The Frontal Cortex

Archives for October, 2006

Martians, Revisited

Only when it comes to alien life forms can the absence of decent data – the 1976 Viking mission did not not detect any organic molecules – seem so exciting. Here’s Sharon Begley, from behind the WSJ firewall: When scientists announced Monday that the search for life on Mars 30 years ago may not have…

Primo Levi’s The Periodic Table, at least according to the Royal Institution in London. The shortlist Primo Levi The Periodic Table Konrad Lorenz King Solomon’s Ring Tom Stoppard Arcadia Richard Dawkins The Selfish Gene Other nominations James Watson The Double Helix Bertolt Brecht The Life of Galileo Peter Medawar Pluto’s Republic Charles Darwin Voyage of…

Lower Uppers and Status Anxiety

I’ve always been impressed by America’s lack of interest in class issues. Having spent a bit of time in England – a country where class is transposed onto every little social interaction – it was a shock to return to America, a place where disparities in income are both more tangible and more ignored. While…

Record Oil Profits (Again)

Another fiscal quarter, another record profit: Exxon-Mobil reported earnings of $10.49 billion today. These earnings are eclipsed only by the $10.71 billion profit posted by Exxon in last year’s fourth quarter, which saw oil prices spike because of hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Now I like corporate profits just as much as the next capitalist, but…

Nylon hosiery and surgical masks? While I always assumed that the flu virus spread mainly through dirty door knobs and friendly handshakes, I was wrong. According to Lawrence Wein, “the dominant mode of virus transmission for influenza is aerosol — implying that hand washing will make little difference. This is consistent with the views of…

Parking Tax for Gas Guzzlers

It is a shame more American cities with mass transportation aren’t emulating London, and charging drivers who use their cars in the central city during the day. (The London “congestion charge” is about $10). After all, the London scheme has been astonishingly successful. Six months after the system took effect in February 2003, traffic was…

How Dilbert Got His Voice Back

Here’s an uplifting story of neural plasticity, a sweet reminder that our brain is always capable of changing itself. Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, lost his voice more than a year ago due to spasmodic dysphonia, a mysterious neurological condition that involves involuntary spasms of the vocal chords. Although nobody suffering from spasmodic dysphonia…

Fat People Use More Gasoline

I never would have guessed that a few extra pounds of flesh can have such a strong effect on fuel economy: A new study from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign says that 938 million more gallons of gasoline go into vehicles annually because drivers and passengers are considerably heavier today than in 1960. “Our…

More Porn Leads to Less Rape

A few days ago, I linked to an article documenting a connection between reduced crime and increased exposure to violent movies. Now it appears that porn has a similar effect, and that the increased availability of porn has led to a significant decrease in rape and attempted rapes by young men: The arrival of the…

The Dog Who Loved to Suck on Toads

Why, you ask, did the dog suck on toads? Because the amphibians secrete a hallucinogenic toxin. Lady, a seemingly staid cocker spaniel, was actually a closet stoner. I’d love to see The Dog Whisperer fix this one: “We noticed Lady spending an awful lot of time down by the pond in our backyard,” Laura Mirsch…