December 12, 2013 1:59 pm
Mastering an instrument is an impressive skill. It can also boost children’s creativity and teach them important life skills such as discipline and concentration, the Harvard Gazette writes. What playing an instrument won’t do, however, is make you smarter.
While parents and fans of the arts have long insisted that with musical aptitude comes heightened intelligence, new research shows this just is not so. This misconception first arose when researchers erroneously reported that listening to music boosted cognitive skills; the leap to assuming it also boosted intelligence was an easy one to make. Although that original research was later refuted, the idea that listening to or making music makes us smarter remained, the Gazette explains.
In the new study, researchers divided 29 four-year-olds into two groups, one that learned music and another that practiced arts and crafts over the next year. All of the children were tested for intelligence and musical aptitude before the study began, and the same teacher taught both the music and the art class. At the end of the study period, the kids were again given a battery of tests. The music group performed just slightly better in one spatial task than the art group, but the art group made up for it by slightly outperforming the music group in another task.
Just to be sure of their results, they repeated the same study again with 45 different children, but again found no significant differences in intelligence after the kids went through their classes. So while music might inspire kids’ creativity and boost their confidence, it probably doesn’t make them any smarter. And as Quartz points out, those positive gains can also be acquired through other hobbies, like sports, dance, art or chess. So rather than force kids to sit at the piano for an hour every day, perhaps it’s better if we let them find music—and the joy it can bring, if the learner actually loves it—on their own.
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December 12, 2013 12:49 pm
Just because you’re allergic to one food stuff, like Nile perch, doesn’t mean you’re allergic to every fish in the sea (or lake or stream or river or pond). New research finds further evidence that food allergies can be quite specific, triggered by a single species rather than entire genre such as “seafood.” In some cases, other studies found, selecting only certain components of a single food—egg yolk but not egg white, for example—can mean the difference between enjoying a Sunday morning omelette or breaking out in an allergic reaction.
Outside Online expands on this subject:
To determine which parts of a food are fine to eat and which parts will actually cause a reaction, allergists perform oral food challenges. These involve feeding a patient tiny amounts of the suspected allergenic food in increasing doses.
Allergist Joyce C. Rabbat confirms, writing, “Certain proteins of a food are more allergenic (i.e., more likely to cause an allergic reaction) than other proteins of the same food.”
Detailed biochemical analyses can also shed light on specific allergy triggers. In Europe, researchers explored the line between allergic and not by recruiting two dozen people with a confirmed allergy to Nile perch. Their studied was inspired by a Norwegian chef who had suddenly developed an allergy to Nile perch after consuming salmon (researchers call this a “cross allergy,” or antibodies produced in reaction to one food that suddenly begin to react with a different but similar food), but did not have any problems with other fish, like cod. They paired serums, which contain antibodies, from the test subjects with various proteins extracted from the fish to see which components exactly triggered their allergic reactions. They found that not everyone experienced an allergic reaction to both perch and cod, although conventional allergy tests likely would have indicated those patients were allergic to fish as a whole.
“The tests that are currently used are very non-specific,” the researchers concluded. “For some people who suffer from fish allergies there may be hope of finding a fish that they can tolerate if we managed to make the relevant tests suitable for mass implementation and use them in allergy diagnostics.”
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December 12, 2013 9:31 am
The desert tortoise, a hardy resident of the U.S. Southwest, may have met its match in climate change, authors of a new paper write. Unlike creatures such as insects, rodents or birds, tortoises display “impressive longevity,” the authors write. Their slow development and long lifespan, however, makes it difficult to conduct studies on how environmental conditions such as climate change may or may not impact their ability to thrive. The study’s results, unfortunately, don’t bode well for these long-lived desert dwellers. According to the long-term study, under future climate model predictions, the survival of this threatened species looks pretty iffy in its increasingly hostile, dry desert environment.
The researchers got an early start on collecting their data: starting in 1978, they began to monitor threatened Agassiz’s desert tortoises living in a 1-square mile plot just Joshua Tree National Park in California. Throughout the years, they would check up on the tortoises, using the method of capture-mark-recapture to see which individuals had passed on and which were still around. In 2012, they decided it was at last time to analyze their results and see how the tortoises had fared over the years.
From 1978 until 1996, they found, things were looking pretty good for the tortoises. Their population was high and stable. But from 1997 onward, things took a downward turn when a drought began and continued until 2002. Many turtles died, and populations began to shrink. According to computer models, mortality coincided with lack of rain in the winter.
After 2002, the population never fully recovered. Those that perished likely experienced very unpleasant final days, as the team writes, “The postures and positions of a majority of dead tortoises found in 2012 were consistent with death by dehydration and starvation.” Those that hadn’t succumbed to death by drought appeared to have been predated on by coyotes–which usually eat mammals–leading the team to fear that those carnivores are now developing a taste for turtle flesh under the more stressful environmental circumstances.
