2021 has been a wild year for science. From high school students discovering exoplanets to an actual helicopter flying on actual Mars, there have been some pretty major discoveries and achievements.
And then, there were some weird ones.
This eBook will recap the weirder stuff you may have missed while watching billionaires race for space, in what turned out to be an insane year for science, plus a few of the most out-there facts we learned during this strange old year.
Weird new things
Wombats poop perfect cubes, and we finally know why
Here's something that would be distressing to wombats, were they ever to develop the brain capacity to really think it through: they are the only species that poop near-perfect cubes.
It's long been thought that the dice-shaped poops help wombats mark their territory, by making them less likely to roll away down steep hillsides around their habitat.
However, a study published in January unveiled the secrets of wombat turds. The semi-liquid fecal matter is solidified within the last 8 percent of the intestine thanks to alternating rigid and flexible sections of the intestine wall.
The researchers behind the study think that this poop-molding process could inspire new ways to manufacture non-poop-comprised cubes in an industrial setting.
The average human is fatter than an elephant
A study fed captive Asian elephants bread soaked in heavy water, containing an isotope of hydrogen called deuterium to use as a tracer. They then collected blood samples from the elephants, and by subtracting the amount of the water in their blood from their total body weight, they were able to figure out fat levels. On average, males’ fat was between 8.5 and 10 percent, with females carrying even less weight.
Average, healthy humans have between 6 and 30 percent body fat. You are likely fatter than an elephant.
When cannabis is legalized, cookie and ice-cream sales go up
Yes, this may seem obvious, but we now have real-world, large-scale data proof of the munchies.
The researchers took retail scanner data on purchases of high-calorie food, using differences in the timing of the introduction of recreational cannabis use laws across different states in the US in order to measure the effects of legalization on sales.
"In [Recreational Marijuana Legalization] RML states monthly sales of junk food increased by 3.2 percent and 4.5 percent when measured by volume," the team wrote in their study. "Specifically, in counties located in RML states, monthly sales of high-calorie food increased by 3.1 percent for ice cream, 4.1 for cookies, and 5.3 percent for chips."
Weird thing we learned
Giant humans can never exist
After a conspiracy theory went around that the Vatican was covering up the existence of giant humans (no, really) we looked into the idea, and bad news folks: Giant 24-meter (80-foot) tall humans are not possible.
It's all because of the square-cube law, stating that as the size of any object grows (be it a cube or an accountant) its volume grows faster than its surface area. The area grows in proportion to the square of your size, whereas your volume scales up in proportion to the cube of your size.
So as you scale up humans, our volume dramatically increases in proportion to our size, while the cross-section of our muscles and bones are squared. Say you are 180 meters (60 feet) tall – 10 times the height of a 6-foot tall person – your body would have to support 100 times the volume.
A cubic inch of bone can support 8,600 kilograms (19,000 pounds), which is a lot, but at 180 meters (60 feet) tall it would need to support well over 250,047 kilograms (assuming we're scaling up a 63 kilogram or 10 stone person, the average weight for a human).
Essentially, if you got big enough to make the Vatican want to cover up your bones, your bones would have crumbled into dust because of your own weight long before that point.
February was the month that NASA put the Perseverance Rover on the surface of Mars and strange new lifeforms were found underneath Antarctica, so it was hard to get a look in if you were news such as:
How you play the Sims may indicate if you have psychopathic traits.
Bad news, literally everyone who has played (and tortured) The Sims: How you play the game may indicate if you have psychopathic traits.
In 2015, a study showed that people with higher levels of psychopathic traits tended to use more mean behaviors and fewer friendly interactions while playing The Sims 3.
In a 2021 study, published in the journal Evolutionary Psychological Science, researchers from Lakehead University, Canada used the same game to delve further into how people with psychopathic traits view and interact with others.
The team was interested in studying the Cheater-Hawk Hypothesis of psychopathy, which suggests that psychopathic traits may have evolved as a way of gaining resources through cheating behavior (exploiting the cooperation of others) and hawkish behavior (defined as using aggression to their own ends). They classify psychopathic traits as manipulativeness, deceptiveness, and lack of empathy or remorse as well as irresponsibility and antisocial and aggressive behaviors.
They also wanted to look at how people with psychopathic traits interacted with other personality types. To do so, they set up a household of Sims that all looked the same – bar hair and shirt color – but with different personality traits, which could be manipulated during character selection.
"The four characters were created with personality traits that would reflect the cheater (deceptive, sneaky, charming), hawk (aggressive, rude, mean), dove (submissive, nervous, shy), and cooperator (nice, trusting, cooperative)," the team wrote in their study.
Participants were asked to make a character to reflect themselves, who was then placed in the house with the other AI-controlled characters. The 205 participants were then asked to have their character interact with the other characters around them.
The interactions with all of the characters were recorded and quantified, while participants were also asked to complete an assessment of psychopathic traits. As the team expected, people who displayed higher levels of psychopathic traits were more likely to show aggressive and unprovoked mean behaviors towards other characters, as well as have fewer "friendly, funny and charming" interactions. This was particularly true of male participants with higher levels of psychopathic traits.
Breaking down the results further, they found that psychopaths were more likely to engage in aggressive and mean behavior towards those characters who showed fewer signs of aggressive behaviors.
"Our findings may suggest that psychopathic individuals view the absence of aggressive behaviors as an indicator of weakness and are prepared to exploit or aggress against individuals who show this kind of weakness," the researchers wrote.
A lion cub named Simba was born using semen extracted by the electro-ejaculation process which killed his father, named Mufasa
Now to the somewhat NSFW part of the story that differs quite a lot from the version of The Lion King that we know and love. A real lion cub named Simba's father, named Mufasa, was an elderly lion when his semen was extracted.
His aggressive nature had prevented any successful pairings with a female during his lifetime. As such, he had sired no offspring, and the zoo he resided at decided to extract his semen using the process of electro-ejaculation.
The process is adapted from animal to animal, and even occasionally takes place in humans. The principle across large mammals is essentially the same, however, in that you insert the device into the rectum of the animal you want semen from, with a sheath over the animal's penis for collection.
"Insert the lubricated probe completely in the animal’s rectum with the electrodes oriented ventrally (towards the front, underside)," a manual for the AC-1 Electrojaculator reads. "In a rhythmic motion, stimulate the animal by turning the power knob clockwise, pause, return to zero and pause. Some movement of the rear legs will occur during stimulation."
The device stimulates the animal in 2-3 second bursts, repeating over several minutes. If no result is obtained, it may be tried again with a higher voltage. The manual notes:
"Electroejaculation of an animal demands skill. It is not simply a matter of punching buttons and turning knobs, but requires finesse to find the proper timing and voltage to apply."
