August 18, 2009
August may be a slow news month (especially here in humid, mosquito-filled Washington, D.C., which Congress has fled for more pleasant climes), but it is turning out to be a month for weird science news.
Let’s start with male breastfeeding, a topic that a friend tried to convince me to write an entire post about (though I’m far too creeped out by this to write 300 words on the subject). Male breastfeeding, it turns out, isn’t impossible: men have the mammary glands and pituitary glands necessary for breastfeeding. But aside from a few anecdotal reports of male breast feeding, there’s little evidence that men can produce milk without taking a drug that stimulates prolactin production or having a pituitary prolactin-secreting tumor.
Then there was yesterday’s news that 90 percent of the banknotes in the United States have traces of cocaine, up from 67 percent two years ago. The scientists say that powder from the few bills that are used to snort the drug spreads to all the other bills through handling and bill-counting machines.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart died in 1791 at the age of 35. A new study claims that complications from strep throat killed him:
Mozart’s body was said to be so swollen in his dying days that he could not even turn over in bed. And in December 1791, the month of his death, the researchers found oedema [a swelling caused by the build-up of fluid beneath the skin] to be far more prevalent among men of his young age.
This led them to conclude he may have had a simple strep infection, which caused a disorder that destroyed his kidneys.
Or, as they pithily conclude: “Our analysis is consistent with Mozart’s last illness and death being due to a streptococcal infection leading to an acute nephritic syndrome caused by poststreptococcal glomerulonephritis.”
Scientists have created an artificial tongue that is better than a normal human tongue at discerning subtle differences in various sweeteners.
About the size of a business card, the sweetness sensor works by detecting pH changes when a sweet substance mixes with a derivative of the chemical boric acid.
“We take things that smell or taste and convert their chemical properties into a visual image,” chemist Kenneth Suslick of the University of Illinois said in a press release. “This is the first practical ‘electronic tongue’ sensor that you can simply dip into a sample and identify the source of sweetness based on its color.”
A South Carolina social psychologist found a correlation between tough economic times and the election of tall presidents. Apparently McCain never had a chance last year.
And researchers in Canada have carried out a mathematical exercise to show that, in the absence of a quick and aggressive response, a zombie attack would lead to the collapse of civilization.
[The] analysis revealed that a strategy of capturing or curing the zombies would only put off the inevitable.
In their scientific paper, the authors conclude that humanity’s only hope is to “hit them [the undead] hard and hit them often”.
They added: “It’s imperative that zombies are dealt with quickly or else… we are all in a great deal of trouble.”
According to the researchers, the key difference between the zombies and the spread of real infections is that “zombies can come back to life”.
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