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The Globe and Mail

Scientists struggle over what’s killing the honeybee

U.S. bee deaths soar

"A mysterious malady," says The New York Times, "that has been killing honeybees for several years appears to have expanded drastically in the last year." U.S. commercial beekeepers say it has wiped out 40 or even 50 per cent of the hives needed to pollinate many of the nation's fruits and vegetables. A conclusive explanation so far has escaped scientists studying the ailment, colony collapse disorder, since it first surfaced around 2005. A quarter of the American diet, from apples to cherries to watermelons to onions, depends on pollination by honeybees. Fewer bees mean smaller harvests and higher food prices.

It's how you ask

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"How a decision is framed – for example, if it's presented as a way to secure a gain rather than avoid a loss – has been shown to dramatically affect one's actual choice, even if the underlying options are the same," reports The Boston Globe. "Charities, it appears, should start using this to their advantage: A new study found that a request to donate blood was more effective if it was framed as a way to 'prevent someone from dying' rather than as a way to 'save someone's life.'"

Did a mouse just cough?

Mice apparently can cough, reports LiveScience. The finding suggests they could be used in research to fight coughing in humans. "Rodents make ideal lab animals because they grow quickly, reproduce in large numbers and are small enough to house easily, allowing scientists to perform experiments on them en masse. Mice are often used in research to develop new medicines for people – for instance, mice grimace when in pain, just like humans, and experiments that analyze their faces could help test out new painkillers." Currently, guinea pigs are used for testing cough medicines, but they can be relatively expensive compared with mice.

Cranes want to have fun

"Curiously, all species of crane dance throughout the year and at any age," says BBC News. "The behaviour can appear random at times: sparked by a feather, stick or gust of wind. … Cranes dance most often when relaxed and at ease, often while not involved in any social activity and when they are too young to form pairs, they will even dance alone." According to a publication in The International Journal of Avian Science, the answer could be that most crane dances, outside of courtship, are for play. "What came as a surprise," said author Vladimir Dinets of Louisiana State University, "was that nobody had figured it out before."

Tall can be stressful

"Higher buildings have a negative effect on the way we handle the daily grind," says Psychology Today. "The increased feeling of openness created by shorter buildings facilitates the sensation of escape – thought to be crucial for replenishing our mental batteries. Why? One evolutionary theory posits that we dislike enclosed spaces because they made it difficult for our ancestors to spot threats."

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Writer finds spare moments

British anesthetist Peter Morris says he was able to write a novel while his patients slept because surgeons took so long over operations, reports The Daily Telegraph. In the acknowledgments to his new, self-published novel, Morris thanks his brother, son, daughter and also "Hull and East Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust." The doctor wrote Bound with New Ropes while "simultaneously giving anesthetics." The novel is now on sale from Amazon in e-book form. Its "effortful erotic style is unlikely to give Fifty Shades of Grey a run for its money," says the newspaper.

Thought du jour

"I don't believe in just ordering people to do things. You have to sort of grab an oar and row with them."

Harold Geneen, U.S. businessman (1910-97)

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