Some animals, such as especially aggressive lions, may be placed under sedation for the procedure, as was the case for Mufasa. Sadly, due to his age (20) and deteriorating health, he did not survive the electro-ejaculation procedure and was not revived afterward.
Weird thing we learned this month
A Nobel prize-winner spiked his own food with radioactive material, in order to prove his landlady was serving old meat
Hungarian radiochemist George de Hevesy will likely be the only person who has both won a Nobel Prize and melted two others in acid.
Born in 1885, he found himself working in a lab in Nazi-occupied Denmark during World War II when the unusual incident took place.
"My work was interrupted for only one day during the enemy occupation of Denmark," he wrote in typically understated language, as if the Nazis were mainly a bit of an annoyance.
"When, on the morning of Denmark's occupation, I arrived in the laboratory, I found Bohr worrying about Max von Laue's Nobel medal, which Laue had sent to Copenhagen for safe-keeping. In Hitler's empire it was almost a capital offence to send gold out of the country, and, Laue's name being engraved into the medal, the discovery of this by the invading forces would have had very serious consequences for him."
Hevesy suggested burying the medal, but his colleague worried that even then it might be found. He decided instead to dissolve it in acid.
"While the invading forces marched in the streets of Copenhagen, I was busy dissolving Laue's and also James Frank's medals. After the war, the gold was recovered and the Nobel Foundation generously presented Laue and Franck with new Nobel medals."
Hevesy would win his own Nobel Prize in 1944 for "his work on the use of isotopes as tracers in the study of chemical processes". As well as this, he did some interesting personal experiments. Rewind 33 years and Hevesy may have performed the first tagging experiment in scientific history, using radioactive material.
In 1911, Hevesy was staying in Manchester at a boarding house along with physicist Ernest Rutherford. He suspected that the landlady had been recycling food right off of their own plates, serving it back to them days later within new meals. What she was calling fresh goulash and hash, he believed were last week's scraps.
At first, Hevesy gently confronted her on the topic, suggesting that it might be nice to have some fresh food for a change. She told him that all the food that she served was absolutely fresh. At this point, he escalated the issue somewhat by spiking his own food with radioactive material.
Hevesy took a piece of meat from his plate and added some radioactive material, before letting the landlady take the plate away. A few days later, he returned to the meal table, this time carrying an electroscope, as a scientist always does when they mean business.
Using the electroscope, he proved that the hash she had served up was radioactive. Unless she had her own nuclear secret going on in the kitchen, which is arguably worse, she was conclusively taking food from their plates and serving it back to them days later.
Unfortunately, Hevesy did not write up his study, and so cannot claim that he was the first to do a tagging experiment – but I'll bet his meat from then on was fresh.
Weird new things
There's a species of sea slug that can regrow an entire body on their old head
If you're out there thinking slugs are boring – even more so than snails, who at least have the decency to carry their house on their back – you probably haven't witnessed one regrow an entire new body from their old head.
While studying the developmental stages of sea slugs, PhD candidate Sakaya Mitoh of Nara Women’s University in Japan noticed that a severed head of one sea slug was moving. She assumed it would die soon, and left it. Later she returned, and, to some surprise, discovered it had regrown a new body.
Making more observations, Mitoh and her team realized they were self-decapitating – sort of ejecting their own head from their body. It's not yet clear why they do this, though it could be a drastic means of getting rid of a body that has been infected by a parasite.
A TikTokker picked up the world's most venomous octopus while on holiday in Bali
The blue-ringed octopus is filled with enough venom to kill 26 adult humans within minutes.
Their bites are tiny and often painless, and many don't notice they've been bitten until respiratory depression and paralysis kick in. People who have received a dose of tetrodotoxin can be fully aware of their surroundings, but unable to move, and with no way of signaling for help.
There is no antivenom to its bite. However, if you’re hooked up to a ventilator to breathe for you for 15 hours, the effects of tetrodotoxin will wear off and you will survive with no side effects.
The blue-ringed octopus also looks really, really pretty. It was this that tricked a TikTokker into picking one up this March, not realizing how much danger she was in.
Particularly concerning (though she didn't know it at the time) was how the animal's bright blue ring patterns could be seen, something only happened when the animal is stressed, and could possibly use their deadly defense mechanism. She survived, and went on to pick up a second octopus before everyone on the Internet pointed out how deadly they were.
Weird old things we learned this month
The story of how Europeans learned where birds go for the winter
For centuries, people in Europe didn't really know where birds went during winter. It's not their fault, they had a lot on that kept them from investigating the disappearance of other species. It's hard to focus on "where did bird go?" when you're working on your main task of dying of the plague.
The main theory, which went all the way back to Aristotle and ancient Greece, was that birds hibernated during the winter and that summer redstarts turned themselves into winter robins for the colder months, while garden warblers turn into blackcap warblers. As outlandish as these theories were, it was somehow better than other theories, such as that of 17th-century English scientist Charles Morton, who believed that they flew to the Moon for winter, flying for 60 days at 201 kilometers per hour (125 miles per hour). To be fair to him, why bother going to the trouble of finding out things through empiricism in a century where you can merely say "whither should these creatures go, unless it were to the Moon?" and still retain your position as a respected man of science.
Weirder still was the notion – referenced in Homer's Iliad and later discussed as established fact by Pliny the Elder – that every year, cranes would fly south to continue their ongoing war with "pygmies", after a nice long break from the violence. Pliny wrote that the "pygmies" would ride out on sheep to attack the cranes and eat their eggs, in order to keep the population down, while the cranes would attack them back in their vicious war.
This is all to say that Europe was flailing pretty badly in regards to the mystery of where birds go when they leave during the colder months.
But then an explanation fell from the sky. With a massive spear right through its neck.
In 1822, near the German village of Klütz, a white stork was spotted with a 76 centimeter (30 inch) -long explanation going right through its neck in the form of a spear. The spear was found to be made of African wood, confirming that the stork had managed to fly 3,200 kilometers (2,000 miles) to Africa for the winter before making the immense return journey to Germany, where it was promptly killed and stuffed.
Further storks with spears through them have been found, which the Germans have christened Pfeilstorch or "arrow stork".
Though it's probably of little consolation to a bird that was severely injured then made an epic journey only to be executed upon arrival, it proved a minor theory of the time about migration, putting to bed the frankly baffling ideas that they merely morphed into other birds for the new season.
Weird new things we learned this month
A mysterious earthquake in New Hampshire was triggered by a gender reveal party
Revealing the sex of a baby is one of those things that you just presume doesn't have a fatality rate, but that has changed in recent years with the advent of the gender reveal party. This year, there have been at least four deaths so far, putting them on par with shark attacks in terms of risk of death.
In years gone by, people would find out the sex of their baby when the doctor, midwife, or birth assistant had a quick glance at the genitals as the baby slides out. A few days ago, the family and friends of one family learned the sex of an unborn child in an explosion that triggered an earthquake that could be felt a full 32 kilometers (20 miles) away, according to police.
