A strange theory

We seem to have more reports of whale beachings and strandings than we used to. This could be because the modern world is distracting them, undersea noise perhaps.

It could also be because there are more whales around. We stopped hunting in any volume what, 50 years ago? We might this be returning to the “natural” level of strandings.

Anyone know which is the correct answer here?

What Simon Baron Cohen has been saying for ages

If you often sit on a train pondering how the rail networks are coordinated then you are more likely to be male, new research suggests.

Likewise if friends often come to you with their problems, then chances are you’re a woman.

In the biggest ever study examining differences between the sexes, scientists have concluded that women really are more empathetic while men are more analytical and logical.

Researchers at the University of Cambridge tested more than 680,000 people and found that on average women have a greater ability to recognise what another person is thinking intuitively and respond appropriately.

On the other hand men have a stronger drive to view the world through ‘rule-based systems’,…

On the other hand, given that this is Cambridge, it might actually be Baron Cohen.

Stunning scientific finding

The smell – and clothes – of a loved one could have a powerfully calming effect. So claims a study, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, which tested 96 women, who were asked to randomly smell one of three scents – a male partner’s, a stranger’s or a neutral scent. Those who caught a whiff of their partner tended to experience a reduction in stress hormones, while those forced to sniff a stranger experienced the opposite. The study suggested that sniffing a partner’s used clothing had a calming effect.

Does this work for men, too? The psychotherapist and psychologist Peter Klein says not so much: “You often hear of a woman wearing partner’s T-shirt, but you rarely hear of a man wearing his girlfriend’s T-shirt! Research suggests women have a better developed sense of smell and men are more visually stimulated, so men would be more likely to experience stress reduction through seeing their partner’s clothing.”

He adds: “How close a woman feels towards her male partner – how much oxytocin she experiences when she’s with them or how happy she is in the relationship – will also affect how comforting she finds smelling the clothing.”

What makes you happy makes you happy.

True dat.

Something I’d not thought about

So, bigger people. Are they bigger because they have more cells? Or because their cells are bigger? Never thought about it before until I saw this:

Taller people have a greater risk of cancer because they are bigger and so have more cells in their bodies in which dangerous mutations can occur, new research has suggested.

So, that answers that question then.

Thinking it through, it needs to be that way too, doesn’t it? Things like, umm, sciencey words and insert the right ones here, osmosis, that sorta stuff, depend crucially upon size don’t they? Surface area to volume ‘n’ stuff? So it’s got to be more, not bigger, right?

And think if it were the other way. You’d be able to tell how tall someone was from the cell size in some dandruff, which would make cop shows rather different…..in this reality you can only do that by looking at the bruising from how far it has fallen.

This is a surprise, isn’t it

Mothers who give birth using donor eggs do not have the same connection with their babies as women who use their own eggs, a new study suggests.

Men who have children by AI might also have some similarly subtle difference. Anyone tested it yet?

For cuckolds do tend to have a different reaction. And all for the same reason of course.


Sir Gregory is currently the Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, which has now has produced 33 Nobel Prize winners — three more than Sweden. If it were a country, it would be ranked just after France, at number five in the rankings.

I’m extremely, extremely, doubtful about this.

Perhaps BiG, who has some expertise in this area – genes and DNA and stuff, not child abuse – could educate us all:

Childhood sexual abuse may leave “molecular scars” on a victim’s DNA which could one day be used as evidence in court, scientists have said.

A new study found similar alterations in the activity of genes among men who had been abused in childhood.

Researchers at Harvard and the University of British Columbia (UBC) believe the discovery of the differences in a process called methylation between those who had been abused and those who had not could pave the way for a genetic test to indicate whether abuse took place.

Methylation acts as a “dimmer switch” on genes, affecting the extent a particular genes is activated or not.

Published in the journal Translational Psychiatry, the study found a distinct methylation difference between victims and non-victims in 12 regions of the men’s genomes.

In eight DNA regions, the genes of victims were dimmed by more than 10 per cent compared to non victims, and in one region the difference was 29 per cent.

Objective tests about such abuse all too often turn out not to be objective.

The team was also trying to establish the extent to which changes in gene expression as a result of life experience are passed on to the next generation.

Very close indeed to Lamarckism, isn’t it? And if it were so to any great extent then why didn’t New Soviet Man turn up?

So, encourage the nuclear family then

The number of “lonely” over 50-year-olds is set to hit two million within seven years, Age UK has warned.

The charity said that the growing population of older people means more of them are going to be lonely and isolated in the future.

