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Good News: Being An Ass To Your Infants Won’t Scar Them For Life

A new study from Australia shows that parents possessing the lack of empathy required to let their babies cry themselves to sleep without so much as touching them, have nothing to worry about regarding the child’s psychological development. Behavioral sleeping techniques such as Ferberizing and the “camping out” method were tested on unwitting infants, who were revisited at age 6 and who, to some surprise, showed no psychological effects from the emotional abandonment — neither harm nor benefit.


Photo by Josh Lewis


For those unfamiliar with the German methods of sleep training:

  • Ferberizing refers to a method in which the infant is classically conditioned to fall asleep when put in the crib. This starts by putting the awake child in and sitting patiently nearby while he cries — no doubt due to the agony of feeling alone, unloved and abandoned — until either you win and he falls asleep or you lose because you can’t take it anymore. At that point, you note how much time has passed and pick him up; the next time, repeat the process but wait a little longer before picking him up. After a while, the infant will realize you have the emotional depth of a pine tree, and will cope by rendering himself unconscious, in hope of a better tomorrow.
  • Camping out is almost the exact same thing, but sounds less toxic.

And now science is pretty sure that both of them leave the child unharmed, even if they do hint at your own hollowness.

Note: if you mention the term “to Ferberize” to someone unfamiliar with the method, they would probably guess the definition had to do with applying chemical treatment to carpet so as to make it stain proof. In fact, they would be surprised to learn that the term is quite closely the equivalent of emotional infant care to that definition.

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From The Journal Of The American Academy of Pediatrics, via NPR

Turns Out Bad Drivers Drive Badly Even Without Cellphones

Ban-happy politicians, who want to look tough on whatever inconsequential hot-button issue is in the news, have been passing laws about phones and driving for years now: no talking without a headset, no texting, no kaleidoscopes. So it was a big surprise when the auto insurance industry itself figured out that these bans had absolutely no effect on accidents; oh, except that they actually caused slightly more crashes. It was even more perplexing when it came out that even driving while talking on the phone with a hands-free phone made people’s reaction time twice as slow as drunk drivers‘, and even slower than drivers high on pot. Since cell-phone use has skyrocketed over the past decade, the data essentially showed that we have millions more “drunk drivers”, yet no more accidents to show for it.


Some people just don't care. Photo by Marcelo Braga.


This, of course, sent many short-sighted policy makers scratching their heads: “what do you mean our easy fix didn’t work? We can legislate whatever behavior we want, and clearly, cell phones are the root of all driving evil! And drinking.” Well science has finally given us the answer: a new study shows that cell-phone drivers just don’t care about driving safely. Cell phones are banned? That’s ok, they’ll eat, or shave, put on makeup, read the paper, or whatever isn’t banned. If they even care about the bans in the first place, since they’re pretty hard to enforce.

But the people that do care about safety, they voluntarily ban their own cell phone and makeup use while driving, and focus on the road. So once again — along with drug use, smoking, trans fats bans and others — we have an issue about which people are in need of education, but instead of doing that, politicians turn to legislation under the misguided belief that good behavior can be legislated via morality laws. This, in spite of centuries of history showing that the only thing that works is education, and that consequently, the morality laws only work in as far as they educate people — but they serve as no deterrent for those who, once educated, simply don’t care. For the rest, they just make that education come with a civil fine or criminal price tag. And for the ones that don’t care, the best thing we can do to prevent them getting on the road is to bring self-driving cars to the market as soon as possible.

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From Science, via Slashdot

Pregnancies Last Only 9 Months So As To Not Exhaust The Mother

Normal people don’t really think about stuff like this, but babies should really be born ready to walk, or at least crawl around. What other species bears helpless little creatures that can’t even run away from an angry snail? All manner of vegetation, sure; but mammals — not so much. (Incidentally, this observation led ethicists from Oxford to deduce that there’s no moral difference between abortion and infanticide: a fetus and a newborn are the same, except for which side of the birth canal they’re on; both are helpless, unaware, and fully dependent on others for their existence. But that’s a whole other issue.)  Up until now, the going theory as to why human gestation isn’t 18 months, like it should be, has been that the mom couldn’t give birth to such a large baby — at least not without her pelvis being left somewhat crippled.

