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facts & arguments

Don't forget soap, water

"Studies show that alcohol-based sanitizers, especially those with 60 per cent ethanol or more, can reduce microbial counts on contaminated hands and reduce the spread of some strains of the flu," writes Anahad O'Connor of The New York Times. "But against norovirus, the severe gastrointestinal illness gripping many parts of the country, they may be useless. Some viruses, like influenza, are coated in lipids, 'envelopes' that alcohol can rupture. But non-enveloped viruses, like noroviruses, are generally not affected. Bleach is effective against norovirus, and can be used to decontaminate counter tops and surfaces. And for people, the best strategy may be washing hands with plain old soap and water."

Manager or minion genes

"A gene has been discovered that may help to create born leaders," reports the British Press Association. "The leadership gene, known as rs4950, is an inherited DNA sequence associated with people taking charge. Scientists accept that leadership skills are also learned. But the gene may provide the vital push needed to make someone into a manager rather than a minion. Researchers found the gene after analyzing DNA samples from around 4,000 individuals and matching them to information about jobs and relationships. Workplace supervisory roles were used as a measurement of leadership behaviour. The study showed that a quarter of the observed variation in leadership traits between individuals could be explained by genetics. Lead scientist Dr. Jan-Emmanuel De Neve, from University College London, said: 'We have identified a genotype … which appears to be associated with the passing of leadership ability down through generations. The conventional wisdom – that leadership is a skill – remains largely true, but we show it is also, in part, a genetic trait.'"

Too hot for cellphones

Noting that the Australian heat wave is getting so hot that the country's Bureau of Meteorology has had to add new colours to its weather map, adds: "To put this in another perspective, when the outside temperature reaches 42C, [as] it did in Sydney last week, it's too hot to safely operate your iPhone. According to Apple, you should keep it under 35C and at temperatures of 45C, it's too hot to own these devices."

Haunted real estate

Hong Kong's property boom is so powerful it has scared away the ghosts, says The Wall Street Journal. "No matter what happened to real-estate prices in this superstitious Chinese city, the one surefire way to get a cheap apartment was to move in with a ghost. Websites track 'haunted houses,' or hongza, as they are known in Cantonese, which typically sell or rent for discounted prices. But the latest boom in real-estate prices has nearly wiped away Hong Kong's haunted-house discount. That has been bad news for Ng Goon Lau, 62 years old, who made a career – and a tidy fortune – braving the supernatural. For more than 10 years, he says, he has bought and sold apartments where a tenant died an unnatural death, paying a third less than the market price and later selling at a healthy profit. … Rising demand has squeezed the haunted-house discount to as low as 5 per cent, says Ng. 'The market is crazy now,' he says."

Thought du jour

"The effect of liberty to individuals is that they may do what they please; we ought to see what it will please them to do, before we risk congratulations."

– Edmund Burke, Irish statesman and writer (1729-97)