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facts & arguments


Rocking the nap

"If you need a nap, get a hammock," says The Independent. "You will nod off quicker and sleep more deeply, researchers say. The gentle rocking motion soothes us to sleep - and the effect has now been demonstrated by a study of brainwaves. From babies cradled in their mother's arms to grandparents falling asleep in a rocking chair, it is common knowledge that rocking induces sleep. But scientists did not understand how it worked." Two researchers at the University of Geneva led a study, published in the journal Current Biology, involving 12 volunteers and an "experimental hammock" that could either stay still or rock gently. "… 'We observed a faster transition to sleep in each and every subject in the swinging condition,' said co-researcher Dr. Michel Muhlethaler. '… Swaying from side to side specifically increased the duration of deep non-dreaming sleep, where the eyes are still, which normally accounts for about half a good night's sleep.'

Aggressive cows

"A rural Urbana [Iowa]woman died after a cow attacked her while she was feeding her animals, leaving people baffled," reports The Des Moines Register. "It's pretty unusual for a cow to become aggressive," said Terry Engelken, an associate professor at Iowa State University's College of Veterinary Medicine. "We have a few instances of [cow attacks]across the country every year - but it's uncommon. For it to result in a fatality is very uncommon." Prof. Engelken said that in many cases people have no idea why cows become aggressive. "It's common for them to become aggressive if they have a newborn calf," he said. "We also just see differences in temperament in cows like we see in dogs and cats and people."

Inventors' youth problem

"The mean age at which scientists make their great achievements is rising," reports The Wilson Quarterly. "… 'Great innovations are the [province]of the young,' writes Benjamin F. Jones of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. But perhaps not for long, Prof. Jones finds. Over the course of the 20th century, the mean age at which scientists made their great achievements rose by about six years. Why? Simply put, there's more for young scientists to learn before they can start making their own contributions. … It's possible that the early years of an inventor's life are not only the most prolific but also the most creative … It's a catch-22 for the budding researcher: Study long enough to make your big breakthrough, and you'll find you're too old to do so."

Convict's age problem

"A convicted murderer, who was India's oldest inmate, has been released from prison at the age of 108," BBC News reports. "Brij Bihari Pandey, a Hindu priest, was serving a life sentence for the murder of four people in 1987, when he was 84. Officials at Gorakhpur jail in Uttar Pradesh state say Mr. Bihari, who requires regular hospital visits, was freed on humanitarian grounds. As he is unable to walk, relatives carried him from prison to a waiting car."

From the mouths of babes

"Out of all the contestants in [the]Miss USA pageant, only two affirmed they thought evolution should be taught in schools," The Huffington Post reports. "The winner, 21-year-old Alyssa Campanella [California]was one of the two. The rest either confused the question with evolution of species (versus the intelligent design debate), or stated that they thought both should be taught in school, according to Scientific American."

It's not all evolution

Some of the weirdest U.S. college classes, according to The Huffington Post:

- How to Watch TV (Montclair State University, Montclair, N.J.)

- Looking at Animals (Evergreen State College, Olympia, Wash.)

- The Joy of Garbage (Santa Clara University, Santa Clara, Calif.)

- Zombies in Popular Media (Columbia College, Chicago)

- Maple Syrup: The Real Thing (Alfred University, Alfred, N.Y.)

Tweezing for gold

"The streets of New York may not quite be paved with gold. But one man in America is proving that the cracks on Manhattan [sidewalks]really can bear riches," The Telegraph says. "Raffi Stepanian, 43, has begun crawling around the New York 'Diamond District' on his hands and knees, plucking jewels and fragments of precious metals from between the slabs. Armed with a pair of tweezers, Mr. Stepanian, an unemployed diamond setter from Queens, claims to have collected $1,010 [U.S.]worth in the past fortnight. … Mr. Stepanian's haul so far has included chips of diamonds and rubies, bits of platinum and gold fragments from watches, earrings and necklaces. … [H]s surgical inspection of pavement cracks had been so fruitful that he had taken 25 pounds [11.4 kilograms]of soil from the area home with him to sift later on."

Thought du jour

"We cannot remain consistent with the world save by growing inconsistent with our past selves."

Havelock Ellis (1859-1939), British writer and psychologist