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facts & arguments

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Pandas go separate ways

"Male and female giant pandas prefer to use different habitats, say scientists. Female pandas frequent high-altitude conifer forests and mixed forests on steeper slopes," reports BBC News, "whereas males roam more widely, researchers found. Females prefer these areas as they provide den sites for birthing and dense bamboo cover in which baby pandas can hide. The discovery could inform strategies for conserving wild pandas and releasing them back into the wild."

The weekend is over

"The Monday blues are a myth, if you believe a new study of American happiness. (Nor does 'hump day' pack much of a punch)," says The Wall Street Journal. "U.S. residents have roughly the same levels of happiness, enjoyment and laughter – not to mention worry, sadness and anger – from Monday through Friday. The real difference lies between weekdays and weekends. Researchers studied the survey responses of nearly half a million respondents to a daily Gallup-Healthways poll … There were no day-to-day effects on the life-evaluation question, which suggests that the evaluation of one's life is shaped by broad, long-term forces. But people reported more positive emotions, and fewer negative ones, on weekends. And the cause, according to the data, was additional time spent with family and friends. … Full-time workers faced a greater happiness drop on weekdays than part-time workers. On the other hand, however, they were also happier overall."

U.S. grade inflation

Researchers Stuart Rojstaczer and Christopher Healy "collected historical data on letter grades awarded by more than 200 four-year colleges and universities," says The New York Times. "Their analysis (published in the Teachers College Record) confirm that the share of A grades awarded has skyrocketed over the years. … Most recently, about 43 per cent of all letter grades given were A's, an increase of 28 percentage points since 1960 and 12 percentage points since 1988. The distribution of B's has stayed relatively constant; the growing share of A's instead comes at the expense of a shrinking share of C's, D's and F's. In fact, only about 10 per cent of grades awarded are D's and F's."

Bad-driving genes?

"In China, where someone is killed in traffic every five minutes, one entrepreneurial doctor has an unusual approach for making roads safer: Treat bad driving like a disease you can diagnose before the driver even gets near a car," says Associated Press. "Dr. Jin Huiqing has spent nearly three decades trying to figure out why some motorists seem more accident-prone than others. He has translated his research into a lucrative business selling his road safety program to Chinese municipalities. At least one city using his methods reports a decline in traffic deaths. He has studied the records of thousands of Chinese bus, van and cab drivers, put dozens through neurological tests, examined hundreds of blood samples. Since last year, he's even been trying to find gene markers for bad drivers. … Among his earlier findings: 6 to 8 per cent of Chinese motorists are accident prone, which he defines as having caused three or more crashes in five consecutive years. When compared to safe drivers, accident prone ones score worse on tests of their night vision, depth perception and ability to estimate speed. Personality tests show they tend to be more extroverted and enjoy taking risks. By testing the DNA samples of about 350 Chinese bus drivers from Hangzhou, he's found that three genes show potential links to accident-prone driving."

Rainy days at the circus

"A ferret has escaped from a circus in Siberia along with a monkey and a red-breasted parakeet – because they were all depressed," says Orange News U.K. "Workers at the circus, in the eastern city of Chita, said the animals were feeling down because of the endless bad weather. Circus art director Zhanna Lazerson told the Moscow Times: 'We believe the creatures have fled because of their depression – the rain in Chita just doesn't stop. We found the monkey in a doghouse in the morning, and the two animals were cuddling in their sleep. But the search for the ferret and the parakeet goes on.' She said the escape had added to the animals' depression in the circus because the male parakeet was partnered on stage with a female parakeet who was now missing him. The ferret is less missed, with Ms. Lazerson calling him a 'terrible glutton, idle to the core.'"

Thought du jour

"Some men storm imaginary Alps all their lives, and die in the foothills cursing difficulties which do not exist."

Edgar Watson Howe (1853-1937)

U.S. journalist