A Cool Ten Grand
Tom Lehrer once sang, “It’s so nice to have integrity, I’ll tell you why: If you really have integrity, it means your price is very high.” Now, the American Enterprise Institute is hoping some scientists price themselves at no higher than $10,000. According to The Guardian, the conservative think tank is offering scientists ten grand to write articles that throw doubt on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s recent report stating that humans are almost certainly the cause of climate change. The Institute, which has received over $1.6 million in funding from ExxonMobil, sent letters to scientists around the world asking for essays that “thoughtfully explore the limitations of climate model outputs.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, some scientists have sharply criticized the AEI’s move. “It’s a desperate attempt by an organisation who wants to distort science for their own political aims,” said David Viner of the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia. In addition to concluding that there is a 90% chance humans have warmed the planet, the IPCC report predicts that temperatures will rise by another 1.5 to 5.8 degrees Celsius in the next century, depending on emissions levels.

Beyond a Shadow of a Doubt
While the IPCC’s report is lovely and all, why trust a faceless group with astoundingly good credentials when you can trust an adorable animal? Indeed, that prognosticator of prognosticators Punxsutawney Phil did not see his shadow this year, forecasting an early spring. In the first 75 years of the 20th century, Phil failed to see his shadow a mere four times, but in the last 25 years, he cast no shadow eight times. While scientists emphasize that Phil’s method of weather prediction hardly holds to standards of scientific rigor, some are taking this opportunity to note the effects of climate change on wildlife. Doug Inkley, biologist with the National Wildlife Federation, said, “Phil would probably be the first to agree that our country needs to develop solutions to global warming fast. Otherwise he’ll be forced to pull up stakes, move north and change his name to Buffalo Bill.” So if it doesn’t help to think of all the coast-dwellers who will be forced out of their homes by rising sea levels, please, think of the groundhogs.

When two of the world’s top ten chess players sit down for a game, there will always be exactly two women at the table. Both of them can move any number of spaces in any direction. There is only one woman among the top 100 chess players, and of about 900 grandmasters, only eight are women. In a recent study published in the journal Psychological Science, researchers concluded that the underrepresentation of women in the highest levels of chess can be explained by the low proportion of girls who enter chess at the lowest levels. The researchers looked at the ratings of over 250,000 players over 13 years and found that while men have higher ratings than women on average, in areas where women account for at least 50% of new young players, the initial ratings of boys and girls are not significantly different. They also found that men’s and women’s ratings were equally variable, so the suggestion that men have a higher standard deviation and therefore have more people with extremely high ratings doesn’t hold water. Check and mate.

Mozart’s Magic Flute
A Belgian iguana named Mozart recently suffered a hard couple of weeks. A very, very hard couple of weeks. After Mozart mated in the middle of January, he sustained a permanent erection that made it hard for him to walk. This week, veterinarians at Aquatopia Zoo in Belgium amputated Mozart’s penis. Before resorting to the ultimate measure, the vets tried other tactics, putting the penis in cold water and bringing female iguanas into his enclosure, but nothing managed to topple the giant. Mozart is doing well after the operation, at least he’s doing far better than he would have been, if male iguanas weren’t blessed with two penises. Mozart has regained an active sex life, romping with his lady friends back in his enclosure. A spokesman from the zoo reported, “He was returned to his mates, and it was clear from the first day his sex life has not been affected.” What a Don Giovanni.

Trick or Treatment?
Trick. A couple of weeks ago, Gambian president Yahya Jammeh announced that he could cure HIV/AIDS with one day’s treatment. “I now have the mandate to cure people publicly under strict conditions that I have to abide by, otherwise I pay the price,” Jammeh said at a ceremony. Jammeh, who has no formal medical training but claims expertise in traditional herbal therapy, also said that he is not allowed to treat more than 100 people with AIDS or asthma (his other specialty), and that if people use his medicine without following the proper instructions, he cannot be blamed for the continuation of their illness. The president offered to take on ten HIV-positive patients, five males and five females. The Gambian pro-government Daily Observer wrote this week, “Reports of the first test result of the nine HIV infected persons being treated by the President Yahya Jammeh have revealed that the CD4 count (special T-lymphocyte) of the patients have gone up ‘impressively,’ signifying a marked improvement on the patients from a laboratory point of view.” The organization Reporters Without Borders has written scathingly about freedom of the press in Gambia. Jammeh has not explicitly described the treatment, and according to Guardian reporter Ben Goldacre some Gambian bloggers have reported vomiting and pain in Jammeh’s patients. But Goldacre also notes that as easy as it is to stare slack-jawed at this horrific assertion, the US and Britain “actively export our superstition,” encouraging vitamin pills for treatment of HIV and barring federal aid money from going to treatment of sex workers.

I Can’t Believe I Ate the Whole Thing
So, how did you do this past Super Bowl Sunday? Did you stick to the crudités, or did you gorge yourself on wings, pigs-in-blankets, nachos, and beer? Yeah, that’s what I thought. Well, at least a new study out of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab shows how you can do better next year: leave your carnage on your plate. Researchers split 53 Super Bowl partiers at a chicken wings buffet into two groups: One group had their plates cleared away after they finished a portion of wings, and another had the wings pile up on their plates. The clean plate group ate 43% more chicken wings, on average, than the heap-of-bones group. The authors of the study, published in the journal Perceptual and Motor Skills, suggest that you can limit yourself by deciding on portions in advance of eating and limiting yourself to what you put on your plate. The Super Bowl ranks first in home parties, even ahead of New Year’s Eve.

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Originally published February 6, 2007


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