Ok, that baby might actually be a good candidate for C-section


That didn’t sound quite right to some academics, so they did what academics do best: research. Long story short, they figured out that women give birth to babies that large all the time — to deliver a baby the size of a 9-month old, they would only need an inch bigger than average dilation of the birth canal. So the pelvis thing couldn’t be the problem.

Enter the alternate theory: pregnant women burn a lot more calories, because making a person apparently takes some elbow grease. In fact, six months into the process, their metabolism burns twice as high as normal and stays there until birth. So the new theory is that metabolism turbo-charged to that level can only be sustained for so long, not to mention that it would have to go even higher for an 18-month fetus. Mom’s body would probably call it quits long before the baby’s ready to crawl upon delivery. But once science figures out how to give men uteruses (uteri?)… watch out, diaper industry!

From National Academy of Sciences, via NPR

Ladies, Try To Have As Few Abortions As Possible

Don’t worry: it’s only if you may actually want to give live birth someday. This, according to a new Finnish study which warns that things start getting hairy after the third abortion: that fifth-time’s-a-charm baby has a decent chance of being born prematurely, and of being underweight. If you’re still one of the pedestrians that has only had one or two abortions though, you don’t have that much to worry about. However, once your life choices and/or understanding of the stork’s role in childbirth  have brought your smushmorshin count up into plural territory, the well-being of future fetuses may be put at risk. The study makes no recommendations for those who could care less about childbirth.


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From Oxford Journals, via NPR

Heartburn Is Generally Caused By Caffeine, Alcohol, And Fat

Common thinking is that acidic foods and drinks — like orange juice, tomato sauce and jalapeños — cause heartburn. According to NPR, this makes no sense because the acid in our stomachs is going to be much stronger than almost anything we eat. Heartburn is simply that stomach acid escaping through the valve at the top of the stomach — the lower esophageal sphincter. Therefore, heartburn is independent of the food we eat, because even the healthiest, most non-acidic food will still need stomach acid to be digested and if it can overflow, it will. The trick is to keep the sphincter from opening, which it does for generally two reasons:

  • The sphincter is weak or broken for some reason (being fat makes this more likely)
  • The sphincter is relaxed and just doesn’t fully tighten up

The lower esophageal sphincter is #6


It turns out that caffeine and alcohol both relax the sphincter, so if you’re thin and getting heartburn, stay away from Irish coffee. Also, avoid eating big, fatty meals: fatty foods take longer to break down, so the stomach acid will be around longer, giving it more opportunity to back up through an opening in the sphincter. Ditto for large amounts of food, just due to their bulk. So large amounts of fat food, followed by alcohol or caffeine and a weak sphincter are a recipe for heartburn. Eating Tums and drinking milk will help by neutralizing some of the stomach acid so it doesn’t overflow, but that’s counterproductive to actually digesting the food in it.

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From NPR

The Appendix’s Function Is Emergency Storage Of Good Bacteria

Since the advent of modern medical science, the purpose of the appendix has been debated at length, because the organ doesn’t do anything — except get infected, burst, and possibly kill its owner. Darwin thought it may have helped our evolutionary ancestors digest leaves, while others thought it helped our immune system, and still others thought it was a trashcan for bacteria. A team of immunologists at Duke University now have a new theory: it appears that our digestive system uses the appendix to store useful bacteria, for safekeeping. Our bodies need all kinds of intestinal bacteria in order to be healthy, but diseases like cholera can flush out the entire intestine, leaving behind a pristine environment devoid of any biotics — cholera as well as the good bacteria. This is where the appendix comes in: tucked away inside it are the good bacteria which, in the event of a digestive catastrophe, can repopulate the intestinal world.


In our modern civilization though, the appendix is still useless because we are in close contact with a lot of people and we easily replenish the good bacteria from them. However, in more sparsely populated scenarios — which were much more common some centuries ago — the appendix would re-start a lone survivor’s digestive system after a bout with a disease like cholera. So in the end, the appendix is still vestigial: yes, it has a function, but that function has been overcome by events and it is no longer used as intended. Kind of like wisdom teeth.

