Why Rotation Makes No Sense Sometimes – Facts So Romantic

What is orbital rotation? The basic picture is clear enough: One body is at rest, while the other follows some circular or elliptical path around it. The trouble is just to figure out which body is which. If you’re standing on the surface of the earth, it appears that the sun slowly orbits around you once per year. (Of course, it also looks as if the entire sky rotates around you once per day, because the earth rotates on its axis.  But we are thinking about the motion of the sun relative to the rest of the sky, which happens on a yearly cycle.) But on the surface of the sun, it would presumably also look as if the earth orbits around you once per year. Figuring out which of these reflected the true motions of the solar system, as opposed to merely apparent motions, was once a matter of heated controversy.

Seventeenth-century physicist Galileo Galilei, for instance, was convicted of heresy for claiming that the earth orbits around a stationary sun. He spent the end of his life under house arrest. Even so, he had it better than Giordano Bruno, who in 1600 was burned alive for his heretical…

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Why Primates Kill Their Offspring – Facts So Romantic

There’s something morbidly fascinating about animals that seem to behave pathologically: The female praying mantis engaging in sexual cannibalism, the fish eating its own fry.

It was this sort of twisted behavior that first drew anthropologist and evolutionary biologist Sarah Hrdy (pronounced Hur-dee) to study langurs in Mount Abu, in India. The males among these large, gray-haired monkeys were killing their own colony’s infants; at the time, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, researchers thought the pressures of overcrowding were the cause. What Hrdy found, however, was that these langurs’ infanticidal tendencies were actually adaptive behavior-behavior that, she argues, one can also see in humans.

In the langur colonies she observed, infanticides were hardly indiscriminate, which is what you might expect if the killings were driven by some kind of psychological anguish. In fact, the males never attacked their own offspring, and the ones they did knock off were less than six-months old-infants that were still suckling. This led Hrdy to conclude that infanticide was an effective tactic to allow mothers to mate. They can’t mate while they’re lactating because lactation suppresses ovulation. But they stop lactating once they’re childless. Killing baby langurs increases a male’s opportunity to…

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The Real Reason You’re Voting for Clinton or Trump – Facts So Romantic

The Lebanese-Canadian professor of marketing Gad Saad (both sound like “sad”) can readily defend evolutionary psychology against the charge that it’s a convenient, “just-so story.” (Before diving in, he said, “Forgive me, it’s going to be a bit long-winded, because your question is an important one.”) He founded and developed the field of “evolutionary consumption” after realizing that the principles of evolutionary psychology could be used to study consumer behavior, and now he holds the Research Chair in Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences and Darwinian Consumption at Concordia University, in Montreal. “Humans are consummatory animals with rapacious appetites,” he’s written in his “Homo Consumericus” blog on Psychology Today. “Much of what we do short of breathing and sleeping involves some consumption act.”

Of late, because of the United States presidential election, among other things, he’s been-you might say “consumed”-by politics. He discusses it on his YouTube channel, “The Saad Truth,” where his followers know him as “The Gadfather.” But politics is not a new interest. In 2003, he published a book chapter in Human Nature and Public Policy on the topic, called “Evolution and Political Marketing,” in which he argued that evolutionary psychology is the best way to explain the…

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Is Gymnastics’ Scoring System Injuring Athletes? – Facts So Romantic

 

It happened in an instant: a resounding crack and the bottom half of French gymnast Samir Ait Said’s leg was dangling like a marionette’s, his face contorted in pain. At the Rio Olympics, Said had just performed a thrilling triple backflip on the vault. When he landed, his leg snapped on impact. Said’s shot at grace, his relentless pursuit of perfection, had ended in horror.

The injury came just minutes after German gymnast Andreas Toba landed awkwardly after a twisting somersault during a floor exercise, wrenching his knee. His teammate, Gabian Ham, spoke out. “It’s a pity that gymnastics has developed the way it has. Everyone is chasing more and more difficulty, more risk. Everyone wants new records so it’s getting dangerous.” Ham called out the culprit: the open-ended scoring system.

In the past, gymnastics’ scoring system was based on a single variable: execution. Gymnasts began with a start value, determined by judges, based on the level of skills to be performed. The top start value was 10. Gymnasts were penalized for their mistakes. Or not. In 1976, Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci famously earned the first perfect 10 in the Olympics. Numerous gymnasts earned 10s in the…

 

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7 Ways Humans Have Tried to Predict Earthquakes – Facts So Romantic

 

Humans have been trying to predict earthquakes at least since first-century China, when the device of choice was a vessel fitted with metal dragons facing each compass direction. If the ground shook somewhere in the region, the metal ball in the dragon’s mouth would drop out, roughly indicating the direction of the earthquake. Our methods have gotten a bit more sophisticated since, but predicting earthquakes ahead of time remains shaky business.