Residents in a number of towns in New Hampshire reported a mysterious earthquake at around 7pm on April 20, shaking homes and cracking foundations.
“We heard this god-awful blast,” one person told NBC Boston. “It knocked pictures off our walls.”
Meteorologists reported no earthquakes around the time, but authorities tracked down the source of the shaking earth and loud explosion: people announcing their kid was a boy. The gender reveal party took place in a quarry operated by Torromeo Industries, Inc in Kingston, New Hampshire, where the gathered set about announcing their child would be born with male genitalia through the medium of detonating some Tannerite.
“A Kingston Police Detective met with the individuals that were on site, who cooperated with the detective and informed him that they were having a gender reveal party,” police said in a statement seen by the Boston Globe. “During the investigation, the detective was informed that the location, a quarry, was chosen as they felt it was a safe location to detonate the Tannerite.”
Police confirmed to NBC Boston that they were investigating potential property damage that could lead to charges and that the child was a boy. This was denoted in the explosion by the inclusion of blue chalk.
People called animal control on what turned out to be a croissant
Residents in Krakow, Poland, locked their windows when they saw a sort of strange brown creature lurking in one of their trees over the course of several days.
They weren't sure what the creature was, but suspected it was some sort of lizard, perhaps an escaped pet, and rang animal control. When they showed up, it soon became clear it was a croissant.
A man threw coins into a jet engine for luck, ended up grounding his flight
There are plenty of safe ways for you to get more "luck". None of them are scientific, of course, but at least you can't ground a jet plane by rubbing the noggin of a cat.
One man from Weifang, China, chose the unusual way of acquiring luck by throwing a rolled-up package of six coins into the engine of the plane he was about to get into. Fortunately, the coins were noticed in pre-flight checks, before they met the engine's blades. He was detained by police, far from the result he wanted when he wished for a smooth flight.
It's theoretically possible to cook a chicken by slapping it, and someone did just that
People have been attempting to cook chickens by slapping them for years, after learning that physics says it's possible.
A while back on Reddit, somebody asked a question in the No Stupid Questions subreddit: "If kinetic energy is converted into thermal energy, how hard do I have to slap a chicken to cook it?"
Though it clearly is a stupid question, it's also sort of the best question the Internet has ever heard. A physics major over on Facebook, Parker Ormonde, did the math
"As your friendly neighborhood physics major, I decided to calculate this with a few assumptions. The formula for converting between kinetic energy and thermal energy 1/2mv2=mcT," he wrote on Facebook.
"The average human hand weighs about .4kg, the average slap has a velocity of 11 m/s (25mph), an average rotisserie chicken weighs 1kg (2lbs) and has a specific heat capacity of 2720J/kg*c, and let's assume the chicken has to reach 205C (400F) for us to consider it cooked. The chicken will start off frozen so 0C (32F)."
He ultimately concluded that "to cook the chicken in one slap, you would have to slap it with a velocity of 1665.65 m/s or 3725.95 mph."
Now, that's quite a big ask given that Earth spins at roughly 1,600 Kilometers per hour (1,000 miles per hour), making it incapable of slapping its way to a roast.
If you were to slap the chicken hard enough to cook it, it would spray itself all over the walls, and you'd pretty much obliterate and cook your hand in the process too. This, combined with your arm bones being shattered and all the bleeding out, will probably distract you somewhat from serving up and/or chinning the potatoes.
With people unwilling to sacrifice a limb for lunch, the question turned to whether it would be possible to cook it by lightly spanking the chicken many thousands of times instead.
As the translational kinetic energy of a body is equal to one-half the product of its mass and the square of its velocity, it's not as easy as merely slapping your chicken 3,726 times at 1mph and making a gravy. You also have the problem that between slaps the chicken is cooling down, meaning that your blows have to be in extremely quick succession.
In terms of normal slaps, assuming you could deliver them at incredible superhuman speeds, would take a hell of a lot more.
"1 average slap would generate a temperature increase of 0.0089 degrees Celsius," Ormonde calculated. "It would take 23,034 average slaps to cook a chicken."
That's an absurd number of slaps when the oven is right there requiring precisely zero. After constructing a robotic hand that would slap the chicken, which he dubbed the meatslapper 9001, YouTuber Louis Weisz was able to slap the chicken around 135,000 times over eight hours, raising the temperature until the point where it was technically edible, even if a lot less appetizing than the non-slapped chicken available at KFC.
Weird old things we learned this month
In Medieval England, Salesmen Shoved Eels Up Their Horse's Anus To Make A Sale
The past was a place of different values and ethics, and to a certain extent, you cannot judge the actions of people a thousand years ago against the moral standards we hold today. But on the other hand: YE GODS, WHY ARE YOU SHOVING EELS UP THE ANUSES OF HORSES?
In the middle ages and early modern period, humans appear to have sent eels up the anuses of horses in order to sell them. How does putting an eel up there affect horse prices, you ask? Well, good but very unusual question there, thank you.
The practice, known as feaguing, was done to older horses that were getting a bit too long in the tooth. To make them appear youthful again, you could try and liven up the horse by inserting a live eel into its rectum whenever somebody came to look around the horse sales showroom. This would distress the horse, and cause it to be a lot livelier than if it didn't have a live animal thrashing around in its rectum.
The practice is referenced a number of times, including one quote by John Milton in 1628, in which he described a type of bird as “more useful to grooms because they are by nature lively and brisk and prancing, and if they were forced into the anus of scraggly horses would make them livelier and quicker than if they had ten live eels in their bellies.”
Later on, horse sellers moved on from selling horses in this manner. But only because they realized that it was much easier to get the same effect by putting ginger up their bottoms.
Weird new things we learned this month
The "big nose, big hose" hypothesis is true, according to a study on corpses
A team of scientists has studied the noses and genitals of recently deceased corpses to determine if the "big nose big hose" hypothesis is true. It's good news, large-nosed brethren, for the forensic scientists found that the larger the honker the, uh, larger your "down there" honker.
The researchers looked at one hundred twenty-six male corpses for their study, all forensic autopsy cases at Kyoto Prefectural University of Medicine from April 2015 to March 2019. All cadavers were aged between 30 and 50 years old, and their postmortem was conducted within 3 days of their death before any major decomposition could take place.
For the study, published in Basic and Clinical Andrology, the team took measurements of the bodies' heights, weight, length, and girth of their flaccid penis and the weight of their testicles. Of course, it's not really possible to induce an erection in a corpse, so instead "stretched penile length" was used, whereby a researcher stretched the penises manually, which the researchers say gives an accurate measurement of what their erect length would have been when alive.
A much luckier researcher, meanwhile, measured the lengths of their nose.