From The Independent, via Neatorama

Why You’re Very Likely To Settle For A Spouse

Back in 2002, a computer scientist wrote a paper (PDF) in the May 2002 issue of The Annals of Improbable Research which lays out why he would likely never have a girlfriend. His findings, unfortunately, can be extended to most people:

  • Starting with the 5.6 billion people on Earth at the time, he counted — using census data and population statistics — only those who were female, lived in countries he would at least visit, were of appropriate age, were good-looking enough, smart enough, and not already taken and was left with some 118,000 women.
  • Of those, he estimated that less than 19,000 would actually like him back — 15.8655% of the available pool of eligible 118,000, representing those who thought his characteristics were more than one standard deviation above average.
  • If he were to go on a blind date with a girl around his age every week, it would take him about 67 years to stumble into a date with one of the 19,000 above. This calculation is actually flawed, because he forgot to remove the girls that are taken, so it would really “only” take him about 33 years to find someone. If he wrote this as a grad student at 24, he would be 57 at the time and not 91; but most people will have settled by then anyway.


From xkcd


Of course, the paper is unrealistic in at least three ways:

  1. People rarely go on blind dates, exactly because of the high failure rate. So if he would only go on dates with single girls he found attractive, his pool would shrink from roughly 65,000,000 to 744,000. He also doesn’t need to actually go on a date with the girl, just to ask her out: if she says no, that will weed out the ones that aren’t interested. So if he just asks out one of those girls every week, it will take him 40 weeks to find one of the 19,000: less than a year and 32 years sooner, if he just avoids blind dates!
  2. But, except for the few that are prolific at networking, almost no one finds a different eligible girl every week. (At first blush, online dating seems like it would help in this aspect, but you are actually 12x more likely to get married this year if you’re not on match.com.) So using the more reasonable figure of one date request per month, the 40 dates would take him just over 3 years — still not bad!
  3. Except that his model is much too simplistic: it assumes the only criteria people use when selecting a spouse are availability, age, beauty and intelligence. If that were true, everyone would marry their best friend of the opposite sex. In reality, chemistry plays a much larger role than anything else, and similarity is probably second: most successful couples have common interests (movies, music, vacations) and common beliefs (religious, political, parenting). Using political affiliation as an estimate, the similarity criterion would probably cut at least another half of the pool out, leaving him a little over 9,000 eligible girls. Chemistry would weed out most of the rest, bringing to total down to just a couple of thousand eligible bachelorettes. To find one of them out of the 744,000 available would take him 372 date requests, which at once per month would take… 31 years!

And so, we’re back to being somewhere in your 50s by the time you find a soulmate. If you’re the type that always picks the right number in roulette, maybe you’ll be lucky and find a special someone after 37 tries instead of 370. And if not, maybe it’ll take you 500. But long, long before that, you will have probably thrown in the towel, started dating someone you don’t hate, and settled for less than you would’ve liked.


So how do you avoid settling? You can hope for the best and pray that you’re lucky, or prepare for the worst and become prolific at networking. Meet anyone and everyone; ask the eligible ones on a date, ignore the people you don’t like, and befriend the rest (you might meet someone awesome through them). If you meet one new potential date every week, chances are it’ll take a little over seven years to find someone pretty perfect for you. And that’s just by random meetings — if you focus on places, activities and friends that draw people from a particular demographic you’re interested in (e.g., going to happy hour at classy places to meet guys in their late 20s who have decent jobs), you can find your soulmate in a fraction of time. Also, just say no to blind dates.

From The Annals of Improbable Research (PDF), via Neatorama

Pesticides On Produce Is A Non-Issue

NPR has a story about the “Dirty Dozen” list of produce, that the Environmental Working Group (EWG) puts out, of the items which tested with the highest levels of pesticides. The tests are done, by scientists at the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), on food as it would be eaten — apples are washed first, bananas peeled, etc. Results are posted on their website as part of the Pesticide Data Program. The EWG then analyzes this data to produce their Dirty Dozen and also the Clean 15 — the cleanest produce items.


