Reporter Journal / Chris Davis

Science can get cloudy, especially when end is near

(China Daily USA) Updated: 2017-09-22 11:55

In case anyone missed it, the world is going to end on Saturday. This according to numerologist David Meade as reported in a British newspaper called - appropriately enough - The Sun.

Meade bases his claims on numerous signs, including phantom planets, codes from the pyramids of Giza in Egypt and apocalyptic verses from the Bible, notably Luke 21:25:

"There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the Earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea."

And Isaiah 13:10:

"The Stars of the Heaven and their constellations will not show their light. The rising Sun will be darkened and the Moon will not give its light."

Ask anyone who rode out one of the hurricanes about "the roaring and tossing of the sea."

And as for the heavens, within a space of a few weeks, we have had the strongest Sun flares since 2005, a rare (for us) total solar eclipse and this week an even rarer lunar occultation (during which three planets and one major star - Venus, Mars, Mercury and Regulus - will slip behind the Moon within a 24-hour period, which won't happen again until 2036).

While climate change advocates claim the monster storms for their ammo, Meade uses Nature's coincidences to sound a more sensational alarm, one that got picked up in papers from New York to Nigeria.

Another convergence with his theory, which seems especially appropriate, was last week's announcement of the 2017 Ig Nobel Prizes for dubious achievements in science.

The awards, in their 27th year, were conceived by Marc Abrahams, editor of the Annals of Improbable Research, and are intended not to mock or spoof quirky research so much as spotlight things that encourage people to think in unusual ways.

Exploring questions like, among this year's winners, can playing a didgeridoo help cure snoring or does holding a crocodile improve gambling?

"We hope that this will get people back into the habits they probably had when they were kids of paying attention to odd things," Abrahams told Reuters in a phone interview before the awards ceremony at Harvard University. Real Nobel laureates present the prizes by the way.

Some of the honorees this year tend toward the downright specious: French researcher Marc-Antoine Fardin's 2014 study Can a Cat Be Both a Solid and a Liquid? was inspired by internet photos of cats tucked into glasses, buckets and sinks. The winner of the Ig Nobel in physics used mathematical formulas to conclude that active young cats and kittens hold their physical shape longer than older, lazier felines.

James Heathcoate won the Ig Nobel in anatomy for his study Why Do Old Men Have Big Ears?, which appeared in the British Medical Journal.

Jiwon "Jesse" Han won the Fluid Dynamics Prize for studying what happens when a person walks backwards while carrying a cup of coffee, his paper on Coffee Spilling Phenomena appearing in Achievements in the Life Sciences.

The Medicine Prize went to Tao Jiang and colleagues from France who used advanced brain-scanning technology to measure the extent to which some people are disgusted by cheese, which may not seem like a big deal, but in France it is, believe me.

A team from Brazil, Canada and Spain took home the Nutrition Prize for producing the first scientific report detailing human blood in the diet of the hairy-legged vampire bat. Their report, titled What's for Dinner?, appeared in the December 2016 issue of Acta Chiropterologica.

Economics winners Matthew Rockloff and Nancy Greer conducted an experiment in which problem gamblers and non-problem gamblers handled 3.3-foot-long crocodiles before playing a simulated slot machine.

Their study found that problem gamblers were likely to place higher bets after handling the reptiles, as their brains had misinterpreted the excitement of holding a dangerous animal as a sign they were on a lucky streak.

A multi-national team of six researchers won the Peace Prize for the 2005 paper Didgeridoo Playing as Alternative Treatment for Obstructive Sleep Apnea Syndrome: Randomized Controlled Trial.

The conclusion that the Australian wind instrument might be of some benefit was based not the didgeridoo's droning tone, but rather that the daily practice involved a lot of blowing, and may have strengthened the upper respiratory tract, making breathing easier.

As for the end of the world, we can all breath a bit easier when the Sun comes up on Sunday morning.

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