IKEA starts charging for bags, the World Cup sparks a German baby boom, and video game players make better surgeons.

We Met At Nine…
If a man can personally recall details from World War II battles, you probably shouldn’t trust him to remember whether a defendant held a bank teller at gunpoint. A recent study out of the University of Virginia concluded that not only are older adults more likely than young people to make errors in recollection, but they are also more confident that their memories are accurate. Subjects—adults aged 60 to 80 and college students—viewed a five-minute video of a robbery and police chase. They then answered 24 yes/no questions about what they saw; eight of the questions referred to details that weren’t present in the video, such as asking about the gun when no gun showed up on tape. When asked whether specific details had been present in video or only in the questionnaire, the older group made slightly more errors, and when asked for the likely accuracy of their response, older adults expressed higher confidence. The younger people tended to make their errors when they were uncertain about accuracy. The authors suggest their results may have implications for admitting eyewitness testimony as evidence in court. Mistaken eyewitness testimony may be the top cause of wrongful convictions in the US, the authors say. And with the baby boomers getting older, there could be a spike in wrongful convictions corresponding to the increased number of confident but mistaken witnesses.

Good Riddance to Bag Rubbish
IKEA rewards its customers for their willingness to assemble their own furniture. But now the Swedish enterprise will punish those who choose plastic bags over reusable ones with a five cent surcharge per bag. IKEA notes that Americans throw away 100 billion bags every year, 70 million of which are supplied by their store. By charging for plastic bags and lowering the price of reusable ones from 99 cents to 59 cents, IKEA hopes to cut their plastic bag distribution by 50 percent in the first year and eliminate them entirely in the near future. Several countries have already banned plastic bags, and when Taiwan began charging for bags, it cut its use by 80 percent. When IKEA started a similar program in the UK last year, the company cut bag consumption by a whopping 95 percent. All proceeds from the program will go to the conservation group American Forests. Environmentalists note that bags harm the planet by taking up space in landfills, clogging drains, and endangering wildlife. Yes, the era of conspicuous plastic bag consumption is ending: It’s pay-bag time.

He Shoots, He Scores
The World Cup ended nearly eight months ago, but that powerhouse Germany may still score one last goal: bringing its birth rate up to the European average. Hospitals in the host country are reporting that this year’s month-long event sparked a German baby boom, with births expected to rise by 10 to 15 percent in the next month. Rolf Kliche, head of a large birth clinic, called the rise a “minor sensation” in the face of normally stable birth rates. German women beget 1.36 kids on average, whereas the rest of the EU pops out 1.52 children per woman. Kliche told Der Spiegel that the euphoria caused by the party likely released hormones that made it easier for the women to get pregnant. He also mentioned that apparently the excitement from the game was “employed in other ways after the final whistle.” One couple, whose baby was born five weeks early on February 11, had been trying to get pregnant for two years, but it was only when they “went on celebrating after the game [against Poland]” that the woman conceived her daughter, Farina, her husband said. It is expected that many of the boys will be named after star German players. Perhaps someday New York will host the Super Bowl, and we’ll have tons of little Plaxicos and D’Brickashaws running around.

Viral Marketing
Bug chasing—in which people go out and have unprotected sex with the expressed goal of contracting HIV—might be the single creepiest phenomenon ever documented. But the chasers may have just been topped: Chilean authorities are now investigating a website that offered to sell “blood with AIDS” for 100,000 pesos ($185) per five millimeter sample. The ad, which described the blood as “ideal for suicide,” was up for nine days and was visited a whopping 45 times before the police found it. The author of the post claimed the ad was a “joke among friends,” and when the police searched his house, they didn’t find any blood. Still, they’re looking into whether he contacted any potential buyers. I certainly hope it was just a joke, but dude, not funny. This, however, is funny.

Blinded With Pseudoscience
Michigan State University professor Jon Miller has some good news and some bad news. The good news: Americans know more about basic science than they did 20 years ago. In 2005, 28 percent of Americans knew enough science to be able to understand newspaper stories, whereas a mere 10 percent fell into this category in 1988. The bad news: Americans are also more susceptible to pseudoscience such as astrology (to say nothing of Echinacea). And an increased number of college students say they’re “unsure” whether creationism or evolution is the better explanation of the origin of the species. Miller presented his findings at the AAAS meeting last week. Researchers suggested that people glom on to pseudoscience because it often speaks to the issues they care about, such as love and health. Sadly for the ladies, “female” was a leading negative factor in scientific literacy, right up there with “religious fundamentalism” and “aging.” In a related European study, 25 percent of people said they thought astrology was very scientific, but only seven percent answered that horoscopes are very scientific. As one scientist pointed out, a fair number of people might be just confusing astrology with astronomy.

im in ur heart fixing ur bl00dz
“Don’t worry about the operation, Mrs. Lewis. I beat Mario when I was, like, four.” It could actually be a reassuring statement, given the results of a recent study published in the journal Archives of Surgery. The authors found that surgical residents and physicians who had played video games for more than three hours a week at one point in their lives and those who scored in the top third in gaming skill performed far better than others in a test of laparoscopic surgical skill. The authors studied 21 residents and 12 attending physicians, 15 of whom had never played, nine of whom had played between zero and three hours a week, and nine of whom, at the height of their playing, put in over three hours a week. During simulated surgery, those in the last category made 37 percent fewer errors, were 27 percent faster and scored 42 percent better overall. Those in the top tertile in gaming ability made 47 percent fewer errors, were 39 percent faster, and scored 41 percent higher overall in the Rosser Top Gun Laparoscopic Skills and Suturing Program. The researchers suggest that it might be valuable to incorporate video game training into the surgery curriculum. Has Nintendo release Wii Triple Bypass yet?

Originally published February 26, 2007


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