December 24, 2010 | David F. Coppedge

Christmas Stocking

Christmas is upon us, and then the new year.  Many interesting news stories have come prancing from the roof with too little time to unwrap them.  We leave them hanging on the mantle, with our astute readers able to pick the fresh oranges from the fruitcakes, the hot picks from the lumps of coal.

  1. Morality:  You’d never guess that couples that wait for sex till after marriage have more benefits later.  PhysOrg seemed surprised.
  2. Morality:  People lie to manage communications, PhysOrg claims, but then can you trust their reporters?
  3. Anthropology:  A chilling site of child sacrifice has been found at an archaeological site in Peru, reported National Geographic.
  4. Anthropology:  Claiming that “Shopping Differences Between Sexes Show Evolution at Work” seems overboard, even for a Science Daily holiday prank, which the editors apparently took seriously.
  5. Mammals:  National Geographic got all excited about chimpanzees playing with sticks as if they were dolls.  OK, so?
  6. Origin of Life:  National Geographic also got excited about “life ingredients” in a superhot meteorite.  Like what, charcoal?
  7. Evolution:  by heat shock?  You figure out what Science Daily is saying.
  8. Biomimetics:  A prototype solar device has been unveiled which mimics plant life, said BBC News.
  9. Biomimetics:  Make like a trilobite eye and get the thinnest camera ever, New Scientist says.
  10. Solar System:  The reality of Rhea is coming to light from Cassini’s latest flyby, reported JPL, and it’s got the blues and a surprising oxygen and carbon dioxide atmosphere, reported Science.
  11. Solar System:  Speaking of Cassini, dramatic new images of the geysers of Enceladus were also posted by JPL from its 13th flyby on Dec. 20.  If you look quickly, the Cassini website is temporarily decorated for Christmas.
  12. Solar System:  Before leaving the Saturn system, said Titan’s southern lake is very shallow and virtually flat, holding far less liquid than hoped.  And the best hope for an ice volcano was reported by BBC News.  In its coverage, National Geographic couldn’t resist teasing with the L-word.
  13. Atmospheric Science:  If biting winters are caused by global warming, as PhysOrg claims, when does the warming arrive?
  14. Mind and Brain:  Placebos work, even when you know they are fake.  That was a surprise reported by PhysOrg.
  15. Sociology:  PhysOrg is all worried about how the Muslims are coping with the aftermath of 9/11.  How about the rest of us?
  16. Geology:  Israeli scientists are digging cores in the south end of the Dead Sea looking for evidence of earthquakes and climate change, reported Science Daily.
  17. Health:  For those needing tissue reconstruction, there’s a good source of stem cells: fat.  See PhysOrg.
  18. Health:  Many cancer cells carry an “eat me” signal, said PhysOrg.
  19. Physiology:  There appears to be an optimum temperature for keeping fungi away and yet not running so hot as to have to eat constantly.  That temperature is – sound familiar? – 98.6°F.  Read about it on Science Daily.
  20. Early man:  Science Daily summarized a paper from Science that alleges a previously unknown human relative that interbred with us, but aren’t they making a big deal out of a finger bone?

For a merry Christmas memory, look at this: PhysOrg posted the original broadcast of Apollo 8’s Christmas message from the moon.  It’s worth hearing again.

These are just a few of the recent stories that could have earned in-depth reporting and analysis.  Come back when the calendar turns the page into 2011.  The need for critical thinking about science news has never been greater.  In the meantime, may the message of Christmas send light into a dark, lost world.

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Categories: Amazing Facts, Dumb Ideas

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