Superman’s Evil Baby Nemesis Wagging Dogs and Reading Palms

Filed as Features on May 1, 2007 7:53 am

Good news! These past couple of weeks have seen a resurgence of actual science and interesting science factoids for all the sci-blog watchers out there, the political infighting has thankfully moved into the background where it belongs. Not that political infighting isn’t fun for political junkies to watch and get a giggle out of, but when science bloggers won’t blog about science there’s a real dearth of fun stuff to write about.

As you can probably tell from this installment’s title, there is humor, fear, factoids and stranger-than-comic book discoveries out there to delight the seeker. Starting with stranger-than-comic book discoveries, Chris Rowan at Highly Allochthonous blog informs us that Scientists have discovered ‘Kryptonite’ !

Yes, analysis of an unusual mineral sample from a mine in Serbia has established for us why it is that Superman was MIA during the whole Balkans mess back in the ’90s. Oddly enough, the powers that be named the mineral “Jadarite” instead of going with the already familiar “Kryptonite,” since the molecular structure is missing a little bit of fluorine to complete its Kryptonic formula. Lex Luthor could of course add a splash of fluoride mouth rinse to a vial of powdered Jadarite, so Clark Kent isn’t out of trouble if he ever has to cover a story in Serbia. Where, I hear, Luthor has relocated his entire mad scientist laboratory in an abandoned mine…

Speaking of Lex the evil genius, Mike the Mad Biologist has posted a photograph of a young Lex in his driftglass Hath Profaned Against the Evil Baby! That’s a kid I sure wouldn’t want to mess with, and I imagine he got much worse as soon as his teeth came in!

On to the fun and interesting category, where we find a breakdown by Jonah Lehrer of The Frontal Cortex of a scientific study of Wagging the Dog. It’s all about how to read doggie-wags for the purpose of reading doggie intentions. This skill could be very useful for joggers, mailmen and meter-readers, whose notorious run-ins with neighborhood dogs are the stuff of legend (and doggie-tasers). Asymmetry purportedly reflects which brain hemisphere is guiding the action, and the scientists make an admirable attempt to psychoanalyze which hemispheres are concerned about what. Which will be very useful to all you dog-whisperers and doggie-shrinks out there.

The examination of bodily symmetry in human beings has some excellent applications too, as Chris Chatham of Developing Intelligence tells us in his post Palm Reading and Sexual Advertising: Bodily Symmetry and Intelligence. Chris claims that your body’s bilateral symmetry can predict the state of your health, whether or not you’re schizophrenic or depressed, the number of sexual partners you’ve had, and your resting metabolic rate. Worse, researchers have decided it also predicts your intelligence.

So if a man is a fan of speed-dating or on-line hookups and wants to impress potential bed-partners with his cleverness and intellectual sophistication, beware when the lady asks for measurements of the length and width of your feet, ankles, wrists, elbows, ears and fingers. She’s sizing you up for “reproductive fitness,” NOT just a sexual tryst and one-night stand!

Under the general heading of Very Scary Science, there are a couple of things to be concerned about in the recent science round-up. First, revere at Effect Measure blog informs us about a Lab accident at bioweapons facility. Just the sort of thing we DON’T want to hear about! Seems there’s a bioweapons facility on the campus of Texas A&M University (no, they didn’t make this illegal after revelations in the ’70s), where a researcher managed to infect herself with brucella by climbing into the “foolproof” hot chamber to clean it after a test run.

Now, this all happened back in February of 2006, but A&M conveniently ‘forgot’ to report the incident as required by Texas Sunshine law. Luckily there is an international organization called The Sunshine Project that keeps track of bioweapons facilities and compliance with laws. This requires some digging for information these days, so we can all be glad somebody’s on the job.

Then there’s the dramatic disappearance of honeybee colonies happening all over the world, which could portend serious food production problems for our future. GrrlScientist from Living the Scientific Life offers an interesting hypothesis from a German researcher, asking Are Cell Phones Killing Bees? Seems the bees aren’t just dying in and around their hives (as would be found if the issue were mites or other pathogens), but are simply disappearing without a trace. As if they go out to find flowers and pollen, and can’t find their way home again.

This doesn’t explain why parasites, animals and other bees that would normally raid the stores of honey and pollen left behind won’t go near these abandoned hives. So other researchers are suggesting other causes for bee colony collapse. Lots of people are working to discover what’s wrong, because without pollenators a good chunk of our fruit, nuts and vegetables will no longer be available.

Finally, just in case you weren’t worried enough about bioweapons and bioethics (who those bioweapons are to be aimed at), Jake Young at Pure Pedantry gives us his take on Neurological “Personhood”. This is apparently an ongoing in-house debate by various neuroscientists and bioethicists about whether or not there is such a thing as basic “equality” of personhood, or if that’s just some pie-in-the-sky sociopolitical concept with no real application in a world of persons and non-persons.

I probably flunk the supposedly objective test for personhood by one deficit or another, so this debate certainly makes me uncomfortable! At any rate, here’s to hoping my interest in science never leads me down the dark path of judging my fellow humans to be “non-persons” just so I can treat them like bugs. It also gives me ample reinforcement for my long-ago decision to avoid reductionist philosophers like the Churchlands as if they *ARE* the plague.

Oops… that was sort of a de-personalizing thing to say, wasn’t it? Unless of course “social context is all”, as Young quotes Patricia Churchland as saying. In which case she most certainly can be a plague, which is the same thing as being a bug. In a meme-ish sort of way…

Happy sci-blog surfing, intrepid seekers of knowledge! Until next time, this is me – over and out.

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