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facts & arguments

Social Studies Illustration july 23-09

The Earth can sue

"Last February, the town of Shapleigh, Maine, population 2,326, passed an unusual ordinance," The Boston Globe reports. "Shapleigh sought to protect its aquifers from Nestle Corp., which draws heavily on the region for its Poland Spring bottled water. … [The town]tried something new - a move at once humble in its method and audacious in its ambition. At a town meeting, residents voted, 114-66, to endow all of the town's natural assets with legal rights: 'Natural communities and ecosystems possess inalienable and fundamental rights to exist, flourish and naturally evolve within the Town of Shapleigh.' It further decreed that any town resident had 'standing' to seek relief for damages caused to nature - permitting, for example, a lawsuit on behalf of a stream."

Farewell to Earth?

"It is often described as 'the final frontier,' and not just by those who follow the adventures of Captain Kirk and the crew of the USS Enterprise. The phrase, though, may take an even more literal meaning for those exploring space in the future," Daniel Nasaw and Andy Duckworth write in The Guardian. "The next generation of astronauts may hurtle through the cosmos for years or decades on a mission to explore distant planets and stars - and never return. A senior NASA official has told The Guardian that the world's space agencies, or the commercial firms that may eventually succeed them, could issue one-way tickets to space, with travellers accepting that they would not come back. … 'You would find no shortage of volunteers,' said John Olson, NASA's director of exploration systems integration. 'It's really no different than the pioneering spirit of many in past history, who took the one-way trip across the ocean, or the trip out west across the United States with no intention of ever returning.'"

Farewell to clichés has compiled a list of "Five Atrocious Science Clichés to Throw Down a Black Hole." They are: Holy Grail; silver bullet; shedding light; missing link; and paradigm shift.

Is this dishonest?

"Academics have set up an online 'Honesty Lab' to discover where people draw the line between bending the rules and outright dishonesty," Gareth Rubin writes in London's The Observer. "The results will be used to help judges direct juries. … Visitors to the website are shown short videos in which actors 'confess' to a recent act, such as making personal phone calls to Australia from work, petty shoplifting or a woman who tells airlines it is her wedding anniversary to obtain free upgrades on flights. The viewers decide whether the act was dishonest and explain why they think so." Emily Finch and her colleagues at Brunel University were surprised to see a range of opinions about the 50 ordinary situations. There were substantial differences when the responses were broken down by genders and ages. "We have one scenario," she said, "where a woman is going out with a much older man. She tells him she loves him, but really she just loves the presents he buys her. Young female respondents tend to say 'You go, girl!' while older women and all men consider it dishonest."

Farewell to knives?

Knives could soon be going the way of the napkin ring and pewter tankard, as consumers abandon the dining table and eat meals on their laps in front of the television, Harry Wallop reports in The Daily Telegraph. "According to one [British]retailer, sales of knives are on the decline, with many people eating the majority of their meals with just a fork or, worse still, their fingers. Debenhams said that four years ago it sold equal numbers of knives and forks, but in the last few months it has sold about two forks for every knife. Experts said they feared the trend could result in knives becoming an implement used only on special occasions."

Why jockeys crouch

"Scientists are figuring out why a jockey's posture speeds up the horse," the Los Angeles Times reports. "In more than 100 years of recorded race times, the biggest improvements in speed (a 5 to 7 per cent change in the U.S. and Britain) came around the turn of the 20th century, when jockeys changed their posture, a Royal Veterinary College team reported … in the journal Science. They found that the crouch lets jockeys isolate their bodies from the horse's movement - the horse is moving up and down a lot more than its rider (saving it some energy)."

Thought du jour

"Some drink deeply from the river of knowledge. Others only gargle."

- Woody Allen