Ewes get more nipples, Harry Potter will be eco-friendly, and happy animated characters make better salespeople than sad ones.

Blank Czech
If there’s one kind of state more resistant to imposing restrictions on corporations than a capitalist country, it’s a capitalist country that recently emerged from a long period of communism. So perhaps it’s not entirely surprising that Czech President Vaclav Klaus has come out against “ambitious environmentalism,” saying the “anti-greenhouse religion” has replaced the ideology of communism and threatens world markets. Klaus responded to questions from the US House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce saying he opposes initiatives like the Kyoto protocol that set “arbitrary targets” and believes mandatory standards will widen the gap between wealthy countries and developing nations. Employing the argument strategy reductio ad communism, Klaus wrote, “This ideology preaches earth and nature and under the slogans of their protection—similarly to the old Marxists—wants to replace the free and spontaneous evolution of mankind by a sort of central, now global, planning of the whole world.” Apparently, if the free and spontaneous evolution of mankind leads to destruction of the environment, biodiversity, and habitable land, so be it.

Be All Ewe Can Be
Ewes in New Zealand are becoming more fertile, frequently giving birth to triplets instead of twins—ten years ago, flocks were lambing at 100 percent, but now farmers get a 120 percent increase in stock with each successive generation. While farmers are thrilled by the increased return on their sheep, normal, two-nippled ewes aren’t able to feed three kids at once. Frequently, the runt of the litter is bullied out of place by his siblings and dies from malnutrition. Agricultural scientists have decided there is but one solution to this problem: more nipples! New Zealand researchers have begun an effort to breed four-nippled sheep. AgResearch Invermay scientist George Davis is looking for tetrateated ewes so he can breed a flock able to feed all of their young. 20 years ago, researchers bred a polyteated flock, but when farmers lost interest, the line died out. Besides giving each child an equal opportunity at milk, four teats might allow a ewe to actually produce more milk, the scientists say. In dairy cows, all four mammary glands produce a substantial portion of the animal’s milk. I guess they milk each gland for all it’s worth.

Surgery Enhances Self-Esteem, Bust
A bigger bank account might not make you happy, but it’s possible a bigger cup size will. According to a study recently published in the journal Plastic Surgical Nursing, women who undergo breast augmentation tend to have higher self-esteem and better feelings about their sexuality after the surgery. University of Florida nursing professor Cynthia Figueroa-Haas studied 84 women who underwent the surgery, measuring their self-esteem and sexuality before and two to three months after the procedure. On average, self esteem increased by over four points on a 30-point scale, and sexual function increased by over four points on a 36-point scale, with substantial average increases in sexual desire, arousal, and satisfaction. Figueroa-Haas emphasizes that breast augmentation surgery is not a cure-all for low self-esteem or low sexual functioning. but she also said she hopes the study will destigmatize the surgery. With a 476 percent increase in bust boosting procedures since 2000, that stigma should probably be gone already.

Harry Potter and the Environment-Friendly Printing
Perhaps it was his early run-in with the Whomping Willow: Harry Potter has learned to be good to trees. Last week, Scholastic Inc. and the Rainforest Alliance agreed that the printing of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows, which will require 16,700 tons of paper, will be held to tightened environmental standards. The paper will contain at least 30 percent post-consumer waste fiber, and the deluxe edition will contain 100 percent post-consumer waste fiber. Also, almost two-thirds of the paper in the 784 page tome will be approved by the Forest Stewardship Council. Scholastic decided to go green after environmental organizations complained about the lack of recycled paper in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. While Scholastic didn’t release numbers out recycled paper content, they did say they did not use paper from endangered forests. While several European and Canadian editions of the book have been printed on eco-friendly paper, this will be the first time American readers can grab a green copy.

Feeling Good
Humans seem to have a rather weak utilitarian moral compass. If researchers pose a hypothetical in which we have the opportunity to kill someone who will undoubtedly kill several people in the future, we’re unlikely to say we’ll actually pull the trigger. But according to a study recently published in the journal Nature, people with damage to the brain’s frontal lobe, the area that generates social emotions, say they would kill the killer without hesitation. Sacrificing one life for the sake of many is the right thing to do. The authors have concluded that emotions play a key role in making moral judgments. Researchers studied 30 subjects—12 with no damage to the brain, six with damage to the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, and 12 with damage elsewhere in the brain—asking them to make judgments in situations that pitted the immediate harm of one person against the future harm of more than one. The 24 people with undamaged prefrontal cortices were hesitant to harm someone, even if it was for the greater good, but the six with emotional impairment were overwhelmingly willing to harm a person for the sake of others. The researcher say this study could be a jumping-off point for neuroscientists to test ethical philosophies for human compatibility. Here, they say, they show that we do not act according to the rules of utilitarianism.

The Whole World Smiles With You
For better or for worse—probably for worse—human-like digital characters are being ever more prevalent. From Ikea’s Anna to search engine mistress Ms. Dewey, avatars are invading your home, failing the Turing test, and selling you products. According to a new study published in the International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, digital agents are more effective when they’re happy, even if they’re trying to sell a sad product (like a depressing novel).  Researcher Li Gong allowed subjects to interact with “Baldi” an animated human face who could be either sad or happy. When he read book reviews in a happy way—smiling, setting his pitch high, and varying his voice more—people reacted better than when he read reviews in a sad way‐lowering and slowing down his voice. Participants not only liked the happy version better, even when the reviews were sad, they also found happy Baldi more competent and trustworthy, and they said they were more likely to read the book. No wonder car insurance companies use happy animals and life insurance companies use happy elderly people.

Originally published March 26, 2007


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