The conclusions are pretty dire: “If drought duration and frequency increase, they will likely have wider and more significant impacts on Agassiz’s desert tortoise survivorship, particularly in the low Sonoran Desert portion of their range in California, and it will be difficult or impossible for resource managers to mitigate their effects.”
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December 11, 2013 3:21 pm
Up to 60 percent of Europe’s population was wiped out by the bubonic plague back in the 14th century. Without treatment, the plague, which is spread by bacteria-infected fleas that live on rats and other small rodents, kills two out of three people infected with the disease. Today, the disease is rare, but it has recently flared up again in Madagascar, where living conditions have deteriorated since the political turmoil of 2009.
Each year, around 500 plague cases are reported in Madagascar, but this year has been particularly bad. As in past years, the problem began in prisons, where crowded, dirty conditions promote the spread of disease. The International Committee of the Red Cross issued a warning in October about the plague threat, writing:
In 2012, Madagascar became the most severely affected country in the world, with 256 cases and 60 deaths according to data from the World Health Organization, which is working in partnership with the Malagasy health ministry to implement a national policy for fighting the plague.
“Rat control is essential for preventing the plague, because rodents spread the bacillus to fleas that can then infect humans,” said [ICRC delegate Christopher] Vogt. “So the relatives of a detainee can pick up the disease on a visit to the prison. And a released detainee returning to his community without having been treated can also spread the disease.”
Although efforts to eliminate rats from the prison are underway, the disease seems to be getting worse. Health officials confirmed this week that at least 20 villagers have now died from plague, the Guardian writes, and the fact that the plague is still raging in December–more than a month after its usual infection window–may indicate that infected fleas are on the rise.
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December 11, 2013 2:44 pm
This post and headline have been updated to reflect the following correction: Facebook’s top global destinations are listed in alphabetical order, not in order of their popularity ranking.
With the end of the year approaching, Facebook just released its annual compilation of the year’s most popular destinations—or, at least, those most popular for Facebook users to check in to. CNN reports:
The list includes the top checked in places, excluding transportation hubs, in 25 of the countries with the most active Facebook users in 2013.
Travel is big business for the global social network, which confirmed that travel continues to be the second most talked-about life event on Facebook after relationship updates.
Some of the top world destinations for check-ins are typical, such as Venice’s famous Piazza San Marco and various Disneylands around the world. Others, however are a bit unexpected. (A waterfront neighborhood in Argentina is #1? Do Australians really love cricket that much? What’s going on at that mall in Nigeria?) But they reflect Facebook’s popularity around the world. Unfortunately, Facebook doesn’t get into any analysis besides simply presenting the results, which follow in alphabetical order:
Argentina: Puerto Madero, Buenos Aires
Australia: Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG), East Melbourne, Victoria
Brazil: Parque Ibirapuera, São Paulo
Canada: Rogers Arena, Vancouver, British Columbia
Egypt: Sharm el-Sheikh, South Sinai Governorate, Egypt
France: Disneyland Paris, Marne La Vallée
Germany: Reeperbahn, Hamburg
Hong Kong: 香港迪士尼樂園 | Hong Kong Disneyland
Iceland: Blue Lagoon, Reykjavík, Iceland
India: Harmandir Sahib (The Golden Temple)
Italy: Piazza San Marco, Venice
Japan: 東京ディズニーランド (Tokyo Disneyland), Tokyo
Mexico: Auditorio Nacional, Mexico City
Nigeria: Ikeja City Mall, Ikeja, Lagos, Nigeria
Poland: Temat Rzeka, Warsaw
Russia: Центральный парк культуры и отдыха им. Горького | Gorky Park of Culture and Leisure
Singapore: Marina Bay Sands
South Africa: Victoria & Alfred Waterfront
South Korea: Myungdong Street, Seoul
Spain: Las Ramblas, Barcelona, Catalonia
Sweden: Friends Arena, Solna
Taiwan: 花園夜市Tainan Flower Night Market, Tainan City
Turkey: Taksim Square, Istanbul
United Kingdom: The 02, London
United States: Disneyland, Anaheim, California
As for those traveling closer to home (or visiting the U.S.), the top ten posts within the country were a bit less surprising:
1. Disneyland & Disney California Adventure (Anaheim, CA)
2. Times Square (New York, NY)
3. Epcot – Walt Disney World (Lake Buena Vista, FL)
4. Dodger Stadium (Los Angeles, CA)
5. AT&T Park (San Francisco, CA)
6. Rangers Ballpark (Arlington, TX)
7. Universal Studios Hollywood (Universal City, CA)
8. Fenway Park (Boston, MA)
9. MGM Grand Hotel & Casino (Las Vegas, NV)
10. Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo (Houston, TX)
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