The team found that the most highly correlated factors were flaccid penile length and stretched penile length. No surprises there. However, the next biggest correlation was between nose size and stretched penile length. The bigger the nose, the larger the "erect" penis.
Nose size was not found to be strongly correlated to flaccid penis length, which the team attributes to "the elasticity of a small, flaccid penis may be greater than that of a large, flaccid penis".
"The fact that nose size is related to [stretched penis length] indicates that penile length may not be determined by age, height or body weight but has already been determined before birth."
So, how does this help forensics? Well, not at all, really. Had the team found that, for example, penis length changed as you grew older, this could be used along with prostate volume (which does increase as you get older) in order to help determine age. As it is, what they discovered is interesting and could become useful with more research, but as it stands is not immediately applicable.
"Although our results are useless for forensic purposes, understanding the growing process of the penis or facial features may be very important for extrapolating fetal androgen levels and following male genital functions," the team wrote in their paper, adding they would continue to look into the relationship.
"This study is the first to demonstrate the relationship between SPL and nose size but is limited in Japanese male cadavers, and the reason why SPL and nose size are related is still unclear. Therefore, we consider it an interesting subject to pursue from now on."
The team found only a weak correlation between nose size and the weight of balls.
A man was legally unable to move his car, after an endangered bird made a nest on the windshield
A man has been left unable to move his car after a bird belonging to a protected species of dove landed on the windshield and decided it looked like a nice place to make a nest.
TikTok user Hero_JP was returning to an underground garage when he came across his car. He expected that part, but the car had a surprise in store for him – it was now serving as a tree, both in terms of function and maneuverability.
A dove had made its nest on the windshield. Unfortunately for the driver, this particular type of dove is protected by bird law; more specifically, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act [MBTA]. He attempted reasoning with the bird, telling her that he had places to be and was hungry, but the bird continued to sit on the car, unmoved by his pleas.
Eventually, he decided to drive slowly forward in an attempt to persuade the bird to move, which it did. But when he looked inside the nest he found that the bird had already laid an egg. He then apparently felt guilty as hell and parked up exactly where he was before in order to encourage the bird to come back. He even threw a cardboard box into the mix to sweeten the deal.
The plan was to move the box containing the nest onto the floor, but this didn't work either. The bird kept returning to the car, so he placed the box back on the car and called the local wildlife and rescue, who informed him that "once it lays an egg, the bird is federally protected, so I can't move it".
Hence, his car is now effectively a tree for the mourning dove and her offspring.
Hero_JP cited the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), which says: "Most bird nests are protected under the (MBTA). Under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) it is illegal to destroy a nest that has eggs or chicks in it or if there are young birds that are still dependent on the nest for survival."
He then cited the list of migratory birds protected by the act, which includes Zenaida macroura, the mourning dove. According to the USFWS, there is scope to move protected nests, however.
"Under very limited circumstances, the USFWS may issue permits to take active nests," it says on their website. "Nest removal permits are usually only issued when the particular nest is causing a human health or safety concern or the birds are in immediate danger. It is usually required that you wait for the nest to become inactive before destroying it."
Under another video titled "The bird really just stole my car", Hero_JP wrote that he had been advised that he could move it extremely gradually to a safe spot, in the hope that the bird would not notice what was going on. It was slow progress, and in the meantime he made the bird more comfortable on his $20,000 tree.
A moderately advanced alien civilization could easily take over a Milky Way-sized galaxy, a simulation showed
We had quite a lot to deal with already prior to June, even before a group of physicists concluded that aliens could easily take over a galaxy like ours. What was worse, is this is assuming their spaceships aren’t much faster than our current interplanetary probes.
The paper, published in Research Notes of the American Astronomical Society, looked at a civilization of Type II on the Kardashev scale: i.e. civilizations that are harnessing the energy of their own star, and have moved throughout their own solar system.
By sending out generational spacecraft every 100,000 years and using the movement of the star throughout the galaxy, they could use the movement of the galaxy to their advantage, expanding through much of the galaxy within 1 billion years, even with slow ships, with a big frenzy taking place towards the later years of the project.
A petition to keep Jeff Bezos in space reached 100,000 signatures
If aliens are off in space and colonizing the galaxy, that's good news for Jeff Bezos, who may need the company. When it looked like he might win the billionaire space race (before, ultimately, being beaten by Richard Branson), people started a petition on Change.org that simply states "billionaires should not exist...on earth, or in space, but should they decide the latter they should stay there".
Fortunately for Bezos, the petition did not formulate an action plan for keeping him from a safe return to Earth.
Tel Aviv decided to use DNA testing to track down owners who don't pick up their dog poop
After a slew of dog mess across Tel Aviv, the city decided to get surprisingly high-tech in their attempts to quash the problem,deciding to start DNA testing dog poop like a fecal special of CSI.
Unlike human DNA, this won't just be held on record until the dog does an unrelated misdemeanor and is called in for questioning, subsequently found on the database for felony poop crime. Dog owners would be required to submit their dog's DNA when renewing their dog ownership license, which would then be checked against real-world poop. If there's a match, you could be fined 730 shekels ($222 or £161).
The human brain is more like a testicle than any other organ
In what was not the most dignified news we've ever heard, it turns out the human brain is a lot more like a testicle than any other organ in your body. It's not just the wrinkles.
“The highest number of common proteins was observed between brain and testis, suggesting that human brain and testis are the most similar tissues of the human body," researchers wrote in the journal Royal Society Open Biology. “A large-scale analysis of the expression of 33,689 genes in 15 human tissues revealed that human brain and testis shared the greatest similarity in gene expression."
Women's brains are just as testicly as men's.
People Found Worshipping "Ancient" Monolith That Turned Out To Be Butt-Scratching Post For Cows
Cows love to scratch themselves, but are cursed with legs unable to get a really good scritch on. So for many years, nice farmers have placed stone monoliths in their fields for cattle to scratch themselves against, wherever actual ancient stone circles are unavailable.
Apparently, if it's good enough for a cow's butt, it's good enough for New Age types, who set about "worshipping" one butt-scratcher in a farmer's field, according to folklorist Ian Powell. They may have stumbled across the butt stone while looking for a "holed stone", highlighted in the background of the photo. "Holed stones" are rocks with natural holes in, which in the Middle Ages were believed to be charms that could repel witchcraft and nightmares.
"The farmer informed me how he first noticed a few people gathered around the stone in his field and went to investigate. When asking them what they were doing, they replied 'worshipping the ancestors'. Asking why in his field, they told him the stone was ancient and could feel its 'energies' radiating out. This, they maintained, gave them 'healing'," Powell told IFLScience.
"His reaction was at first to laugh after telling them he had erected the stone about a year ago for his cows to rub against. Their response was to argue that the stone was 'sacred' but he counteracted that by also telling them he had unearthed it alongside other rubble with a digger. They then walked away."
"Only a week later, he was amazed to see another, even larger groups gathered there."
