Men everywhere like women with narrow waists, NASA switches to the metric system, and Euros are coated with cocaine.

Waist Not, Want Not
They say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But a lot of beholders, even those from different cultures, have remarkably similar eyes. According to a study recently published online in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B,
men across time and cultures have gone gaga for thin-waisted women. The authors examined British literature from the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries along with ancient works from India and China. In each case, they searched for the word “waist” and classified the mention as either non-romantic or romantic. Of the 66 romantic mentions in British literature, all referred to the waist as narrow or small. In the 66 romantic mentions in ancient Chinese and Indian literature, again, all referred to a slender waist. The oldest reference the researchers found was to Nefertari, principal wife of Rameses II, whose “buttocks are full, but her waist is narrow”&emdash;in other words, “little in the middle but she’s got much back.” The researchers hypothesize that people subconsciously recognize that female abdominal obesity is linked to low fertility and increased risk for major diseases.

Miles To Go
For all too long, NASA has refused to accept that we count in base 10, and has used English, rather than metric, units in its missions. But finally, in a move that will unite the globe, NASA has announced that all operations on the lunar surface will be conducted entirely in metric units. The change will not only allow the US to accept equipment-related help from other space-bound nations but will also prevent scientists from making pesky unit errors like the one that sent the Mars Climate Orbiter robotic probe way off course. Jeff Volosin, strategy development lead for NASA’s Exploration Systems Mission Directorate, said that representatives from other agencies cheered when they announced the change. “I think NASA has been seen as maybe a bit stubborn by other space agencies in the past, so this was important as a gesture of our willingness to be cooperative when it comes to the Moon,” he said. Ha! They’ll never suspect our imminent annexation of the lunar territory as the 51st state. It’s our manifest destiny.

For too long, animals have been subjected to experiments designed to better the lives of humans. Finally, the tables have been turned. The Adelaide Zoo in South Australia is conducting an experiment on humans to better the lives of captive great apes. For the next month, human subjects will be displayed in cages, living as the chimps do for a week at a time. Animal psychology specialist Carla Litchfield will spend the entire month as part of the human exhibit, observing “the smells and sounds and what it’s like to be stared at by thousands of people every day,” she said. Litchfield said she hopes to determine what sorts of activities best stimulate captive animals and apply what she learns to the zoo’s more permanent residents. “The human zoo” will also raise money for a new chimpanzee enclosure, and visitors to the zoo will be encouraged to vote for their favorite human specimen. No word yet on what the winner will receive. I imagine “freedom” would be the most tempting prize.

The clarity and color aren’t well-measured. The cut is nonexistent. But when it comes to carat, this diamond can’t be beat. While the biggest diamond ever found on Earth measured an impressive 3,100 carats, a jewel newly discovered by astronomers at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics weighs in at 1034 carats, nearly a million times the mass of our planet. The 4,000-kilometer diamond is the interior of a crystallized white dwarf, the carbon remnants of a collapsed star, located 50 light-years away. Astronomers have taken to calling the object “Lucy,” a reference to the Beatles song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.” If you’d like to claim this diamond as your very own but don’t want to bother with the 100-light-year round trip, you could always wait for the star next door to crystallize. In about 7 billion years, our own sun should put a diamond in the center of our solar system. True, our planet will already have been demolished by the sun’s death, but you won’t have to worry about that; you’ll be rich!

No More Waiting in the Wings
Life imitated art last December when a Brown University production of Jean-Paul Sartre’s “The Flies” used real flies: 30,000 of them. To fulfill his vision—a physical manifestation of Orestes’ guilt—director James Rutherford called on biochemistry and molecular biology student Sara Naylor, who works with drosophila. Naylor bred the flies under ideal conditions for two months before the play, raising the temperature from the standard 25 degrees Celsius to a luxurious 27 degrees. The breeding flies were given plenty of food. Most of the flies were released into the theater the day before the first performance, and flies were gradually added every day after, so there were an even number attending each performance. The production staff took precautions to be sure that the flies didn’t escape and infest Providence, including airlocks and fans blowing inward. They also lined the entire theater with tasty food products to keep the flies moving around the audience—one actor carried a rotting bowl of fruit, food traps were distributed around the floor, and the blood in the show was made from chocolate syrup. Naylor reports that it was easy to capture the flies at the end of show, as food had run low and temperatures were dipping. Now all that is left to see is whether this director will put on a full-scale production of Aristophanes’ “The Frogs.”

Scratch ‘n’ Sniff
Money can make anyone excited, but some Euros may be getting people a little too worked up. According to a recent study out of Ireland’s National Center for Sensor Research, 100 percent of Euros in Dublin are contaminated with cocaine. The researchers analyzed a sample of 45 bank notes, taking advantage of the absorbent quality of the cotton Euro. Most notes had concentrations of cocaine greater than two nanograms, and five percent had more than 200 nanograms of the drug, indicating that they’d been used directly in either drug dealing or inhalation. Other notes with only trace amounts of cocaine probably just came into contact with other contaminated notes, researchers said. A recent study of US currency showed that a mere 65 percent of bills were contaminated. The Irish researchers found that bills of higher denominations—€20 and €50 notes—had higher levels of contamination than smaller bills. There’s big money in drugs, and apparently there are drugs in big money.

I’ll Drink To That
It is perhaps intuitive that studies often come to conclusions that reflect favorably on their funding sources. While this bias has been scientifically established in pharmaceutical studies, only now have researchers found that the same holds true for nutrition studies. According to a recent paper published online in PLoS Medicine, beverage studies funded by the industry are four to eight times more likely to reach favorable conclusions about drinks than studies without industry funding. The researchers looked at 206 articles about soft drinks, juice, and milk published between 1999 and 2003. Of the 111 that declared financial sponsorship, 22 percent were entirely funded by industry and 47 percent had no industry funding. Not one of the industry-funded studies had an unfavorable conclusion, while more than a third of those without industry funding cast the drinks in an unfavorable light. It should be noted that this study was funded by the Charles H. Hood Foundation and the Department of Medicine, Children’s Hospital Boston, both organizations with an explicit pro-health agenda.

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Originally published January 16, 2007


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