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|The World According to Scientists|
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Stupidity is in the stars
It's official: people who take their horoscopes seriously are stupid. So too are those who worry about black cats, walking under ladders and broken mirrors, say psychologists at the University of Lander in Southern Carolina, who have discovered a strong link between superstitious belief and poor exam performance. “The results generally support the stereotype that belief in the paranormal is associated with poorer academic performance," said Michael Sonntag, who led the research. "In particular," he told The Observer, "belief in the most simple of superstitions such as black cats and the number 13 were found to be related to the lowest intelligence scores."
Trash TV boosts brain power
Watching TV before an exam is more effective than last-minute cramming, says Professor Kevin Warwick of Reading University. His study of 200 students has revealed that tuning into This Morning for 30 minutes raises one's IQ levels by six points- Last-minute revision, by contrast, causes a drop of six points. Chatting to friends and listening to classical music also had a negative effect. "Watching TV just before an exam warms up the brain without stretching it too much," Warwick told The Daily Telegraph. "The difference in the effect between those who watched a chat show and those who read or swotted could certainly account for the difference between an A grade and a B grade."
Farming is ruining the planet
Modern farming is so bad for the environment that it will soon pose as great a threat to the planet as global warming. David Tilman and his colleagues at the University of Minnesota predict that the demand for meat will grow at such a rate over the next 50 years that an area the size of the US will have to be turned over to farmland. This, they say, will probably involve the destruction of the "vast majority of rainforests and savannah grasslands in Latin American and central Africa". The increased density of livestock will inevitably make epidemics such as foot and mouth more likely, and lead to a pandemic of pollution, including fertilisers and pesticides, that could disrupt ecosystems worldwide. In developed countries, a vast amount of nitrogen applied to farms in fertilisers is already being discharged into the environment through untreated sewage. "These cattle and hog factories may contain 10,000 or more animals. They produce as much sewage as human cities," Tilman told the New Scientist. "But unlike cities, they are not obliged to treat it."
Teenagers should have messy rooms
Parents shouldn't nag their children about the state of their bedrooms. Teenagers who live in squalor are simply showing their "individuality" and demonstrating a "need for autonomy", says child psychiatrist Dr James Pease. In fact, such behaviour is so normal that any child who willingly agrees to tidy their rooms may have something wrong with them. "Psychotherapists might interpret the untidiness as emotional chaos unleashed by the struggle with separation from the parent," wrote Pease in the Psychiatric Bulletin. "Nowadays, when an adolescent is described as having a tidy bedroom, my mind starts reviewing their other symptoms to check for a developmental disorder."
Cold water saps brain power
Game-show contestants who sip water nervously may be jeopardising their chances of winning big bucks. So say psychologists at Bristol University, who have discovered that drinking water at the wrong time can impair mental performance. Volunteers were asked to rate how thirsty they were, before performing certain tests to monitor their reactions. They had either drunk nothing before, or had a glass of water chilled to 10C. Those who were thirsty at the beginning and had a drink performed 10% better than those who drank nothing. But the volunteers who had a drink even though they were not thirsty found their scores dropped by 15%. It seems that the temperature of the water may impair mental performance, said Professor Peter Rogers, who led the study. “The body has to divert resources to deal with the local cooling," he told New Scientist magazine.
The biggest number …
Mathematicians have discovered the largest prime number known to the world. The new number, expressed 213,466,917-1, contains more than four million digits and would take three weeks to write out longhand. It was discovered by a participant in a mass computer project, the Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search (Gimps), which has spent 13 years of computer time looking for the number. Prime numbers — numbers that can only be divided by themselves and one -1 fascinated mathematicians, and they play an important part in number theory. Mersenne primes have the particular form of 2p-1 where P is itself a prime number. Only 39 have been
found, the first of which are 3, 7, 31, 127
Have scientists wasted £6bn?
