As a species we are shockingly bad at making decisions

Last night Lionel Messi advised me to shave with Gillette’s razor. This was in a TV ad, and was presumably in exchange for a lot more money than I will see this year. Rationally, there is no reason why I should accept advice on the best razor from a man just because he is astonishingly good at guiding a light spherical object past defenders and goalkeepers. Being good at football does not necessarily mean that you are a good judge of a quality razor, even if you are not being paid to recommend one. This marketing campaign is one of a huge number that exploit a weakness in our reasoning that is called the halo effect.


After EU bureaucracy the science should be easy

Image A long time ago — back in mid-2010 when I was still in my thirties — I agree to join a colleague in the Department, Joe Keddie, in an EU consortium. This consortium finally become fully online this week. Its logo is above. It now even has a website! At times Joe and despaired of ever seeing it get off the ground. Years passed. I even got so annoyed with EU bureaucracy that I emailed all my local MEPs. I got only one prompt reply, from the office of the UKIP MEP Nigel Farage. It suggested the way to solve the problem was for the UK to leave the EU. As we would then no longer be eligible for the consortium this would solve the bureaucracy problem but only at the expense of not being able to join any of these consortia and so not being eligible for this research funding. So not very helpful.


Stretching to lose weight

Slipstek AugeA number of factors contribute to whether you end up carrying some excess weight. Clearly too many cream buns, and too little exercise can contribute to you being a bit plump. But genes are also important. Some people are, due to their genes, a bit more prone to putting on weight than others.


A murmuration of starlings

Murmuration is my new a favourite word, it means a flock of starlings. It is one of the old English collective nouns for a group of animals, like a murder of crows, a skulk of foxes or a gaggle of geese. And as the YouTube clip above shows murmurations are simply astonishing.  The Guardian also has a gallery with some pretty amazing pictures. Thousands of starlings flying through the air as if they were a single organism. Flicking back and fore like cat’s tail, not like the thousands of bird spread across maybe 100 m that they are.


Hard drinking starlings

Taking a restI have just learnt that the European Starling can take its drink. Alcohol is metabolised, in starlings and in us, by an enzyme called Alcohol Dehydrogenase. By weight starlings have approximately 14 times as much Alcohol Dehydrogenase activity as we do. The data are in a paper by Prinzinger and Hakimi.  I will now look at starlings with new respect.

You may be asking yourself, why do European Starlings have this impressive ability to take their drink? Fruit is a major part of the diet of starlings. Fallen fruit tends to ferment of course, which produces alcohol. So it may be that starlings have evolved a high tolerance to booze to allow them to eat lots of fallen fruit without then being reduced to zig-zagging across the sky in a rather drunken way.

Don’t take liquids for granted

2006-01-28 Drop-impact
Water is everywhere – we have been inundated with the stuff over the last few months. But maybe we should not take it for granted. In Britain water is everywhere but in the universe as whole liquids of any sort are extremely rare. And even on Earth, water is pretty much the only liquid around.


This post could save you £34.99

While watching Numb3rs on TV I was struck by an ad for Gold Collagen. It showed a woman drinking from a small plastic bottle as if this would change her life. This looked a bit weird. Gold Collagen is some sort of food supplement that contains mainly collagen. Indeed, like the webpage says: “Collagen helps the skin to preserve its firmness and elasticity.” It forms a network that holds the cells together so indeed contributes significantly to the skin’s elasticity.


Using analogy to understand how chameleons change colour

The video shows artificial models of the key structures in a type of cell called a melanophore. This is from a nice paper by Aoyama et alMelanophores and similar cells are how animals like chameleons change colour. The blobs that show up as bright here in the fluoresence microscopy images are actually dark brown under natural conditions. They contain eumelanin, the brown pigment that makes brown hair brown.


The Autopsy of Chicken Nuggets Reads “Chicken Little”

The title is fantastic but it is not mine sadly. I stole it from a paper by deShazo, Bigler and Skipworth. Thanks to them for that. The paper analysed chicken nuggets from fast food outlets. Spoiler alert: they don’t contain a lot what of would be conventionally regarded as chicken meat, although most of it did in the past belong to a chicken. Somewhere on a chicken’s body. Somewhere.