A few more groups later, and the farmer had had enough of people worshipping his farm equipment. Imagine leaving the house for the day and returning to find someone praising your mower.
"Enough was enough, and he eventually moved the stone to another field with a barbed wire protected fence and padlocked it. The grass in the original field was left to grow as the 'worshippers' had trodden a path from a gate to the stone," Powell continued.
"These people were no doubt New Age neo-pagans. People are drawn to these monoliths and to ancient sites overall, usually because of a long-standing belief they have mystical powers. These will include 'healing', a sense of connecting with 'ancestors' and the idea rituals carried out there will be more powerful. Meditational groups often use these ancient sites, considering them sacred place connected to each other by energy or Ley lines. The reality is that many of these stones are not ancient and I will argue they had mundane usage often connected to the mining industry and indeed, farming."
Weird old things we learned this month
Everything shall become crab
Yep, like tech bros repeatedly trying to invent a new type of transport and accidentally reinventing the bus, evolution seems to keep spitting out animals that look like crabs. First coined as a term in 1916, carcinization was originally defined as "one of the many attempts of nature to evolve a crab".
Convergent evolution is when similar features evolve in species from different periods or regions that have a similar form or function, despite the last common ancestor of the animals or plants not having that particular feature. Think how echolocation has evolved in both whales and bats, and mechanisms for flight evolved in birds, insects, pterosaurs, and bats. (Get your own evolutions, bats, quit hogging up everyone else's).
Think also of how several different animals have evolved prickly protrusions, including echidnas (of the monotremes), porcupines (rodents) and hedgehogs (erinaceinae). Despite appearances, the last common ancestor of the three was likely in the time of the dinosaurs, they just ended up with similar characteristics.
Convergent evolution essentially happens when animals and plants have to adapt to similar environments or ecological niches and end up with similar solutions. Crab-like forms are thought to have happened independently at least five times in decapod crustaceans, including porcelain crabs, hairy stone crabs, and coconut crabs.
Many things you might reasonably call crabs (because they look and act like, well, crabs) aren't actually crabs, they just "evolved into something that looked like crabs. Independently. Over and over again."
During the cretaceous period, creatures that looked more lobster-like became more squashed, and their smaller back legs became longer and more crablike. The advantage seems to be that the crab shape allows them to walk and burrow more efficiently, with some crabs that can even climb trees thanks to the shape.
It's also possible that creatures with shorter tail segments survived more due to their maneuverability, but also because it gave predators less to latch on to.
So until we know more, that's why everything wants to be a crab.
People thought they were pooping out "rope worms" due to Ivermectin, but the truth was far worse
Anti-vaxxers, by August, had made their position pretty clear: they did not want your tested, effective and life-saving vaccines thankyouverymuch. What they wanted was horse dewormers.
Yes, anti-vaxxers began touting a new "miracle" covid cure this year: ivermectin. A product largely only available to the public as a horse dewormer. Some pet shops began only selling the product if you could prove you own a horse, while the FDA genuinely had to put out a warning that you shouldn't take products that are for horses, due to you not being a horse.
People took it anyway, and before long we had our first major side effect reported in ivermectin groups: pooping worms.
“Might be a stupid question but has anyone pooped out worms from taking ivermectin?” one woman asked a Facebook group on the topic. “just curious.”
“Yes,” another user (again, not a horse) replied. “[I’ve] been expelling rope worms with coffee enemas for a while now [but] it’s different with [ivermectin] … I got this tummy rumbling like I had to go with diarrhea … so I go to the pot and out comes a bile dump with full rope worms heads and all!”
The users appeared to think it was some sort of harmless side effect. You can't take a horse dewormer and not expect a quick deworming in the process, right? Well, no. What they were actually pooping out was bits of the lining of their own intestines, which had been taken away from the rest of their intestines by the horse drugs they'd been ingesting.
An AI made strangely accurate predictions from blurry medical scans, and the people who assigned it the task have no idea how
When you set AI a task, you would (usually) know how it was going to complete it, or at least be able to figure out precisely how it completed the task once it was completed. Not so for one group of researchers, who found that artificial intelligence (AI) analyzing medical scans can identify the race of patients with an astonishing degree of accuracy, while their human counterparts cannot.
With the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approving more algorithms for medical use, the researchers are concerned that AI could end up perpetuating racial biases. They are especially concerned that they couldn’t figure out precisely how the machine-learning models could identify race, even from heavily corrupted and low-resolution images.
In the study, published on pre-print service Arxiv, an international team of doctors investigated how deep learning models can detect race from medical images. Using private and public chest scans and self-reported data on race and ethnicity, they first assessed how accurate the algorithms were, before investigating the mechanism.
"We hypothesized that if the model was able to identify a patient's race, this would suggest the models had implicitly learned to recognize racial information despite not being directly trained for that task," the team wrote.
They found, as previous studies had, that the machine-learning algorithms were able to predict with high accuracy whether the patients were Black, White, or Asian. The team then tested a number of possible ways the algorithm could glean this information.
Among the proposed ideas was that the AI could pick up differences in the density of breast tissue or bone. However, when these factors were masked (by clipping pixel brightness at 60 percent for bone density), the AI coukd still accurately predict the self-reported race of the patients.
Other possibilities included the AI guessing from regional differences in markers on the scan (say one hospital with a lot of white patients marks their X-Rays in a specific style, it may be able to guess from demographics), or differences in how high-resolution the scans were when they were taken (for example, deprived areas may not have as good equipment). Again, these factors were controlled for through heavily pixelating, cropping, and blurring the images. The AI could still predict ethnicity and race when humans could not.
Even when the resolution of the scan was reduced to 4 x 4 pixels, the predictions were still better than random chance – and by the time resolution was increased to 160 x 160 pixels, accuracy was over 95 percent.
"Models trained on high-pass filtered images maintained performance well beyond the point that the degraded images contained no recognisable structures," they write. "To the human co-authors and radiologists it was not even clear that the image was an x-ray at all."
Other variables were tested, and the results came back the same.
"Overall, we were unable to isolate image features that are responsible for the recognition of racial identity in medical images, either by spatial location, in the frequency domain, or caused by common anatomic and phenotype confounders associated with racial identity."
Out of ideas, they were forced to conclude that AI can guess your ethnicity, and the people who trained it don't know how.
Man Ejaculates Out Of His Anus For Two Years Before Seeking Help
It's been a pretty bad few years for everyone on the planet, now imagine going through it whilst experiencing what a team of doctors called "a curious case of rectal ejaculation".
A 33-year-old man sought medical attention after five days of testicle pain. This turned out to be the latest in a long line of problems in that general area. For the last two years, he had been passing gas in his urine (pneumaturia), urinating fecal matter (fecaluria), and passing a "substantial amount" of urine and semen from his rectum (there isn't even a fancy medical word for it, that's how rare this is).
