Low Tire Pressure Leads To A Lucky Lottery Win

A New York man noticed that the air in his tires was pretty low. So he stopped at a Stewart’s Shops convenience store to fill them up. He ended up going inside and buying a lottery ticket. And wouldn’t know it? That guy, 19-year-old Anthony Iavarone, won a million bucks with that $10 scratch-off card. Iavarone says, at first, he didn’t believe he was the winner. So he had his dad double check. Yep, it was true. Luck be a lady but also a deflated car tire.

Rachel Martin, NPR, July 3, 2017

Therapy animals are everywhere. Proof that they help is not.

A therapy-animal trend grips the United States. The San Francisco airport now deploys a pig to calm frazzled travelers. Universities nationwide bring dogs (and a donkey) onto campus to soothe students during finals. Llamas comfort hospital patients, pooches provide succor at disaster sites and horses are used to treat sex addiction.

And that duck on a plane? It might be an emotional-support animal prescribed by a mental health professional.

The trend, which has accelerated hugely since its initial stirrings a few decades ago, is underpinned by a widespread belief that interaction with animals can reduce distress — whether it happens over brief caresses at the airport or in long-term relationships at home. Certainly, the groups offering up pets think this, as do some mental health professionals. But the popular embrace of pets as furry therapists is causing growing discomfort among some researchers in the field, who say it has raced far ahead of scientific evidence.

Earlier this year in the Journal of Applied Developmental Science, an introduction to a series of articles on “animal-assisted intervention” said research into its efficacy “remains in its infancy.” A recent literature review by Molly Crossman, a Yale University doctoral candidate who recently wrapped up one study involving an 8-year-old dog named Pardner, cited a “murky body of evidence” that sometimes has shown positive short-term effects, often found no effect and occasionally identified higher rates of distress.

Karin Bruillard, Washington Post, July 2, 2017

A Stick Insect. A Tree Lobster. Whatever You Call It, It’s Not Extinct.

The tree lobster, one of the rarest insects on Earth, has lived a rather twisted life story.

Scientifically known as Dryococelus australis, this six-inch-long stick bug with a lobster-esque exoskeleton once occupied Lord Howe Island in the Tasman Sea, between Australia and New Zealand.

In 1918, rats escaping a capsized steamship swam ashore. The tree lobsters became rat chow. Two years later, all tree lobsters seemed to have vanished, and by 1960 they were declared extinct.

But in the latest chapter for what has also been called the Lord Howe stick insect, scientists compared the genomes of living stick bugs from a small island nearby to those of museum specimens, revealing that they are indeed the same species.

Joanna Klein, New York Times, October 6, 2017

Teenage suicide is extremely difficult to predict. That’s why some experts are turning to machines for help.

In any given week, Ben Crotte, a behavioral health therapist at Children’s Home of Cincinnati, speaks to dozens of students in need of an outlet.

Their challenges run the adolescent gamut, from minor stress about an upcoming test to severe depression, social isolation and bullying.

Amid the flood of conversations, meetings and paperwork, the challenge for Crotte — and mental health professionals everywhere — is separating hopeless expressions of pain and suffering from crucial warning signs that suggest a student is at risk for taking their own life.

It’s a daunting, high-pressure task, which explains why Crotte was willing to add another potentially useful tool to his diagnostic kit: an app that uses an algorithm to analyze speech and determine whether someone is likely to take their own life.

It’s name: “Spreading Activation Mobile” or “SAM.”

Peter Holley, Washington Post, September 26, 2017

Being in a Good Mood Can Affect How Well The Flu Vaccine Protects You

A new study has found a link between being in a positive mood when you’re getting your flu shot and the vaccine’s protective effect.

It’s a curious finding, and these surprising results could really help researchers looking for new ways to boost the efficacy of the seasonal flu vaccine.

Sleep, stress, physical activity, mood, and even nutrition can serve as these ‘immune modulators’, prompting researchers to look into whether these could be targeted to improve vaccine effectiveness.

But we know little about the relative importance of these factors, and, until now, no research has looked at them simultaneously.

Signe Dean, Science Alert, September 26, 2017

Lightning storms triggered by exhaust from cargo ships

lightning strike

SHIPS spewing soot into the pristine ocean air are causing extra lightning strikes along busy maritime routes. It is a bizarre example of how human activities can change the weather.

When Joel Thornton at the University of Washington in Seattle and his colleagues looked at records of lightning strikes between 2005 and 2016 from the World Wide Lightning Location Network, they noticed there were significantly more strikes in certain regions of the east Indian Ocean and the South China Sea, compared with the surrounding areas. Unusually, they occurred along two straight lines in the open ocean, which coincided with two of the busiest shipping lanes in the world. Along these paths there were twice as many lightning strikes as in nearby areas.

Lakshmi Supriya, New Scientist, September 19, 2017

Research Shows Birth Order Really Does Matter

Compared to older siblings, second-born boys are more likely to go to prison, get suspended in school and enter juvenile delinquency. Why? Parents of first-borns are more invested in their upbringing…Now, because you’re comparing older brothers against younger brothers, you can assume the family environment for both kids is more or less constant. The data come from two very different settings, the state of Florida and the country of Denmark. Lots of things are different in those two places. But the researchers find consistent evidence when it comes to crime and delinquency.

Shankar Vedantam, NPR, July 4, 2017

One Girl’s Mishap Led to the Creation of the Antibiotic Bacitracin

Peering through a microscope at bacteria taken from Treacy’s wound and grown in a lab dish, Johnson noticed that some staphylococcus germs were being killed off by another type of microbe, an unusual strain of the soil bacterium Bacillus subtilis. “The study of these bacterial antagonists in contaminated wounds and burns should be carried further,” urged a July 1943 report on the case that I found recently in a box of mimeographed records in a basement archive at Columbia University Medical Center.

At the time, doctors had just begun using penicillin, the revolutionary antibiotic derived from fungal mold. So Johnson and a surgeon colleague, Frank Meleney of Columbia, did carry on, and found that the B. subtilis from Treacy produced an “antibiotic substance.” In 1948, the Food and Drug Administration approved an antibiotic medication based on the discovery—bacitracin, after “Bacillus” and “Tracey,” a misspelling of the patient’s name.

Peter Andrey Smith, Smithsonian.com, June 2017


Women and Men Die of Different Causes in Middle Age

It may be uncomfortable to ponder, but elderly ladies and gentlemen worldwide die of very similar causes, notably cardiovascular disease. Girls and boys also succumb to a similar set of illnesses, mostly infectious diseases. Yet the death differences are pronounced for young and middle-aged women and men, according to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation in Seattle (large graphic). Women are more likely to die from tuberculosis, diarrhea, respiratory illnesses and nutritional deficiencies. Men perish from substance abuse, injuries, self-harm and violence. As with so many issues related to the sexes, cause of death is determined much more by social factors than by biology (small graphs).

Mark Fischetti, Scientific American, September 1, 2017