The loneliest whale in the world

This is not a happy story. This is a sad story. This is the story about a lonely, lonely whale. Under the deep waters of the ocean it’s quite hard to see. It’s really rather dark. Molecules diffuse very slowly in water compared to air, so smell is also quite limited. So whales and other mammals rely on sound. Sound waves propagate much faster in water than in the atmosphere at sea level (4 times as much). Some marine mammals, such as dolphins, use sound for echolocation. They produce a series of high-frequency clicks to get information about their environment, in much …

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Hummingbirds are hours away from starving to death

“If I don’t eat something I’m literally going to die,” says your friend. Of course, even if you’re really hungry, in the vast majority of situations you are not literally going to die if you miss a meal (unless you’re diabetic with dangerously low blood sugar). In fact, more and more of us carry around quite a lot of extra energy around our bellies. A spare tire of fuel, if you will. But there is an animal that would die if it wasn’t constantly eating. Hummingbirds are fascinating creatures. Found in the americas, they are some of the smallest birds …

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The great “natural” hoax — Is “natural” really better?

I hear it all the time. X is better than Y because it’s natural. It’s not full of chemicals. It’s herbal. It’s not artificial. You know what else is natural? Cancer. Bacteria. The polio virus. Tsunamis. Mass extinctions. Malaria. Poisons. Natural disasters. How come we give so much faith to nature, when in fact nature does not like us at all? Nature is not nice. Out there in the wilderness only the fittest survive. Are we watching the same documentaries? The ones where the weak gazelle gets eaten by the lion, the ones where animals die of thirst, illness, starvation. …

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Death by fan

Apparently, I’m immortal. Because I, for many hundreds of nights, have slept in a room with a fan on. And survived. True story. You might now be wondering if I have gone completely insane (which is not too unlikely). Of course, why would I not have survived. Millions, if not billions, of people sleep with the fan on every night without much consequence. When I was living in a tropical country having those giant ceiling fans on was a basic requirement for being able to get a decent night’s sleep. But, the thing is, in South Korea it is widely …

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Eating a high protein diet is not as bad as smoking

In the latest bout of bad science reporting publications such as the Guardian, the Daily Telegraph, CNN and a bunch of others have published articles claiming that a new study shows that eating a high protein diet is as bad as smoking. “People who eat diets rich in animal protein carry similar cancer risk to those who smoke 20 cigarettes each day,” The Daily Telegraph As usual, one has to look at the study itself (published in the journal Cell Metabolism) to gather what has actually been discovered. “A diet rich in meat, eggs, milk and cheese could be as …

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Can too much water kill you? And should you drink 8 glasses a day?

All substances are poisons; there is none which is not a poison. The right dose differentiates a poison and a remedy. – Attributed to Paracelsus (1493-1541) Let’s start with cliché. Water is life. Well, it’s not actually life itself (it is, after all, just a molecule), but  it is fundamental to carbon-based life forms such as us, bacteria and everything else that we consider to be living. So important that we first look for liquid water on other planets to determine the possibility of extra-terrestrial life. However, as our long dead friend explained above, anything can be bad for you taken …

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How can human fluids be sterile? – There are no bacteria “inside” the body

Gut flora, the bacteria inside human’s digestive tract, performs a fundamental role. Without it, humans would not be able to digest a large variety of food (including complex carbohydrates). And there are a lot of these bacteria: they compose up to 60% of the dry weight of faeces. There are also a lot of bacteria on human skin. The number of bacteria on the skin of the average person is about 1 trillion. Which is a lot. Yet, bodily fluids (like blood, urine, cerebrospinal fluid, etc.) are considered sterile (while still inside the body). How is this possible, when there are …

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Is all life related?

All living organisms on earth are related. All of them. Every bacteria, tree, bird, snake, cat, dog, human. There is overwhelming evidence that we all descend from a single common ancestor.

Hearing by seeing – The McGurk Effect

Humans use vision as well as hearing to understand speech. There is no better example of this than the McGurk effect. Imagine a recording of a person saying “bah” over and over again. What sound are you going to hear? “Bah”, obviously. However, if this sound is accompanied by a video of this person saying “vah” you will start hearing “vah” or “fah” instead, even though the audio has not changed. Just have a look at the video: