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How industrial pollution kept hurricanes at bay Add to ...

Cleaner air, more storms?

Hurricanes are becoming more common as an unexpected side-effect of efforts to reduce pollution, research indicates. “A study by British scientists has produced evidence that there is a direct link between a decline in industrial pollution across the Atlantic and an increase in the number of deadly storms battering the coasts of America and the Caribbean,” says The Independent. “… Research by Britain’s Meteorological Office suggests that, for much of the 20th century, sooty particles generated by industrialization made conditions unfavourable for hurricanes. But efforts on both sides of the Atlantic to improve air quality since the 1980s seem to have once more unleashed natural forces that lead to the formation of gigantic storms.”

Focus with Mozart

“Score another one for Wolfgang Amadeus,” says Pacific Standard magazine. “Researchers report the soothing sounds of a Mozart minuet boost the ability of children and seniors to focus on a task and ignore extraneous information. Dissonant music has the opposite effect, according to Nobuo Masataka of Japan’s Kyoto University and Leonard Perlovsky of Harvard University. Their findings help make the case that music, sometimes thought of as a pleasant byproduct of evolution, has in fact played an active role in human development.”

Plant ‘eats’ mutton

“The ‘sheep-eating’ plant puya chilensis has bloomed for the first time at Britain’s Royal Horticultural Society’s Garden Wisley …” says United Press International. “In its native Chile, Puya chilensis uses its enormous neon spikes to trap sheep in the Andes mountains. After razor-sharp spines on the tips of its leaves ensnare the animal, it starves to death and decomposes at the base of the plant, becoming its favoured fertilizer.” This specimen has been growing in Britain for 15 years, “well fed with liquid fertilizer as feeding it on its natural diet might prove a bit problematic,” said Cara Smith, who looks after the plant at Garden Wisley. She added that it is growing in the arid section of the greenhouse, “well out of reach of both children and sheep alike.”

The Stradivarius mystique

“True or false?” asks The Financial Times. “The quality of a Stradivarius violin stems from its combination of wood and varnish, the secret of which has yet to be uncovered. If a ‘Strad’ is not played regularly, it loses its distinctive sound. Stradivarius instruments are the most expensive on the market because they are old and few have survived into the modern era. Each of these statements is widely believed. None is true. But such is the mystique surrounding the life and legacy of Antonio Stradivari (1644-1737) that his violins have taken on the aura of religious relics, creating all sorts of unsubstantiated legends. They have become so sought-after that their commodity value – up to £3.6-million [$5.8-million] on the open market – is in danger of eclipsing their musical value, which cannot be similarly quantified.”

Notorious tomatoes

“In the late 1700s, a large percentage of Europeans feared the tomato,” says a blog at Smithsonian.org. “A nickname for the fruit was the ‘poison apple’ because it was thought that aristocrats got sick and died after eating them, but the truth of the matter was that wealthy Europeans used pewter plates, which were high in lead content. Because tomatoes are so high in acidity, when placed on this particular tableware, the fruit would leech lead from the plate, resulting in many deaths from lead poisoning. No one made this connection between plate and poison at the time; the tomato was picked as the culprit.”

Thought du jour

“Time has a way of demonstrating … that the most stubborn are the most intelligent.”

– Yevgeny Yevtushenko, Russian poet (1933- )

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