I didn’t exactly forget to write one of these for November 2011. It’s just that between personal issues, my participation in the 2nd International Melaka Walkathon and most of all, spending lots of time on my entry for the AI Challenge 2011, I just never got around to it. Well, better late than never and here’s a whole bunch of articles to make up for the tardiness:
- This is purely based on survey data, i.e. asking people what they believe rather than observing it in them, but this article reports how happiness is correlated with high ethical standards.
- One of the most interesting events in November was how the Earth was almost destroyed by a passing asteroid. Of course, almost is a relative term and astronomers have long calculated that the asteroid, 2005 YU55 will miss our planet, coming no closer than about 320,000 kilometres. This article has all the details.
- One of the basic assumptions in science is the laws of nature remain constant. This extensive blog post looks at one very intricate experiment that suggests that this may not necessarily be true. In particular, the experiment looks at the fine-structure constant, itself a combination of several constants including the electron charge, Planck’s constant, the speed of light and ? by studying the spectra of quasars. Their observations currently suggest that the fine structure constant appears to have been different in the distant. If this checks out, it could mean that the laws of physics themselves change over time.
- This Freakonomics blog post covers the work of an economist who thought to ask: hey, with all those sex abuse scandals in the Catholic Church, I wonder what that means for their membership and donation numbers? It turns out that the scandals have indeed led to a drop in the number of people attending Catholic Church with commensurate gains elsewhere. In particular, it looks as if Baptist churches picked up most of the fleeing Catholics.
- Can animals laugh? In particular, can animals laugh when they’re being tickled? This blog post covers the work of Jaak Panksepp who tickled rats to find out. It seems that rats make a chirping noise in the 50 kHz range under certain conditions and this researcher sought to prove that this response has an ancestral relationship to human laughter. They found out all sorts of things, for example, that the most playful rats tend to be the most ticklish, that tickle response rates drop after adolescence, that the tickle response tends to help with social bonding and that rats will even run mazes for the sake of being tickled.
- Ever since quantum mechanics was invested, physicists have long argued over how it can be interpreted. Lately, most scientists prefer to treat it as a purely statistical tool, absolving them of the need to treat the results as something that exists physically. A recent preprint of a paper suggests that this interpretation is flawed and that the results of quantum mechanics do reflect intrinsic physical reality after all.