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April Fool’s Day Roundup 2015

jester_hat

Last year on April Fool’s Day, we attempted to round up the (sometimes tenuously) research-related spoofs from the newspapers and we wanted to do the same thing this year. Unfortunately, it has not been terribly fruitful and the day now seems to be dominated by marketing ploys masquerading as April Fool’s Day jokes which we’re going to try not to give any more publicity. However, I’ll break this rule for the rather snazzy Google maps “Pac-Man” game which can be accessed from any map screen (you might need to zoom in) by clicking the Pac-Man link in the lower left hand corner. Hopefully it won’t disappear too soon.

The first real news story we noticed (that wasn’t to do with the upcoming UK general election) was the idea that the SSE Hydro Venue in Glasgow would be made to rotate during events through the wonders of superconducting magnetic levitation (Herald Scotland). While this might be feasible to allow trains to run at hundreds of miles per hour, we’re probably a long way from turning buildings that can host tens of thousands of people into magic roundabouts.

Another story close (geographically) to members of the Young Academy of Scotland was in relation to a major civil engineering project, the new road bridge across the Firth of Forth, otherwise known as the Forth Crossing. According to the Edinburgh Evening News, a problem with the design of prefabricated parts means that there will be a 14” gap in the middle of the bridge. The solution? A minimum speed limit of 30mph to make sure vehicles clear the gap.

A story from a local news site (for one of the YAS members at least) involved the use of DNA evidence to catch dog owners who don’t clean up after their pets. While this might actually be feasible in a small community like Shetland, it might be more difficult elsewhere.

The trouble with this story (and many others) is that it’s difficult to really tell if they’re really meant as a joke when they arrive on April 1st. This is especially true when there are apparently genuine news stories about mobile phone companies replacing workers with Artificial Intelligences or messages from the stars. The BBC had an interesting article about stories that look like April Fool’s Day jokes, but aren’t. Other stories are odd, but seem like good ideas, like extending mobile internet coverage in the Australian outback by turning cows into roaming Wifi hotspots.

The normally serious journal Nature had some fun with an article postulating the real life existence of dragons and linking their re-emergence to anthropogenic climate change. By an odd coincidence, the cartoonist Ruben Bolling included a CO2 breathing dragon causing climate change in this week’s Tom the Dancing Bug comic. Did he know about the Nature paper in advance, we wonder?

Scientists at CERN reported that they had confirmed the existence of the Force through their investigation of the fundamental forces of the universe using the newly refurbished Large Hadron Collider. One researcher, Valerio Rossetti, was illustrated using the Force to reheat his coffee, but hoped to find something more useful to do with these powers in the future.

On a more realistic note, the engineering website Design News, used today’s date as an opportunity to explore the 10 Greatest Hoaxes in the History of Engineering, including the Mechanical Turk, various perpetual motion machines, and teleportation at the University of Michigan.

We finish off with what was probably one of the finest real life pranks perpetrated today: at the University of Cambridge, a sign (from Estates Advisor P.D. Avril) informed people that the door entry system had been upgraded to include voice recognition. The joker, Dr. Paul Coxon, from Materials Science and Metallurgy, posted the picture on Twitter. Apparently, this is a regular joke from Dr. Coxon and people regularly fall for it.

So, that’s it for today, if you want to let us and our readers know of anything we’ve missed, then add a comment below.

‘Why on earth was he allowed to fly?’ Why not?

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Before I start this post, on behalf of Research The Headlines, I would like to convey our sympathy and condolences to the families and friends who have lost their loved ones in the recent Germanwings plane crash. Any loss of life is tragic. In a disaster like this, we are all desperate to know ‘Why?’. Unfortunately, the more anxious we are to find out the truth, the more likely we are to become the victims of irresponsibly written newspaper headlines, the sole aim of which is to spark sensation rather than to provide the much needed accurate information.

Read more…

I don’t believe the terrible stats on sexual violence, so they can’t be true?

