins and exercise. Also, it’s worth mentioning that in 2011, scientists at Stanford figured out that a protein in the blood caused forgetfulness in older mice.
From UC Berkeley, via Slashdot
A Virginia Tech professor and her team figured out why the flu spreads in the winter: indoor heating. When the outside air is heated, it becomes very dry, creating the perfect environment for the virus. Their tests show that the influenza virus performs best at humidity levels under 50%, which is pretty much every heated space in the winter. Above that humidity, it doesn’t do very well until the levels reach 98%. That humidity is seen in tropical environments in the summer wet season, which is another condition under which flu outbreaks happen. The moral of the story: use humidifiers in the winter to reduce the spread of the flu.
From The Wall Street Journal, via Slashdot
The reason libertarians are against social engineering is because it’s very hard to get it right. We start out trying to fix a problem, so we devise a good solution, which often times turns out to be too good: it fixes the problem so much that it breaks something else. One example we recently looked at was food: government tried to eliminate hunger, so it made food cheap — so cheap, that now half the country is obese and dying of heart disease, cancer and diabetes, instead of hunger.
The Washington Post is now highlighting population control as another good intention gone bad. For years, the educational message has been that babies were bad news. You should be using birth control, and if you’re not, you’re throwing your life away and any chance at material happiness. Since education works quite well at changing behavior, in 2011, the birth rate hit an all-time record low.
At first blush, this might look like good news because of overpopulation. And it is a good thing for us to not reach China or India’s population levels. But, the birthrate is now too low to even sustain the population. In order to maintain the same number of people, the average woman should have 2.1 children in her lifetime, but today’s average is 1.9. Of course, a shrinking population does have its benefits too, since the world is probably already overpopulated. But it presents a big problem to the elderly: less children means less tax-paying adults in the future, which means less retirement benefits for more retirees. And so, in an interesting turn of events, birth control education is now threatening socialized geriatric care.
A few more interesting facts:
- The birthrate in America has long been propped up by Hispanic immigrants, who tended to have a lot of children.
- Bad economies lead to lower birthrates, and since the Great Recession of 2008, the American-born birthrate dropped 6%, the immigrant one dropped 14% and the Mexican immigrant birthrate dropped 23%.
- The peak birthrate happened during the baby boom and was twice as much as it is now — in 1957, there were 122 births per 1,000 women.
- Immigrant women constitute 17% of the female population, but account for 23% of births. Their birthrate is 1.5x that of U.S.-born women.
- Since over 40% of births come from unwed mothers — indicating that a large share of them are accidental pregnancies — the birthrate will drop even more as contraceptives use increases.
- Due to the lower birthrate of non-Hispanics, California and Texas are now almost 40% Hispanic and New Mexico, 46%. (Note that majority of people in those states are still white, since the term “Hispanic” refers to heritage, not race: you can be white Hispanic, black Hispanic, etc.)
During rehearsals, conductors definitely do a lot: they create the rehearsal schedule, yell at musicians that don’t play something quite the way they want, and make small adjustments to the score. But after the last rehearsal, during the performances, does the wand- and hand-waving that conductors live for, actually mean anything? (Also, the head thrusts, for which a special kind of conductor haircut is required.) After all, the musicians have the score, they’ve rehearsed it to the conductor’s satisfaction, and could probably play it back with or without him standing in front them, gesturing as if he were doing some serious programming in Minority Report.
Tom Cruise conducting a computer in Minority Report
The theory of orchestral music is that the conductor could make minor timing changes during a live performance, and since the whole orchestra is paying attention to him, they would stay in harmony. This being an important scientific question, scientists devoted considerable science to answer it: they put infrared LED lights on the tip of a conductor’s baton and on the tip of violinists’ bows in his orchestra. They recorded the infrared movements and used special computers and mathematics (and science) to figure out if the violin bows followed the baton. And it turns out they did. So now we know for sure that musicians really do pay attention to the conductor. Thank you, science.
Oh, and they also figured out that orchestras with more authoritarian conductors produce better music.
Since at least 2005, study after study has shown that while red-light cameras decrease T-collisions from the side, they increase rear-end accidents more than enough to make up for that benefit. The latest study comes from New Jersey’s Department of Transportation: it showed that total accidents have increased 1% and rear-end collisions have increased 20% at intersections with red-light cameras. Accident costs have gone up by a million dollars.
The companies which sell and operate those cameras to municipalities, for sizable profits, have been surreptitiously setting up and funding grass roots efforts — with names like Traffic Safety Coalition — to portray the cameras as a safety-driven, moral requirement. In Florida, the law legalizing them was named The Mark Wandall Traffic Safety Act, after someone who died in a red-light accident. From The Chicago Tribune:
[Red-light camera industry consultant] Goldner acknowledged last week that the coalition’s strategic model involves an early appearance in markets that interest [red-light camera company] Redflex, building community support, finding examples of children victimized by errant drivers, videotaping their parents and then asking sympathetic policymakers to file a bill or pass an ordinance in support of automated traffic cameras.
With the guise of safety unraveling, the other benefit of red-light cameras comes into prominence: money. Many cash-strapped cities in the past few years have instituted red-light cameras, ostensibly to save lives; but one has to wonder if the motivation is that pure when most cities stand to make quite a bit of money from tickets issued by the cameras. (One notable exception is the city of Alpharetta, GA, which sets up its contracts to always break even.) Some cities go as far as shortening the yellow light duration down to illegal levels in order to hand out more citations.
But, it turns out that even the promise of filling cities’ coffers is a false one: red-light camera programs make money during the first couple of years until drivers learn where the cameras are and then adjust their behavior accordingly. After that, cities lose tens of thousands of dollars per year on the programs, and are often stuck in contracts which require them to pay a hefty penalty if the cameras are removed. In 2011, Los Angeles voted to remove its cameras, which overwhelmingly issued citations for illegal right turns, and cost the city a million dollars per year. In Houston, a referendum forced the government to shut down its program, even while the city faced a 25M$ penalty for doing so. So far, seven states have banned the use of cameras altogether.
From Courier Post, via Slashdot