Don't drink on the job when you're guarding dangerous chemicals, helmets may increase your risk of a biking accident, and men could be keeping us from world peace.

mwcolumn.jpg MAGGIE WITTLIN  Column Archive

Toxic, Wasted
On Thursday, Sept. 7, an official at Shimonoseki Mitsui Chemicals in Japan went on a drinking binge with his posse: three 500-mL bottles of liquefied hydrogen fluoride. When he awoke Friday morning, the bottles were gone, and the man has no idea what he did with them. If another barfly finds the lost merchandise, he’d be wise to stick to his Asahi Super Dry—the solution has a concentration of 10 percent hydrogen fluoride. (Someone recently died after swallowing just a spoonful of nine percent hydrogen fluoride solution.) Just one swig of the stuff could do a man in, and contact with the skin would cause serious acid burns within 24 hours. About 50 police officers spent their Friday night searching for the missing bottles.

Whose Bed Have Your Boots Not Been Under?
Country fans are apparently faithful. A recent study of 2,500 people living in the UK found correlations between musical taste and lifestyle, including political beliefs, employment, religious practices, and sexual history. About 38 percent of hip-hop lovers and 30 percent of dance music fans copped to having had more than one sexual partner in the past five years, whereas fewer than 2 percent of country fans had more than one partner. Hip-hop and dance music fans were also the least likely demographic to be religious, to recycle, to favor development of alternative energy, and to favor raising taxes for the sake of social services. The majority of hip-hop and dance fans also admitted to breaking the law, whereas a mere 18 percent of the geeks who favor musicals were bald-faced criminals. (Come on, folks, I know you’ve been downloading the Drowsy Chaperone soundtrack on peer-to-peer networks.) Even listeners of the most dignified music weren’t in the clear: 12 percent of opera fans had dabbled in the magic flute ... if by “flute” you mean “mushrooms.” A full quarter of them had smoked marijuana. The investigator is hoping to expand his study, published in the journal Psychology of Music, to 10,000 people worldwide. What’s your perversion?

Take a Ride on the Wild Side
The evil helmet conspiracy has been exposed for the sham that it is. University of Bath traffic psychologist Ian Walker recently found that wearing a helmet while cycling may actually put you at risk for traffic accidents. Walker rode around on his bike using a computer and ultrasonic sensor to record how close more than 2,500 cars came as they passed by him. He found that when he wore a helmet, drivers passed almost 9 cm closer to him than they did when he was without a helmet. Walker notes that while helmets are useful in low-speed falls, we are unsure whether they offer protection to someone hit by a car. Walker also found that trucks and busses passed 19 cm and 23 cm closer than cars, respectively. Drivers also accounted for cyclists who ride like a girl. When he donned a long wig, drivers gave Walker an average of 14 cm more space.

Dildos and Dildon’ts
If you needed any more proof that masturbation is an unforgivable sin, turn to a recent Greenpeace report. While manual stimulation may harm only kittens, the use of common sex toys actually endangers your health. Greenpeace Netherlands asked a research organization to test eight sex toys, including dildos and vibrators, for toxic chemical softeners called phthalates. Seven of them were made up of between 24 percent and 51 percent phthalates. According to Greenpeace, phthalates do not easily biodegrade and can be toxic even in low doses. There does seem to be some controversy as to whether these substances are really harmful, but in 2005, the EU banned one phthalate in children’s toys because of research showing negative effects on children, such as feminizing baby boys. A recent Danish study concluded that women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should use phthalate-containing sex toys only in moderation. The Greenpeace research was prompted by Durex’s 2005 Global Sex Survey, which showed that 3 million Dutch people admit to owning sex toys.

The Union Don’t Mean Jack
Stop staying together for the kids, it’s not working. According to a recent study out of the University of Florida, girls with divorced parents do better on standardized tests than girls whose parents considered divorce but chose to stay together. The disparity in performance could be seen even four years after the divorce: Daughters of divorced parents scored an average of just over eight points higher on standardized reading and math tests than daughters of parents who filed for divorce then later asked that the case be dismissed. There were no differences between the two corresponding groups of boys—although young men had more discipline problems shortly after a divorce. Also, children with two parents who hadn’t considered divorce performed better than the other groups. Since 1996, at least eight states have considered legislation that would make it harder for parents to divorce, the head researcher said. He added that the government should focus less on inhibiting divorce proceedings and more on fostering functional relationships between parents.

Stouthearted Men
Scientists have figured out how to bring peace to Earth: Kill all the men. A recent study out of England’s University of Kent discovered that when men are given an enemy or competitor, they bond together and cooperate more than women. The scientists have labeled this the “man warrior effect.” Researchers tested 300 men and women by giving them £3 to either keep or invest in a pot that would be doubled and divided among all six members of their group equally. While both sexes generally showed cooperation, when they were told they were competing against other universities, the men roughly doubled their average contribution, while the women’s investment in the pot stayed the same. The researchers said increased male cooperation in the face of competition is likely an evolutionary trait, citing similar behavior in chimpanzees when they raid other groups of chimps. For the analogous human behavior, by the way, all this cooperation against a common enemy basically means war.

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Originally published September 18, 2006

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