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A recent Telegraph article, by Neil Lyndon, entitled ‘Why do we believe such terrible things about men that can’t be true?’ reveals breathtaking ignorance from a journalist known for his unsavoury views towards women and feminism. What has got Lyndon so het up, incredulous and spitting venom at women and feminists? The ‘small matter’ of the global incidence of sexual violence against women. Specifically, he is incredulous at a United Nations (UN) report published recently, which highlighted that one in three women experience sexual or physical violence in their lifetime. The report said : ‘at least one in three women is beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused by an intimate partner in the course of her lifetime.’  To emphasise his disbelief, Lyndon turned to his own mother and asked her if she or her 5 sisters have ever experienced anything like this. “Of course not”, came the reply. Lyndon then uses the anecdote to make claims about report findings, as if personal anecdotes provide the best source of information on which to base our beliefs and better still global policy on serious matters.  Why not disband the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the UN and instead use personal views to develop policy? Read more…

“Drinking a cup of tea can help prevent diabetes”

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Hardly a week goes by without some sensationalist headlines that tell us that certain drinks or foods are good or bad for us. We have been told that drinking coffee is good for our liver, drinking tea or eating blueberries have anti-diabetic properties, drinking cocoa fends of Alzheimer’s whilst exercise makes us age faster. I do find these quite fascinating as quite often we feel secretly guilty about our little pleasures (5 cups of tea a day for example) or not doing enough exercise. Reading headlines like these do tend to make us feel quite good about our lifestyle choices; however, once these headlines do grab our interest, it would be quite nice to check out the original article(s) on which the claims were made. Read more…

Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai 2015 eruption

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Stories about volcanoes are always a crowd pleaser, no more so than the growth of a new volcanic island, something that is not witnessed every day, but is relatively common. Recently, many of the UK media outlets have been running stories about the growth of the new island volcano Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai, in the Pacific, such as The Mail and the BBC. However, the coverage is rarely based on science, and presents mainly photos, eye witness reports and information on diameters of the new edifice. This is valuable information for scientists, but currently, no in-depth scientific reports on the eruption are publically available. Read more…

Did We Just Halt the Growth of Atmospheric CO2?

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A recent press release from the International Energy Agency has some apparently promising news:

global emissions of carbon dioxide from the energy sector stalled in 2014

So is this time to pat ourselves on the back? Read more…

Rosé coloured glasses?

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The Daily Mail recently reported on a paper in the journal Alcohol and Alcoholism, with the headline, “How drinking ONE glass of wine improves your looks: Booze can make you beautiful – but stay away from that second glass”. They claim that one glass of wine can increase attractiveness by making cheeks rosier, pupils more dilated, and facial muscles more relaxed. However, two glasses of wine will take things too far, giving you a red face and a slack expression. So should you be careful to stop after one drink at the pub tonight?

Read more…

Sitting comfortably? Not after reading this…

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It’s unlikely anyone would be surprised to be told that being physically active is important to ensure they remain in good health. And for most of us, we could probably do a little bit more to be active within our day-to-day routine (including simple activities like walking more or choosing to take the stairs). If you do meet the suggested targets for physical activity (from WHO: “Adults aged 18-64 should do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity throughout the week, or do at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity throughout the week, or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity”), you’d be forgiven for thinking that’s enough. But is it? Just this week, we saw headlines warning of the dangers of sitting for long periods of time. The Daily Mail led with: “Sitting’s bad for the heart… and the gym WON’T help: Each hour sat down increases levels of deposits in the arteries by 14%”, and the Independent was a more cautious, but no less striking, “Each hour of sitting increases chance of heart disease by 14%”.

Read more…

Can smart babies spot a bully?

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So the news has been doing the rounds that “smart babies can spot a bully at one year old” and the study is reported as showing that “at just 13 months, babies can comprehend what constitutes bullying, friendship and what it means to be a bystander”. Wow and I thought my 14 month old was clever…I want to meet these babies! But what does the study actually show? Read more…

Lend me your ears (and eyes and nose and mouth and brain)

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Two stories, neither of which were based on a particular research finding, dominated the science pages toward the latter part of last week. Don’t worry – I’m not going to talk about that dress. I was much more interested by the media coverage surrounding the proposal by an Italian neurosurgeon that he is two year away from transplanting an individual’s head onto a different body. The coverage stems from an excellent piece in New Scientist derived from an editorial – in this case a detailed letter to the editor describing how the various problem stages of the procedure (and there are many problem stages) might be accomplished. Read more…

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