“Why are earthquakes the last of the natural hazards to be predictable? For one thing,” Paul Silver, the late American seismologist, once said, “the short propagation time means that prediction must be based on the existence of a preparation phase. It is clear that we have yet to detect, on a reliable basis, such a preparation phase.” Terry Tullis, a seismologist with the National Earthquake Prediction Evaluation Council, told Nautilus in July that, “over time, with enough measurements and careful analysis, maybe at some point, someone will stumble across something that has definitive predictive value.”

Here are some (supposed) earthquake prediction methods-some strange, some useful, and some that even a metal dragon could beat.

 

Animal Behavior

When an earthquake struck the ancient Greek…

 

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Politicians Need to Understand This Computer Science Concept Better – Facts So Romantic

 

I have an idea that would keep 100 percent of foreign-born terrorists out of the United States. Not only that, it’s far simpler than any presidential candidate’s proposals. All we have to do is this: Never let anybody in. Most of us find this idea ludicrous, of course, and rightly so. Keeping out terrorists is not the only goal of border policy; it’s essential that the vast majority of people can come and go freely, whether for pleasure, business, or survival. Yet many of our decisions are based on similarly shoddy reasoning: We often fail to consider that there are two sides to the accuracy seesaw.

For example, we celebrate mammograms for detecting 84 percent of breast cancers and bemoan when law enforcement can’t access a phone, but we overlook how often mammograms detect fictitious cancers, or how many hackers were foiled by encryption. Even with this realization, you might still be tempted to trust a test when you know how often it’s correct overall-like an athletic doping test that’s right 85 percent of the time. This “percentage accuracy” metric does reflect how the test does on both clean and dirty athletes. Unfortunately, that’s still not enough: If the…

 

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Scientists Have No Defense Against Awe – Facts So Romantic

 

 

Eileen PollackIllustration by Keara McGraw

Eileen Pollack, author of The Only Woman in the Room: Why Science Is Still a Boys’ Club, hinted at the complexity of the relationship between science and the soul in a recent essay: “We need scientists who recognize the reality of this illusion we still call the soul and artists who know how intimately the reality of that soul will remain connected to the physical world-to science.”

In many ways, her fiction follows this suggestion. It draws on her scientific background-she graduated from Yale University in 1978 with a BS in Physics-and her later pursuits in literature, philosophy, and creative writing as a graduate student.

In her latest novel, A Perfect Life, for example, published last month, a woman researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is obsessed with finding the genetic marker for Valentine’s Disease, the heritable neurological disorder that killed her mother. Though the story derives its momentum from a scientific mystery, it still manages to present profound questions around the giving and taking of life, destiny and free will. “I felt like it brought together all the parts of my life,” says Pollack. She was still “very much…

 

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How Facebook Fuels Relationship Anxiety – Facts So Romantic

 

John Bowlby, born in 1907 London to an upper class family, had little parental love. His mother believed (as was common at the time) kindness would spoil children, and his father, a knighted surgeon, left home to fight in the Great War; his primary caregiver, a nursemaid named Minnie, who did love him, was let go when Bowlby was four. At seven, he was sent to boarding school. (“I wouldn’t send a dog away to boarding school at age seven,” he later remarked.) After boarding school and a brief stint in the Navy, he was accepted at Cambridge to study medicine, which he abandoned after three years to work with a group of maladjusted children. This led Bowlby to study psychiatry at the Maudsley Hospital, in south London, now the largest mental health-training center in the United Kingdom.

What Bowlby experienced as a child, and what he learned from maladjusted children, culminated in a theory of attachment that became a cornerstone of developmental psychology. As Mary Ainsworth, a psychologist at the University of Virginia, once said to her students, as she presented material from Bowlby’s then forthcoming 1980 book, Attachment and Loss, “Here is chapter 4 of the Bible.”…

 

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Your Brain’s Music Circuit Has Been Discovered – Facts So Romantic

 

Before Josh McDermott was a neuroscientist, he was a club DJ in Boston and Minneapolis. He saw first-hand how music could unite people in sound, rhythm, and emotion. “One of the reasons it was so fun to DJ is that, by playing different pieces of music, you can transform the vibe in a roomful of people,” he says.

With his club days behind him, McDermott now ventures into the effects of sound and music in his lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he is an assistant professor in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences. In 2015, he and a post-doctoral colleague, Sam Norman-Haignere, and Nancy Kanwisher, a professor of cognitive neuroscience at MIT, made news by locating a neural pathway activated by music and music alone. McDermott and his colleagues played a total of 165 commonly heard natural sounds to ten subjects willing to be rolled into an fMRI machine to listen to the piped-in sounds. The sounds included a man speaking, a songbird, a car horn, a flushing toilet, and a dog barking. None sparked the same population of neurons as music.

Their discovery that certain neurons have “music selectivity” stirs questions about the…

 

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