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Saturday, April 27, 2013

Short Takes

A round-up of arcane facts and silly science
By Will Collette

I save up pieces on odd science and facts that might have some bearing in some remote way on Charlestown. I enjoy them and you never know when you need a topic to meet a deadline for new content on Progressive Charlestown.

I’ve to quite a backlog so it’s time to clear them out by sharing them with you.

Let’s start with…

Make it STOP!!! 

I learned a new term to describe one of life’s annoyances – “Earworm.” That’s a tune that gets stuck in your brain that you can’t get out. Among the all-time classics, “Feelings” and “Tie a Yellow Ribbon.” 

Researchers at Western Washington State University worked on trying to solve the problem of getting David Bowie’s “Changes,” anything by Frankie Vallee, Abba, Barry Manilow or Celine Dion out of your head.

They found that the most effective remedy was to try to solve a puzzle – one that wasn’t too challenging nor too easy that it would allow the song to dribble back in, but something that would engage your mind while your subconscious takes out the trash. Reading a novel can also work (but not for me).

According to WWU researcher Ira Hyman, if you are suffering from an earworm, it “means you are not using all of your cognitive resource, so there is plenty of space left for that internal jukebox to start to play.” So use it or lose it. Personally, my remedy is to crank up a Rolling Stones favorite - loud.

Welcome back, summer residents, but forget about the pie

Lots of the many part-time residents who return to Charlestown from other states come from that tax haven, bug-infested paradise called Florida. But I happened to notice a warning the Transportation Safety Administration issued to students returning from spring break: packing a key lime pie in your luggage may subject you to a big hassle going through security.

Though pies are not treated as harshly as, for example, regular sized bottles of shampoo, the TSA does warn that they are subject to additional screening. They don’t say what that means – i.e. will the TSA screener poke it full of holes, smack you in the face with it or take a sample taste. But, Kallie and John, if you’re flying back, just be forewarned.

Breaking news: don’t even think about bringing any of these with you (click here).

Are you a psychopath? 

Find out by clicking here and taking the test. I passed so there’s hope for you.

The Great Fish Rip-off

A report came out in February that showed that a lot of the seafood we buy and eat isn’t what we think it is.

As a seafood lover, this was, at first pretty alarming. But it pays to look carefully at this report to avoid over-generalizing – and overstating – the problem. For instance, if you love red snapper, which I don’t, chances are you may never have actually eaten it.’s report says that 87% of all the fish sold as red snapper, isn’t.

All varieties of tuna at 59% is the next most frequent subject for substitution. The most common substitute for white tuna (albacore) is a fish called “escolar,” which sounds a lot like the name of a Columbian drug lord, but is actually a very tasty, but different, fish that has the potentially nasty side effect of causing diarrhea in some instances. I’m not making this up.

According to the report, you are least likely to get counterfeit fish in a supermarket or fish market (only 18%) but most likely to get bogus fish for the sushi or sashimi – the study samples found 74% of their sushi samples were bogus. Squid doesn't seem to be subject to much counterfeiting.

Megan McArdle wrote in the Daily Beast that when she goes into a sushi bar, the issue for her isn’t what the fish is, but what it tastes like. She argues that restaurateurs understand that if the fish they present tastes terrible or makes people sick, that’s bad for business. She doesn’t address delayed reactions such as diarrhea from escolar, but hey, caveat emptor.

She also argues that fake fish is probably an environmentally sound practice since the substitutes are probably less rare, overfished or endangered (and thus cheaper for the seller) than the real fish. isn’t quite so libertarian. They call for more federal inspection to not only prevent fish counterfeiting but also to enhance consumer safety. And they recommend that consumers buy more whole fish, as if the average fish buyer can spot the difference.

Death to trolls. 

Tom Ferrio spotted an article on one of the banes of the internet – no, not kitten videos – but internet “trolls.” These are those anonymous creatures who inhabit the internet and pop up to slash and attack, dish out insults and look to pick fights. Science News ran a piece on the impact trolls have had on scientific discourse.

They note that trolls are now starting to appear on on-line scientific articles. Perhaps it is a reflection of the times, they say. Once science was held in high regard with a 90% approval rating. But increasingly, it has become acceptable among conservatives to hold science in contempt and to argue that climate change is a myth, that vaccines kill babies and that evolution is one of Satan’s lies. Our local trolls peddle fake science to "prove" that wind energy makes your head explode.

Or make them wear skinny jeans

In a report that will curdle just about every male’s blood, there was a recent study that showed that wearing fashionably tight “skinny jeans” can cause a painful condition called “twisted testicles” as well as urinary trait infections, weak bladder, fungal infections and even caused one poor guy to lose a gangrenous testicle. Unless you’re a troll, you should consider roomier jeans. If you ARE a troll, let me just say that the jeans you’re currently wearing make your ass look too fat, so skinny jeans are just the thing for you.