Ghosts aren't real, a dog gets high on toads, and school books can stop bullets.

I Will Call Upon Woo To Do A Service For Me.
Hwang Woo-Suk, godfather of I Can’t Believe It’s Science, has once again seen fit to bestow upon his children the precious gift of a jaw-droppingly egregious ethical no-no. The disgraced stem-cell researcher is currently standing trial for fraud and embezzlement, and his latest testimony is particularly outrageous. Hwang had previously conceded that, in an effort to clone an extinct species, he collected mammoth tissue that had been preserved in glaciers. Now it turns out this admission was totally truthful…if by “glaciers” he meant “the Russian Mafia.” Yes, according to his recent statement to a Seoul court, Hwang Woo-Suk spent part of $1 million in corporate donations on “peripheral activities related to research” that included communicating with Russian organized crime about obtaining mammoth cells. On his expense report, Hwang testified, he accounted for this money by saying he spent it on cows. It seems that including “purchased mammoth tissue from Russian Mafia” on an expense report could be about as damning as writing “used pretty bills to decorate Jack Abramoff’s fedora.” Sadly, even with the help of the Mafia, Hwang failed to clone the mammoth. Snuppy still appears to be a real clone.

The Horror! The Horror!
Vampires, ghosts and zombies: We see them every year on Halloween, but could it be that they’re nothing but…people in costume? One bold researcher is challenging the feasibility of these creatures existence by demonstrating that the supernatural do not obey the laws of nature. Ghosts, University of Central Florida physicist Costas Efthimiou said, are believed to both walk on the ground and pass through walls. But if they walk on the ground, then they must exert a force on the floor. And if they pass through walls, they must be immaterial. So the ghosts are both solid physical objects and not solid physical objects. Reductio ad absurdum: Ghosts with these properties cannot exist! Efthimiou also questions the popular thinking about vampires. He calculates that if a vampire only needed to suck one person’s blood per month, but he turned that person into a vampire, within just a few years, there would be no people left. Come on, man, vampires can feed for a very long time without turning their victim into a vampire, no? Plus, this calculation only proves that there were no vampires in the 17th century, not that there are no vampires now. Just vait a few years professor. You von’t be so dismissive zen.

Trip Pup
The first step is admitting that you have a problem, so we should all applaud the Mirsches, a family that has had the courage to step up to the mic and declare without shame: Our dog has struggled with drug addiction. National Public Radio intern Laura Mirsch has come forth with the harrowing tale of her cocker spaniel Lady, who began her downward spiral when she discovered the hallucinogenic effects of toad sucking. Some toads, most notably the Colorado River toad, contain hallucinogenic compounds. While the drugs can be (and often are) collected without harming the toads, Lady preferred to head down to the nearby marsh and suck on the amphibians herself. When winter came and the relieved toads went into hibernation, Lady experienced withdrawal, but her new lease on life didn’t last long: At the first sign of spring, Lady was hooked on toads again. Lady has at last learned to manage her addiction. She still uses toads recreationally, but, like a mature adult, she no longer needs them to have a good time.

Baby Blues
A new study published in the journal Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology finds that men with blue eyes have a preference for blue-eyed gals, and the authors hypothesize that this inclination evolved so men can determine when they’ve been cuckolded. While neither the women nor the brown-eyed fellows who were studied showed a preference for a specific eye color, blue-eyed dudes regularly swooned for blue-eyed chicks. Because eye color is a relatively straightforward Mendelian trait, and blue eyes are recessive, the vast majority of kids with two blue-eyed parents have the same phenotype. If the kid has brown eyes, well, daddy’s gotta git out his shotgun.

Johnnies-Come-Lately Are Papa Johns
Female bonobos, fruit flies, and other promiscuous—or as they are technically called, polyamorous—species should save the best for last. When a female mates with many males in rapid succession, the last in line has the highest likelihood of impregnating her. A new model put out by researchers at the University of Exeter accounts for this phenomenon by proposing that the caboose on the love train spills his seed into a “sperm-friendly” environment where the gametes are likely to survive. Sperm generally have a very tough time inside the female reproductive tract, as the highly acidic environment kills many of the poor cells and the female’s immune system may attack them as foreign objects. A mere 0.001 percent of ejaculated sperm actually make it to the ovum. (At least that’s true for most species; there are occasional exceptions.) But seminal fluid decreases the acidity, allowing more sperm to survive. When a male copulates with a female who’s already received several doses of seminal fluid, his sperm can coast to destination uterus. The researchers point to the presence of sneaky males in many species. These wily ones lurk outside of a mating area, and when all the other males have had sex with the female, a sneaker will rush in at the last minute to take his best shot at fathering a child. Sometimes it pays to be socially awkward.

From Russia, With Love and Squalor
In the year 2880, the world will rely on the Russian government to save them from Number 2907. No, this isn’t a plot from Yevgeny Zamyatin’s classic dystopian novel We, it’s the actual prediction of those ever doomy-and-gloomy Russians. The head of the Russian space agency announced last week that the country is prepared to repel any and all asteroids that might threaten our planet. And Russia’s Institute of Applied Astronomy says that about 400 asteroids and 30 comets currently qualify as threats to our safety. Leading the pack of death is the kilometer-wide Number 2907, which the institute believes with a “large degree of certainty” will demolish our planet on December 16, 2880. Get your holiday shopping done early, descendants! Without going into the specifics, the space agency said that Russia’s rocket-manufacturing complex could muster the power to knock those hunks of space rock out of our atmosphere. The head of the agency also noted that all institutions that study space should “warn about the threat of asteroids falling to Earth.”

Arm Them With Knowledge
Some people are book smart. Some people are street smart. Some people can smartly use their books on the street. This class of intellectual elite includes Republican state superintendent of schools candidate Bill Crozier of Union City, Oklahoma. Crozier has proposed that every desk in Oklahoma be equipped with a thick textbook. Under his plan, students would be able to defend themselves against school shooters, shielding their bodies with the power of knowledge. Crozier tested his plan with Calculus of a Single Variable, Earth Science, and Invitation to Languages (video here). He used the scientific method, shooting each book and finding that while an AK-47 assault rifle could penetrate two books, a 9mm pistol could not penetrate even one. Highway Patrol spokesman Lt. Pete Norwood said, “He probably needs to take a look at some ballistics tests. There are some rifles not even Webster’s Dictionary will stop.” Well, then it’s about time we buy every kid in the great state of Oklahoma a 20 volume, 22,000 page Oxford English Dictionary. Heck, maybe they’ll even read some of it.

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Originally published October 29, 2006

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