The figures came as a separate report showed that thousands of roles in the adult social care sector were left unfilled.

Hmm, what’s that? Why reverse course on half a century of killing the nuclear family you say?

Well, possibly because humans don’t do very well without that nuclear family? There being a reason we’re likely descended from those who were in one?

No, not really

Heavy metal fans have evolved to communicate with each other like remote tribes in Papua New Guinea, a study by UCL anthropologists has found.

They have rules for behaviour in the front-of-stage “mosh pit” that are passed down by “elders”, there are gift-sharing rituals at concerts and dark cathartic music, which mirror rites among Papuan tribes that have changed little in 40,000 years.

Lindsay Bishop, a researcher, has spent 10 years studying heavy metal, the loud, pounding style of music that has grown from early followers of the band Black Sabbath in Birmingham into a worldwide culture with millions of fans in almost every country.

Human beings communicate like human beings. Pass on unwritten knowledge as we do. Precise and specific forms might mimic each other across willy different cultures. But the underlying parts are, well, umm, human, thus universal among humans. Passing on the details of the culture from older to younger? The Opies showed playgrounds have been doing this for centuries, no?

What correlates with religion then?

For it could of course be the correlates which drive this effect:

Pupils raised in religious homes are more likely to succeed, regardless of whether they went to faith school or not, a study has found.

Research by the UCL Institute of Education found that pupils from Catholic and Church of England families did well because of their upbringing, not because of their school.

At best, researchers found, attending a religious school was associated with better results at O-Level, but did not affect how well the pupils did at A-Level or university.

For a cohort born in 1970 they analysed pupils’ religious upbringing and the school they went to and found that while Christian pupils at Church of England and Catholic schools did better, this became statistically insignificant when the positive impact of their religious upbringing was factored in.

And they’re right in part at least, it could be correlates:

“The much-vaunted ‘Catholic school effect’ was mostly explained by the fact that Catholic school pupils were usually from Catholic homes.”

The paper suggests that stricter parenting, the protective influence of being part of a faith community, or for Catholics, being of Irish immigrant heritage, could be behind the advantage.

“It is well established that immigrant and ethnic minority groups manifest high rates of educational persistence, staying on in further and higher education at higher rates than ethnic majority peers with similar levels of prior attainment,” the study argues.

Professor Sullivan added: “We can speculate that the academic advantage of a religious upbringing at home may be due to cultural differences, such as differences in parenting practices and attitudes to education, as well as to religious belief or practice itself.

“For example British Catholics at this time were often of Irish or European origin, bringing different cultural norms to those raised in other faiths, or none.”

Not that it would be PC to do this but it could be that a greater propensity to maintain the nuclear family has some sort of effect. You know, maybe? But think on the difficulty of getting that result published….

There is an explanation for the perfume industry you know

As well as that war of the sexes:

Women who smell nice are more likely to be fertile, study finds

Well, no.

Women who smell attractive to men are more likely to be highly fertile, scientists have found.

A new study revealed a close correlation between feminine odours that male participants judged pleasant and hormone combinations that indicate a good chance of getting pregnant.

Previous research has identified a link between perceived facial and bodily attractiveness in women and hormones relating to fertility.

But the new experiment, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, is the first of its kind to indicate that the link also exists for smell.

Men find the smell of a woman who is fertile attractive. As they find the looks that indicate fertility such. Gt to get these things the right way around.

As to the war bit, humans have concealed fertility. But not entirely 100%, because there’s that competition bit about whether the male can sniff it out, that cycle, or not……

That nature bit before the nurture kicks in

Parents often describe young children as little monkeys, but now scientists have confirmed that toddlers are “just tiny apes” sharing 96 per cent of the same gestures.

Researchers at the University of St Andrews in Scotland have discovered that before children learn how to talk, they use a range of hand and body movements to communicate in the same way as chimpanzees and gorillas.

The study, published in Animal Cognition, found children aged one and two-years-old using 52 gestures including head shaking, poking, stomping, hitting themselves and throwing objects.

And they discovered that 50 of those movements are also shared with apes, suggesting they may have been used for millions of years in…

Well, guess so really. Partly it’s roughly the same body parts in roughly the same arrangements, communication by movement isn’t going to differ that much.

But we share more than 96% of our DNA, so that nature part should be quite similar, no?

How does this work then?

Hedgehogs are disappearing form the British countryside because they are being devoured by badgers, a study has found.