Photo from EWG


But, as with anything, presence of pesticides isn’t the issue — concentration is what’s important. A little alcohol is fine for you, but a lot will make you sick, and more will kill you. Everything we touch and eat is the same: there are safe and unsafe levels. Even too much water will cause water poisoning. So the question then becomes: are the levels of pesticides found on produce high enough to be unsafe? According to the USDA, no: only 1 out of 744 samples they tested was too high, and most tested far below the safety limits. The EWG’s response? The government safety limits are too high. To settle the dispute, food scientists from UC Davis performed a study last year and found that there’s no scientific basis for the Dirty Dozen:

In summary, findings conclusively demonstrate that consumer exposures to the ten most frequently detected pesticides on EWG’s “Dirty Dozen” commodity list are at negligible levels and that the EWG methodology is insufficient to allow any meaningful rankings among commodities. We concur with EWG President Kenneth Cook who maintains that “We recommend that people eat healthy by eating more fruits and vegetables, whether conventional or organic” , but our findings do not indicate that substituting organic forms of the “Dirty Dozen” commodities for conventional forms will lead to any measurable consumer health benefit.

Given the results of this study, and that even organic produce contains pesticides (though generally at lower levels), and that the EWG itself states that the “health benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables outweigh the risks of pesticide exposure,” it’s pretty clear that the Dirty Dozen is just a solution looking for a problem that doesn’t exist.

More about nutrition:

From NIH and EWG, via NPR

Thin, Older, Sleep-Deprived People Get More Strokes

A large study (5666 people) of those aged 45 and up who were not already at risk for stroke showed that the thin people (BMI between 18.5 and 25) that got less than six hours of sleep per night had 4.5x more chances of getting stroke symptoms over the three year study. Sleep is obviously very important — you can go for a week without eating and be more or less ok, but you’ll go crazy after that long with no sleep, — so that’s not the interesting part. What the researchers also found was that the same correlation was not seen in fat people: their chances of stroke didn’t go up.

Late Night Pizza Stop, by Juli Crockett


What’s even more interesting is that a study last year showed that people who are sleep-deprived eat about 300 calories more per day, and most of that in junk food. If you do that a couple of times a week and don’t do anything to burn the extra calories, it adds up to about 9 extra pounds a year (600 calories/week * 52 weeks/year ÷ 3500 calories/lb), which will make you fat in a few years. Put the two studies together, and maybe the body is trying to make sleep deprived people gain weight so that they don’t get strokes.

The moral of the story: if you absolutely can’t get enough sleep, just let your body do its thing and make you fat. But really, you should be getting enough sleep, eating healthy and exercising.

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From MSNBC, via Slashdot

Those Who Exercise More, Make More Money

The link between salary and exercise has been known for a while now, but it’s always been a question of correlation versus causation: does exercising make you earn more, does earning more lead to more exercise, or does a third factor cause you to both earn and exercise more? All three avenues are plausible:

  • It is known that exercise stimulates the brain and makes you happier and healthier, so it could in turn make you more productive and easier to get along with at work.
  • Exercise requires a certain amount of leisure time: if you have two kids and no nanny, or two jobs, or both, you’re probably not likely to exercise that often. Whereas if you have the time and money to see a trainer three times a week, you’re probably going to exercise. Also, rich people tend to not be fat, so it could be that simply earning more leads to more exercise.
  • Exercise also requires a certain amount of traits like discipline and perseverance — traits that would also make you more valuable at work. So it could be that those traits cause both more exercise and higher earnings.

One new study attempted to figure out which of the three is the more likely scenario and, surprisingly, it looks like it’s the first.  It used a statistical method to isolate exercise itself as a cause of higher earnings, and the results show that even people who don’t normally exercise start making more money once they begin doing so. Besides the fact that all studies like this should be taken with a grain of salt to begin with, the researcher himself admits more studies need to be done before anything is conclusive. But, given that exercise is already known to help with all kinds of things — being happier, healthier, living longer, warding off Alzheimer’s, migraines and the feebleness of old age — the fact that it might also make you richer is just another reason to get moving.

Photo by becaro

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From The Journal of Labor Research, via Smart Money and Lifehacker