Interesting Articles: January 23rd-March 11th 2007

For all the Science News links, if the article isn't freely available online, I try to provide a link to the original article on which the Science News one is based. If you want a copy of the Science News article itself, feel free to e-mail me and I'll get you it to you.

Food and Health:
* Food smells reduce diet's life-extending benefits (Science News). An amazing result seems to demonstrate that it's not calorie restriction that extends an animal's lifespan but rather exposure to fewer smells of food. The abstract of the source article, Regulation of Drosophila lifespan by olfaction and food-derived odors (Science), is available online.
* Heating releases cookware chemicals (Science News). The evidence is mounting against non-stick pans, even when used properly (i.e., no high heat and always only heated with food in them). The most disturbing aspect of the study to me was that two of five pans leeched a chemical when simply being used to boil a liquid. The abstract of the source article, Quantitation of gas-phase perfluoroalky surfactants and fluorotelomer alcohols released from nonstick cookware and microwave popcorn bags (Environmental Science & Technology), is available online.
* A Trans Fat Substitute Might Have Health Risks Too (Science News). Food producers are thinking about substituting one non-naturally-occurring fat that's been proven to be unhealthy for another non-naturally-occurring fat for which the case hasn't (yet) been proved. hmmmm...
* Folic Acid Dilemma: One vitamin may impair cognition if another is lacking (Science News). A friendly reminder that overdoing anything is a bad thing. It's true even for vitamins: don't supplement one vitamin without increasing others in similar proportions. And this is part of the law of unintended consequences, as the vitamin in question that can have negative effects is, by law, added to grain products in the U.S. The editorial, Folic acid fortification: The good, the bad, and the puzzle of vitamin B-12 (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition), reviews the science and the situation.
* Unhappy Meals (New York Times). Decries the reductionist approach to nutrition, looking at each food item as the set of nutrients that it contains. Also filled with appropriate warnings about the power of the food industry and its lobby, and generally good advice on what to eat.

Urban Design:
* Weighing In on City Planning: Could smart urban design keep people fit and trim? (Science News). I always presumed that having more walkable cities made for healthier people. This article reminds me the science isn't so clear about the possible causal relationship.

* Big footprints (Science News). Most of the arguments I heard for being a vegetarian or vegan involve ethnics (animal cruelty) or health. This piece describes a new one: the environment. It calculates the environmental impact of livestock production, along with the agricultural requirements to feed all the livestock. It's large. The source article, Livestock's Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options (Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations), is available online.
* Longer work hours may warm climate (Science News). An unexpected though not surprising result. In short, Americans are roughly as productive as Europeans but work longer hours, meaning they use more energy, requiring more fossil fuel to be burned. The source article, Are Shorter Work Hours Good for the Environment? A Comparison of U.S. and European Energy Consumption (Center for Economic and Policy Research), is available online.

* Vice Vaccines: Scientists give a shot in the arm to the fight against smoking, drug abuse, and obesity (Science News). Vaccines for addictions. What'll they think of next?
* Counterintuitive Toxicity: Increasingly, scientists are finding that they can't predict a poison's low-dose effects (Science News). Although obvious in retrospect, it never occurred to me that small doses of poisons, radiation, etc. could have a positive effect in the same manner as vaccines.

* Open Call From the Patent Office (Washington Post). The patent office will call for public comment on patents before they're issued. It seems like a smart idea to me, helping to clean up the patent system by preventing the issuing of non-novel patents by overworked patent officials. If you don't want to read the article, listen to Marketplace's story (American Public Radio).
* Digital Fingerprints: Tiny behavioral differences can reveal your identity online (Science News). Patterns abide everywhere. It's easy to verify someone's identify. On the other hand, you have no privacy. Corollary: anonymous comments aren't really anonymous.

Science and Religion:
* Darwin’s God (New York Times). A decent though long-winded piece about the possible adaptive nature of belief in a higher power. Although it starts off slow, it's at least worth scanning through the entire piece. There's nuggets, such as the section on cognitive tools.

* The mystery of the missing mass (Science News). One subatomic particle, the phi meson, weighs less (whatever that means) when part of a nucleus than in free space. Other particles likely exhibit similar effects. I must admit I don't understand it. Judging by the Science News article, most physicists don't either: "If [it is true], 'it's a paradigm shift in the way you view nuclear structure.'" The abstract of the source article, Evidence for in-medium modification of the j Meson at normal nuclear density (Physical Review Letters), is available online.

* There's a photo I found striking. While I can't link to the Science News article that has it, I found the photo duplicated in this press release, better titled Astronomers Discover Eye of Mordor. You can download a huge (around 4000 x 4000 pixel) version of the image if you want...

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