All in all, liquids, solids, and gasses were not going out of the passage they traditionally emerge from, long before the pain in his testicles prompted him to finally seek treatment.
The scan showed a "gas-filled structure". Further tests confirmed the presence of a fistula (an abnormal passageway) between the urethra and rectum, through which the various fluids and solids had been passing. As well as repairing the fistula through surgery, the team looked for possible causes of the problem, ruling out things such as tuberculosis, inflammatory bowel disease, rectal trauma, or penetration.
Upon further investigation, they found that two years prior – around the onset of symptoms – he had been in a three-week coma following cocaine and phencyclidine (PCP) intoxication. During his hospital stay, he was fitted with a Foley catheter, during which the injury was likely caused.
The story, you'll be glad to hear, had a happy ending.
"Repeat VCUG revealed resolution of the fistula and the patient recovered with only mildly reduced antegrade ejaculatory volume over several months," the team wrote.
Ok, we said happy ending, not fairytale ending.
Ig Nobel Prizes
This year's Ig Nobel prizes went to some suitably silly (yet interesting) studies. The transportation prize went to a team who discovered that the best way of transporting a rhinoceros was to turn it upside-down and then dangle it by its legs from a helicopter.
The medical prize, meanwhile, went to a team that discovered that an orgasm was as good as a decongestant for nasal breathing. Something to consider next time you are grotesquely ill, but also "in the mood".
A man made his own X-ray machine after a doctor charged him $70,000
YouTuber Willam Osman built his own X-ray machine after receiving a hospital bill of $69,210.32.
Thankfully, he'll only have to pay around $2,500 thanks to "great insurance", but as he explains in a video, many millions of Americans don't have the same plan. The bill apparently got him thinking: could he make his own X-ray machine for cheaper than what he was charged?
While the answer is a pretty clear "yes", there are definitely other factors you should consider before you try it yourself. Mainly, do you want to blast yourself full of radiation? As the engineer puts it himself: "My will to do science is significantly stronger than my will to live," adding “this is my magnum opus. This is the most dangerous contraption I have ever built."
Osman collected what he needed for the machine: a $155 X-ray vacuum tube recovered from a broken dental X-ray machine he bought on eBay, a giant roll of sheet lead, several Geiger counters, and an electricity supply capable of delivering 60,000 volts.
With the equipment – costing much less than the hospital charged his insurance for his single X-ray – he was able to produce a pretty good image of a finger bone he happened to have lying around the house.
"That's actually pretty good," interventional radiologist Dr Michael Cellini said in a reaction video, though he pointed out it was nowhere near the standard you'd receive in hospital – the high-quality you need for diagnosis. "I'm pretty impressed for just being in your garage," he said.
However, the radiologist (and other radiologists online) were less impressed when he chose to X-ray his own hand, given the low quality of the image making it useless for diagnosis.
Nevertheless, it's pretty impressive that it's possible to create your own X-ray machine in your garage for (relatively) cheap, even if it's useless for any diagnosis more complex than "your bones have been smashed to pieces", and if you keep blasting it at yourself you will eventually make yourself very ill indeed, where you will likely end up in hospital faced with a very large bill.
Weird old things we learned this month
There's A Good Chance You're Misremembering 9/11
It's one of those questions that comes up every now and then: where were you when you heard JFK/Diana died, and where were you on 9/11?
The assumption is that when these big events happen, they stick in our minds. Years later, everyone knows where they were and what was going on in their own lives the moment they heard the news.
But what if that's all wrong?
Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, researchers decided to test how memories of these events hold up over time. They asked 2,100 Americans across the country about their own experiences of that day – including where they were when they found out about the attacks, who they were with, and what their reaction was at the time, plus how confident they were of their own memories.
The study, published by the American Psychological Association, then asked the same participants to answer the same questions 11, 25, and 119 months after the attack.
"The study, therefore, examines retention of flashbulb memories and event memories at a substantially longer retention interval than any previous study using a test–retest methodology, allowing for the study of such memories over the long term," the researchers wrote in the paper.
What they found was that many of the participants changed their story of where they were, or what happened on 9/11 as time went on. What's more, once people had this new narrative of events from that day, that's the story they tended to stick to from there on out. Those first recollections – from just days after 9/11 – were forever distorted, or gone.
"Inconsistent flashbulb memories [of what was happening to the participants at the time] were more likely to be repeated than corrected," the team wrote. "Whereas inaccurate event memories [e.g. What airline or airlines had planes hijacked? How many from each airline? etc] were more likely to be corrected than repeated."
"The accuracy of event memory was mediated by the level of media attention, suggesting that media might not only reinforce accurate [event] memories but also correct inaccuracies."
Essentially, the retelling of the event in the media (through film and documentaries, as well as the news) shaped and corrected event memories, but not personal ones.
"At that point you've told 35 people how you heard about it, and it's been solidified in your memory the way you're telling it, not necessarily how it really happened," flashbulb memory researcher David Rubin explained to the American Psychological Association.
People don't just make errors of omission, Psychologist Jennifer Talarico explained. "They make errors of commission as well, changing a red shirt to a blue one, or saying they were with different people from those they first said they were with."
Memory, as psychology has found for decades, is pretty malleable. In one experiment in 1994, psychologist Elizabeth Loftus famously managed to implant a false memory of being lost in a mall in around 25 percent of participants. They were given descriptions of four events from their life – three real ones supplied by relatives, and one false – and asked to write about their memories of the events over a period of five days.
"Chris [one participant] remembered more and more about getting lost. He remembered that the man who rescued him was 'really cool.' He remembered being scared that he would never see his family again. He remembered his mother scolding him," the authors write.
"He remembered the man who rescued him as wearing a blue flannel shirt, kind of old, kind of bald on top.... 'and, he had glasses.' Chris was soon told that one of the memories was false. Could he guess? He selected one of the real memories. When told that the memory of being lost was the false one, he had trouble believing it."
Your own memories of 9/11 and other events from your childhood probably feel similarly firm. So were memories of the participants with changed memories of 9/11.
Anti-Abortion Activist Charlie Kirk Declares Dolphin Fetus Is "Without A Doubt" A Human Being
Anti-abortion activist Charlie Kirk has gone further than other anti-choice advocates of recent times, declaring that a dolphin fetus is "without a doubt" a human being.
For his show Debate Night with Charlie Kirk, he invited on guest Ben Gleib. It was on this platform, describing itself as a space to "bring the contested ideologies of today to the forefront of the cultural conversation" that he declared a dolphin fetus to be a human person. We guess he wasn't kidding when they declared that "on Debate Night, nothing's off the table".
Comedian Ben Gleib brought his own props to use in a discussion around abortion, an ultrasound which he presented to Charlie Kirk, asking "do you truly believe, in your heart of hearts, do you truly believe that this is a human being?"