Researchers said the mammals, which are increasingly having to move to urban areas, are now present in just a fifth of the countryside.

Regular destruction of habitat with heavy agricultural machinery – as well as the use of pesticides in intensive farming – is also said to be wiping out the worms, beetles, slugs, caterpillars, earwigs and millipedes it feeds on.

Badgers aren’t exactly new in Britain now, are they? So it’s unlikely they’re the cause of any significant population change…..

Interesting from a science blogger

I believe, like many, that we are living through a dangerous era of untruth, one that will be recognised in the history books as a dark blight on our civilisation. Fascists, charlatans and propagandists are as old as time, but never before have they been mobilised with today’s powerful tools, which can coalesce forces globally and amplify messages in a flash. Ne’er-do-wells formerly had their village pub, their back-alley rendezvous, their circus stall – an influence confined by geography to a small canker. Newspapers reached more widely, but still they were binned each evening to yellow with irrelevance. Even the terrible dictators of the past who managed large-scale atrocities were constrained by the limitations of an internet-free world.

Now, it’s a free-for-all, and we’ve all witnessed the shocking spread of lies and the way their sheer frequency has numbed us into impotence. Any one of Donald Trump’s dodgy dealings would have brought down any other president, but the creeping paralysis of untruth-overload has de-sensitised the population to his many scandals as effectively as “aversion therapy”– as when an arachnophobe is thrown into a pit with a thousand spiders and soon cured. Even definitive proof that the Russians have been meddling in the elections of Western states and sowing general discontent via social media has met with a collective shrug from the inured populace – while individuals might get riled up, each bit of fake news is just another defused spider to the collected whole.

So it’s science to buy the Democratic campaign that Hills didn’t lose the election, it must have been stolen from her?

No, this isn’t how it works

Beluga whales and narwhals go through the menopause – taking the total number of species known to experience this to five.

Along with humans, killer whales and short-finned pilot whales were the only others previously known to experience the ‘change’ with most species being able to continue to reproduce until they die.

The study used data from the dead whales of 16 species and found dormant ovaries in older beluga and narwhal females.

The researchers believe they go through the menopause to prevent resources being taken away from their other children and grandchildren, but stay alive to help protect the younger pod members.

Nothing evolutionary like the menopause (or, to remain with female sexual oddities like tits, the female orgasm in humans and so on) is because “taking care of younger pod members” or anything like it. It’s always, but always, because the population is descended from those who carried the genes for those things, menopause, tits and so on. Those attributes led to more children surviving to have children, thus the genes spread.

It might well be that the post-menopausal whales do those things, that they’re beneficial to the survival of their genes down the generations, but it’s still not because nor in order to. It just happened than then the environment sorted through whether it led to that greater long term progeny production.

Compare and contrast

Such issues are again making headlines following last week’s remarks by the astronaut Tim Peake, who said he thought the universe could be the result of divine creation. “I’m not religious [but] it doesn’t necessarily mean that I don’t seriously consider that the universe could have been created from intelligent design,” he said.

That the universe could have been? Not that I think well ever find out but it’s possible. That “Let there be light” and the setting of the basic equations and off we go.

These views are mild but will nevertheless be seized on by those determined to see the handiwork of God everywhere they look, from the shapes of bananas to the colour of the sky, a habit that is more common in the US than the UK. And for that we Britons should be grateful, for intelligent design is not just wrong; the idea is misguided and intellectually rotten, a point best illustrated in the study of our own bodies – and in particular our eyes.

Creationists say natural selection cannot explain the wonders and complexity of the eye. It must have been designed by a divine entity, they claim. How else can you explain how it co-ordinates the behaviour of each of its 125m photoreceptor cells to provide us with vision that has colour and depth? It is too complex to have evolved through random, physiological changes, they say.

Yes, yes, we know about eyes. But that’s not what Peake said, is it? He didn’t say “intelligent design” which is the code for God made the details of humans according to Genesis.

Robin McKie is the Observer’s science editor

Even just a journalist about science should know that you on’t disprove one claim by disproving another….

The terms of the Drake Equation seem to be changing

The chances of finding alien organisms have been boosted by the discovery of hundreds of “water worlds” capable of supporting life.

New analysis by Harvard University estimates that one in three “exoplanets” outside our solar system that are larger than Earth are likely to contain an abundance of water.

The scientists say the planets that are two to four times bigger than Earth that have the best chance of supporting life.

Not that this changes the basic problem with alien – or indeed time travelling – life. If such exists, then where in buggery are they?