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Archive for December, 2010

When Do Students At My University Drink Most?

December 31, 2010 Leave a comment

The University of western Ontario

A study published in the Journal of American College Health did a study of 415 students at a “large University in Southwestern, Ontario, Canada”. Which, of course, means the University of Western Ontario.

What did the results show?

Findings indicated that alcohol consumption varies considerably as a function of time of the academic year. Overall trends indicate that students drink more heavily at the beginning of each semester and less during exam periods. Daily patterns indicate that most drinking occurs on weekends. The highest drinking days in the first academic year included Halloween, New Year’s Eve, and St. Patrick’s Day.

Surprising? No. Nostalgic? Yes.

Happy New Year’s Western!

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An Actual (kind of…) Immaculate Conception

December 30, 2010 Leave a comment

Discoblog has released their top 10 weirdest science stories of the year, and number 1 is also one of my favourites.

It is a case report from the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, entitled:

“Oral conception. Impregnation via the proximal gastrointestinal tract in a patient with an aplastic distal vagina. Case report.”

They have the full text on their blog here, but I will summarize.

A 15-year old girl is admitted to hospital with a stab wound to the abdomen, received during a knife fight between her ex-boyfriend and her new boyfriend. She was treated and released a few days later.

278 days after the incident, she came back to the hospital with severe abdominal pain. Turns out she was pregnant. However…

Inspection of the vulva showed no vagina, only a shallow skin dimple was present below the external urethral meatus and between the labia minora. An emergency lower segment caesarean section was performed under spinal anaesthesia and a live male infant weighing 2800 g was born

So the girl had no vagina. So how did she get pregnant?

Just before she was stabbed in the abdomen she had practised fellatio with her new boyfriend and was caught in the act by her former lover. The fight with knives ensued. She had never had a period and there was no trace of lochia after the caesarean section…

A plausible explanation for this pregnancy is that spermatozoa gained access to the reproductive organs via the injured gastrointestinal tract.

Yes, you read that right. She went down on her boyfriend, got stabbed, and the sperm went from her stomach into her reproductive system.

If that’s not miraculous, I don’t know what is. Although the author of the case study does say that

The fact that the son resembled the father excludes an even more miraculous conception.

A Remote that Shatters Glass

December 30, 2010 Leave a comment

Wish I got that for Christmas…

Invented by Giuseppe Longobardi, a researcher at IBM in Castellammare di Stabia, Italy, the device would allow a pane of glass to be destroyed with the touch of a button.

The device has recently been patented (“Method and apparatus for remotely activating destruction of a glass window” US Patent #7806310) and could be used instead of a hammer to break emergency glass, or by film studios for special effects.

Image: US Patent and Trademark Office

The device works by using a physical principle called “resonance“. Based on its shape and size, objects will store vibrational energy at a certain resonant frequency. In this way, even small driving forces can create large vibrational amplitudes in the material. In English that means that if you move the object at its resonant frequency, even just a little bit, it “likes” to move at that frequency and will keep doing it.

The remote would be tuned to the resonant frequency of the particular pane of glass in question. When activated, the remote would generate small acoustic signal at that frequency, causing the pane of glass to respond by also vibrating at that frequency. Eventually, enough energy is built up that the glass vibrates at such a large amplitude that it shatters, much like an opera singer shattering glass using their voice.

Physics Christmas Carols

December 24, 2010 Leave a comment

Continuing with the Christmas theme of recent posts, I stumbled upon this awesome little collection of Christmas Carols re-written with physics-related lyrics. Pure gold!

My favourite: Phrosty the Photon (sung to Frosty the Snowman)

Phrosty the Photon was quite a quantum sight,

with a zero mass and an endless life,

and a speed approaching light.

There must have been some magic in a physics lab one year,

for when they studied X-ray beams

ole Phrosty did appear, Ohhhhhh,

Phrosty the Photon says he knows he’s not that large,

but he said one day if he comes this way,

he’ll give us all a charge.

Thumpity thump thump, thumpity thump thump, moving fast as light.

Thumpity thump thump thumpity thump thump, Phrosty’s out of sight!!

Do Cell Phone Towers Make Women Pregnant?

December 23, 2010 3 comments

A Typical Cell Phone Tower, via Wikimedia Commons.

That is what the data is showing.

Using publically available data on the birth rates of communities, Matt Parker, who writes for The Guardian, did an analysis of the data and found this remarkable correlation. On average, there were 17.6 more babies born above the national average in the area around a cell phone tower.

So are cell phone towers actually causing women to get pregnant?

No.

And that’s the point.

On his blog, Parker is trying to make the point that correlation does not equal causation, which is almost a mantra for skeptics. Recent hysteria regarding WiFi and Cell phones has prompted many skeptics (including yours truly) to blog on the subject and express their displeasure. Not only with the quack “scientists” promoting this idea, but also with the media for callously reporting on it without proper research, only furthering the spread of misinformation.

Parker says,

There is no causal link between the masts and the births despite the strong correlation. Both the number of mobile phone transmitters and the number of live births are linked to a third, independent factor: the local population size. As the population of an area goes up, so do both the number of mobile phone users and the number people giving birth.

This is what is known as an observational study. The study is not performed in a lab where variables can be controlled. It is performed by observing the real world and attempting to make sense of the data.

As you can see, it is quite easy to come to a false conclusion despite good data. Accounting for all variables in such a study is extremely difficult, and sometimes damn near impossible. Firm conclusions on a topic should never be drawn based solely on a study of this type.

It should go without saying, but there is no credible evidence linking wireless internet or cell phone use to health problems. This is junk science promoted by junk scientists, and spread through the naive media who care more about ratings and readers than reporting truth.

I really like that someone took the time to get make this point using real data. Hopefully, this will get as many headlines as stories about cell phones causing cancer do.

A Star Wars Christmas Special That’s Actually Good!

December 23, 2010 Leave a comment

“Obi-Wan already has a brown Snuggie!”

I’m Sick of these Mother F#@!in’ Germs on this Mother F#@!in’ Plane!

December 23, 2010 1 comment

Via Wikimedia Commons

I’m sitting in the airport, patiently waiting for my flight home to board. Its late, I’m tired, and I just want to go home.

To pass the time, I decided to catch up on my news reading. So I open up Google Reader and one article jumps out at me for some reason:

6 Places Germs Breed in a Plane

Thanks CNN, like THATS what I need to see right now.

At least they admit in their opening paragraph that they are just trying to score readership by scaring as many weary travellers as possible.

We dug deep to identify the major germ zones on planes (and tips to avoid them). No, you’re not likely to contract meningitis, but better safe than sorry, right?

The article goes on to identify certain “hot zones” to watch out for germs (the lavatory is one, surprise!), and what kind of deadly viruses they may carry (i.e. the flu, and a “superbug”! Booooo!)

Ok, maybe its the skepticism in me, maybe its the sleep deprivation. But seriously, is anyone buying this?

The truth is that ANY high traffic area will contain germs. Every single one. The bus I took here had some. My workplace had some. YOUR workplace had some.

So does writing an article like this help us at all? I would argue no. As long as you practice good hygiene and common sense (get your flu shot!), you are no more at risk of catching anything on a plane than you are at any other public place.

So shame on you CNN for trying to scare innocent holiday travellers like myself just to drum up readership.

But you know what? I’m gonna forgive you. Why? Partly because its Christmas, but also because I know it will happen again and I’m just gonna have to deal.

Could you pass the hand sanitizer?