"Without a doubt," Kirk replies without hesitation. It's at this point that Gleib revealed he was looking at a dolphin fetus.
"Without a doubt, a dolphin fetus is a human being," Gleib asks him to confirm. "This is a human??"
Testicle Bath Contraception Wins James Dyson Award For Engineering
A bath for your testicles won a James Dyson award, an international award celebrating design and engineering, and will go through to the final international stage of the competition.
Created by German design graduate Rebecca Weiss, the device named "Coso" is described as an "ultrasound-based, reversible and hormone-free male contraceptive device for home use". The idea is that the user spreads their legs, takes their testicles, and places them inside the sleek-looking device, after filling it with water and heating it to the required temperature. The testicles are then hit with ultrasound for several minutes, in order to suppress spermatogenesis.
Essentially, you teabag your way to (temporary) infertility.
Weiss worked with young males in design workshops to figure out what they would want from such a device, as well as to help figure out the testicle ergonomics. Winning the German James Dyson award, she now plans to test the feasibility of the device, as well as raise funds for clinical trials. The device, though in early stages, has the advantage of convenience: you can teabag your chargeable device in the comfort of your own home.
Weird old things we learned this month
A Surprising Number Of Sea Monster Sightings Can Be Explained By Whale Erections
For as long as there have been sailors on the oceans, singing shanties and saying pirate stuff about enjoying rum, there have been sightings of strange and fantastic creatures – from krakens to sea serpents and mermaids.
Reports of the Kraken – a deadly, gigantic monster with a rather inconvenient hankering for human flesh – go all the way back to 1180, when King Sverre of Norway wrote of a sea monster. Before long, sailors claimed the beasts were the size of an island, attacked ships with their colossal arms, and, as the legend evolved, could sink whole ships by creating a gigantic whirlpool that could drag whole ships to the bottom of the ocean.
This particular monster can most likely be explained by sightings of giant squid.
For other creatures – specifically, sightings of sea serpents – the mystery can't be solved without taking a good long look at whale stiffies.
In a famous early sighting of one such sea serpent, Danish Lutheran missionary Hans Egede wrote that on July 6, 1734, he and those aboard his ship had seen "a most terrible creature, resembling nothing they saw before. The monster lifted its head so high that it seemed to be higher than the crow's nest on the mainmast. The head was small and the body short and wrinkled. The unknown creature was using giant fins which propelled it through the water. Later the sailors saw its tail as well. The monster was longer than our whole ship".
In the accounts, the creatures were described as serpentlike and drawn as such.
Ig Nobel prize-winner Charles Paxton took a look at this and other sightings of sea serpents back in 2005, for possible explanations of the accounts. They concluded – with comparisons to modern photographs and descriptions – that several of the accounts were actually of whale boners.
"A more serious objection to a cetacean is that the rear of the animal was described and drawn as serpent-like. Although whales are found, and can survive, without flukes, serpent-like or eel-like bodies are not usually associated with the rapid thrust that would be required to rear the whole body high out of the water," he and several other authors wrote in Archives of Natural History.
"However, there is an alternative explanation for the serpent-like tail. Many of the large baleen whales have long, snake-like penises. If the animal did indeed fall on its back then its ventral surface would have been uppermost and, if the whale was aroused, the usually retracted penis would have been visible. The penises of the North Atlantic right whale and (Pacific) grey whale can be at least 1.8 metres long, and 1.7 metres long respectively, and could be taken by a naïve witness for a tail."
"That the tail was seen at one point a ship’s length from the body suggests the presence of more than one male whale."
A separate incident that could more conclusively be accounted for by a big old whale erection, sailors aboard the merchant vessel Pauline in 1875 saw a sea serpent they described as a "whitish pillar". This particular serpent was seen in the midst of a pod of sperm whales, which at the time were "frantic with excitement".
40 Percent Of American Kids Think Hot Dogs And Bacon Are Plants
This one sounds like a damning indictment of the education system, but is actually good news for people who want to save the environment.
A study found that a significant percentage of 4 to 7-year-old children from the United States believe hotdogs, hamburgers, and bacon come from plants.
Published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, a team of psychologists asked children to categorize a range of foods including cheese, french fries, bacon, popcorn, shrimp, almonds, and egg. The responses threw up a number of surprises, including that 47 percent of the 176 participants believed that french fries came from animals.
Cheese was commonly misidentified as plant-based, with 44 percent incorrectly identifying its origin. 41 percent believed bacon to come from a plant (we wish) and 40 percent said the same of hot dogs. Even chicken nuggets, that famously have “chicken” in their name, were misidentified as coming from plants 38 percent of the time.
"Popcorn and almonds were also commonly misclassified [as animal-based], each by more than 30% of children," the team write in their report.
As well as assessing the children's knowledge of the origins of foods, the team looked at what animals and plants the kids believed could and couldn't be eaten. It appears there is a lot of confusion about what is and isn't edible, with the majority believing that cows (77 percent), pigs (73 percent), and chickens (65 percent) are inedible. Sand was considered edible by 1 percent, five times less than the amount who believed cat to be a type of food.
The study shows that there are a lot of misconceptions around food at this early age – but the team believes it could be an opportunity.
"Most children in the United States [...] eat animal products, but unlike adults who have built up an arsenal of strategies to justify the consumption of animals, children appear to be naïve meat eaters," the team wrote in their discussion.
"The current study suggests that children eat meat unknowingly, and perhaps in violation of a bias against animals as a food source. Childhood may therefore represent a unique window of opportunity during which lifelong plant-based diets can be more easily established compared to later in life."
The team believes that part of the poor knowledge could be due to parents withholding knowledge about where meat comes from, believing it to be too gruesome for children to learn at such a young age.
By being more open about the source of foods (i.e. telling kids how the sausage was made), and providing more meat alternatives, the team believes children may gravitate naturally towards plant-based foods.
How to give the best hug
A group of scientists looked into something extremely useful to the socially awkward, and anyone who just wants to up their game: what makes the perfect hug?
In the first study, female college students were blindfolded and then hugged by a female researcher for 1, 5, or 10 seconds, and varying methods (including wrapping their hands around their neck or waist, or crisscrossing so that one arm is above the other's arm, and the other below). The hugs were then rated for pleasure, with people enjoying hugs that lasted from 5-10 seconds rated the most pleasurable.
They then went around campus, asking people hanging out to give each other a hug, finding they naturally went for hugs of around this length, and in a criss-cross fashion, with neck-waist hugs being seen as more romantic or intimate.
So if you're hugging a friend and not a lover, best stick to a classic 5-10 second criss cross for maximum hugging pleasure.