"It has been the most expensive detective story of all time," said The Times. For the past 30 years, thousands of scientists have spent £6bn searching for a tiny particle that holds the key to the nature of the universe. The Higgs Boson is so central to the standard model - the theory on which physicists base their whole understanding of matter - that it has been dubbed "God's particle". Two vast laboratories, CERN on the Swiss/French border, and Fermilab in Illinois, | were built to find the particle. And companies and governments funded huge research projects. But now it seems that the scientists may have been looking for the equivalent of the Holy Grail - because the Higgs Boson probably doesn’t exist. If that turns out to be true, the standard model will be thrown into disarray. Without the Higgs, there is no way of accounting for mass - and thus for the existence of stars, planets and life.
Will the woolly mammoth walk again?
A perfectly preserved woolly mammoth, found buried deep in the Arctic tundra, could be used to re-create the species, according to palaeontologist Dick Mol. The massive 23,000-year-old carcass, the first ever successfully transferred, undisturbed specimen, was airlifted in a 23-ton block of ice to a laboratory in Siberia. The scientists hope the carcass will shed light on why the mammoth, which had no known predators, became extinct. Only after months of analysis, reports The Express, will they begin work on the next phase: the attempt to produce a live animal. If the mammoth's sperm is still active, one possibility would be to create an elephant-mammoth hybrid by artificial insemination. Otherwise, the scientists will investigate the possibility of using the mammoth's DNA to create a clone. Mol has already been approached by an American firm specialising in using frozen genetic material. "They have done cloning. They know the procedure, have experimented with elephants and have elephants available," he said.
Mobile phones stop girls smoking
Smoking is falling among teenage girls -thanks to the popularity of mobile phones. Today's fashion-conscious youngsters would rather spend their money on the latest mobiles than cigarettes, says Dr Anne Charlton of Manchester University's school of epidemiology. Smoking among 15-year-old girls fell from 30% to 23% between 1996 and 1999, according to government statistics. Meanwhile, mobile phone ownership among 15-to-17-year-old girls has risen to 70%. "The mobile is an effective competitor to cigarettes in the market for products that offer teenagers adult style, individuality, sociability, rebellion and peer-group bonding," Dr Charlton told the Daily Mail. "Smoking may come to be seen as old technology."
Sex keeps you younger looking
Regular sex is the key to youthful looks, says David Weeks of the Royal Edinburgh Hospital. His study of 3,500 people aged between 18 and 102 has revealed that couples who make love three times a week look seven years younger than their less-amorous counterparts. A good sex life reduces stress, aids sleep and, in men, increases testosterone output. But all is not lost for the chaste: regular exercise has a similar effect. "The equivalent of three brisk one-mile walks a week is sufficient to help you look between five and eight years younger in middle and later years," Dr Weeks told the Daily Mail. "The major advantages arise from improved circulation, bone strength and immune system functions and a more favourable muscle-to-fat ratio in the body."
School meals can be dangerous
An obsession with "healthy eating" in British schools is making children anorexic, claims Dr Dee Dawson, medical director of Rhodes Farm Clinic in London, which treats anorexics. The Government's guidelines on healthy eating advise schools to provide chips just once a week. But Dr Dawson says poster campaigns to persuade children to ditch fatty foods in favour of salad and fruit may be doing more harm than good. "People are being led to believe that they should not eat any fat at all," Dr Dawson told the Daily Express, "whereas the fact is that children need a high-fat diet when they arc growing." Instead of focusing on diet, ministers should be encouraging children to take more exercise. PE and games are being squeezed out of the curriculum as schools concentrate on core skills such as reading and writing. As a result, up to a third of boys and 70% of girls take little or no exercise. "Only 4% of children are seriously overweight and that is almost entirely down to the fact that they are driven to school and then spend their evenings slumped in front of the TV or computer," added Dr Dawson. "It's not because they are eating too much."
Adapted from The Week
TASK 1 - pre-reading
Read the following statements in pairs/ groups, try to decipher their meaning and decide if they are true or false.
Stupidity is in the stars
TASK 2 - while-reading
Now read The World According to Scietists, which describes scientific discoveries concerning the statements you have just discussed. With your partner / partners check which of your predictions were correct
TASK 3 - post-reading
Click here and do a vocabulary matching quiz to check how well you remember some phrases or expressions from the text above.
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