Mine-detecting Honeybees, Deciphering Teenage Sounds, and More
A roundup of science stories or studies that blow our mind, tickle our funny bone, or generally strike our fancy.
Each week we’ll round up links to science stories or studies that blow our mind, tickle our funny bone, or generally strike our fancy.
In Croatia, honeybees are being groomed to detect landmines. In tests, trained bees are drawn to pots that contain a sugar solution mixed with TNT, rather than pots with different smells. According to government officials, during the four-year Balkan war that began in 1991, around 90,000 land mines were buried in Croatia—often at random and without any plan or maps.
Between peeling sunburns, mosquitos, and poison oak, summer is the season of the itch. While researchers are unclear on just how our brains detect a skin sensation and translate it into the uncomfortable feeling of an itch, a recent study in mice has identified a neurotransmitter that is part of the itch-sensing mechanism. Mice without the neurotransmitter molecule—called Nppb, for natriuretic polypeptide b—didn’t scratch when injected with itch-inducing substances.
Does Practice Make Perfect?
In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell popularized the idea that anyone can achieve expertise in a subject if he just puts in 10,000 hours of practice. But hours logged might only get a person so far, a recent study published in the journal Intelligence suggests. Researchers examined data on musicians and chess players and found that level of skill did not directly correlate with the amount of time spent practicing. For chess players, time devoted to honing their skills only accounted for 34 percent of a player’s rank, and for musicians, only 30 percent of the variance in rankings could be accounted for by the amount of time spent practicing.
Why Conspiracy Theories Flourish
There are those who believe, despite evidence to the contrary, that there was a second gunman on the grassy knoll who shot at JFK, that George W. Bush helped plan the Sept. 11th attacks, or that the Tsarnaev brothers behind the Boston marathon bombings were patsies taking the fall for a larger organization. Journalist Maggie Koerth-Baker examines why people are drawn to conspiracy theories like these, reporting that, “Scientific thinking suggests these beliefs are nothing more than an extreme form of cynicism, a turning away from politics and traditional media.”
—New York Times Magazine
Linguistic Analysis of duhhh and Other Annoying Teenage Sounds
Ever wish you could better decipher your teenager’s grunts and groans? For The Week, James Harbeck, an editor trained in linguistics, has provided technical descriptions of seven common adolescent utterances. Now parents everywhere can learn how to distinguish their teen’s Creaky-voiced long alveolar glide with mid front unrounded vowel and glottal stop from their Voiceless velar affricate.
—The Week (with bonus video!)