Weird old things we learned this month
Butt Plugs Were Originally Sold As A Miracle Cure For Headaches, Acne, And Insanity
Dr Young's Ideal Rectal Dilators, created in the 1890s, were not marketed as a sexual object, but as a serious medical tool – and we're sure they were used as such. The instructions told users – encouraged to self-prescribe and administer – to begin with the smaller dilator and work their way up.
"First warm dilator in warm water; then lubricate outside of dilator with Dr Young’s Piloment (or if it is not available, with vaseline) and while in a squatting position – or while lying on the side with knees drawn up – gently insert in the rectum as far as the flange or rim," the instructions read.
"Hold in place a minute and the anal muscles will close and retain it. Sit or lie down and allow it to remain for half an hour or an hour to get the best results. Ten minutes will accomplish much."
“When ready to go to the next larger size, it is best first to use for a few minutes the same size you have been using, inserting and withdrawing It several times. This is very beneficial and should not be overlooked.”
The packaging noted that they should not be used by anyone under the age of 8, without doctor’s supervision.
Dr Young admitted that people would often panic when they saw the sheer girth of the largest size, but assured them that by moving their way through the sizes they would be able to accommodate it, and may even want to take on an "Extra Length" dilator number five, more than an inch and a half (3.8 centimeters) thick.
Some of the theory behind it made sense, or at least wasn't a huge leap in the imagination. For instance, it was promised that they would help with defecation by "strengthening and toning the muscles controlling defecation", and they were mainly marketed as a tool for relieving constipation.
Customers using it for this purpose seemed satisfied, including Reverand Cook and S.F Loughborough, who said that they would not sell their butt plugs for any price under $100 and $10,000 respectively.
Then the claims went off-piste, stating that the product promoted more refreshing sleep, could relieve foul breath and bad tastes in the mouth, sallow skin, acne, anemia, lassitude, mental hebetude, insomnia, anorexia, headaches, diarrhea (which you can see might be true if you just leave it in), hemorrhoids, prolapse, flatulence (see diarrhea), indigestion, nervousness, irritability, and cold extremities.
The claims were far from the medical truth, as a court case with an amazing name would attest.
In a court case with an extremely pleasing name – U.S. v. 67 Sets of Dr. Young's Rectal Dilators and 83 Packages of Dr. Young's Piloment – the U.S. Food and Drug Administration ruled that not only were the claims not backed up by evidence, but that the device "would be dangerous to health when used with the frequency and duration prescribed, recommended, or suggested in the labeling."
The products were ordered to be destroyed before they even found out that Dr Young had also claimed in a medical journal that the rubber sex toys (let's face facts here) would be effective in curing insanity.
Bomb Squad Attends Hospital As Patient's Rectum Revealed WWII Artillery Shell
In one of the less believable "I slipped and fell" stories of the decade, a man in Gloucester, England, was found to have a World War II artillery shell lodged in his rectum.
Doctors treating the man called the bomb squad when they found the 5.7 by 11.7-centimeters (2.2 by 4.6 inches) artifact that he reportedly got stuck up there when he slipped and fell whilst cleaning. The bomb was quite deadly back in the war, able to rip through a tank's protective shell. In short, it's not something you want in your hospital, let alone your anus.
Thankfully, the bomb squad on standby, the object was removed from the man without incident. He will likely be more careful while cleaning in the future.
Keanu Reeves Thinks It's "Nice" That People Want To Have Sex With His Digital Avatar
While promoting the latest installation of The Matrix, Keanu Reeves was asked a number of questions about all things digital, including whether he's comfortable with the idea that people might use a digital mock-up of him for virtual sex.
This wasn't just a hypothetical, as many gamers had requested to be able to "have sex" with his digital avatar from Cyberpunk 2077 in VR.
His response was “oh my god, it’s always nice when it’s nice, y'know.”
His co-star Carrie Anne Moss, meanwhile, said no thank you.
“Think of how much money is in porn, right?” Keanu added, his eyes clearly spinning around to reveal dollar signs.
“You could not even have to be there, and people could have digital sex with your digital avatar.”
Rocket scientists and brain surgeons are not smarter than you
Rocket scientists and brain surgeons have pretty much been synonymous with "genius" in the eyes of the public. You can see why – it's complex work, where even slight miscalculations could leave someone dead, or a rocket hurtling towards Mars at "about to be incinerated" velocity.
However, it turns out that the reputation may be unearned, with a study finding that they are no more intelligent than the average member of the public. They, along with normies, were administered the Great British Intelligence Test.
There were differences between the two groups, with neurosurgeons getting better scores in semantic problem solving, but compared with 18,257 members of the general UK population there were no significant differences.
It's good news. With enough training, maybe there's nothing that can stop you from being a rocket scientist or a brain surgeon, no matter how average you feel.
Weird old things we learned this month
A man once put his head in a particle accelerator while it was switched on, and survived
Particle accelerators are machines that propel charged particles at incredible speeds, generally to collide with other particles. It's highly advisable that the particles the high-speed particles collide with should not be part of your head, as one man learned the hard way.
On July 13, 1978, particle physicist Anatoli Bugorski was working at the U-70 synchrotron, the largest particle accelerator in the Soviet Union. The 36-year-old was inspecting a piece of equipment that had malfunctioned when the accident happened. Unbeknownst to him, several safety mechanisms had also failed, meaning that when he leaned over to get a good look at his task, a proton beam shot through the back of his head at close to the speed of light.
Or at least, closer to the speed of light than you'd like a proton beam to be traveling at when it shoots clean through your face.
At first, he felt no pain. He knew what had happened, as he had seen a light “brighter than a thousand Suns," as well as the gravity of the situation. At this point, he didn't tell a soul, and completed his day's work before heading home and waited for the inevitable to happen.
Absorbing 5 grays (500 rads) of radiation would usually lead to death. Though he didn't yet know it, he had been hit with between 2,000-3,000 grays (200,000-300,000 rads). In the night, his face began to swell beyond recognition, prompting him to visit the doctors the following morning. From there, he was taken to a clinic in Moscow, though largely so that his death could be observed rather than for any expectation that his life could be saved.
The next few days saw his skin peel off around the entry and exit wounds, showing a clean path burned right through his skin, skull, and brain.
Remarkably, he did not die. The brain tissue continued to burn away over the ensuing years, and his face became paralyzed on the left side, where his hearing was also lost. Weirder still, as he aged the right side of his head showed signs of aging, while the left side did not.
Over the next few decades, he experienced seizures but remained functional, continued his work as a physicist, and completed a PhD. As far as people who have put their heads into a particle accelerator go (and to be fair, that's a demographic of one) he was pretty lucky. The narrow focus of the beam, though it caused massive damage, likely kept the damage limited to an area of brain that he could live without.
For the decade after his accident, he was unable to tell anyone about it, given the notorious secrecy of the Soviet Union. He survived well beyond the end of the USSR, however. In fact, the man who put his head in a particle accelerator and lived to tell the tale remains alive to this day