30 Things We Learnt In July, 2021

Posted on 2 August 2021

Here at Gowing Life, we have decided to keep a fun record of everything we learn in 2021, be it longevity-related or something else entirely. Here is a selection of our newly acquired neural connections for the month of July!

1: The most downloaded paper in the  Public Library of Science is called Why Most Published Research Findings Are False. In it, physician-scientist, writer and Stanford University professor John P. A. Ioannidis discusses the prevalence of false research claims and publication bias, the settings in which these are more likely occur, and the implications for how research must be interpreted.

A research finding is less likely to be true when the studies conducted in a field are smaller; when effect sizes are smaller; when there is a greater number and lesser preselection of tested relationships; where there is greater flexibility in designs, definitions, outcomes, and analytical modes; when there is greater financial and other interest and prejudice; and when more teams are involved in a scientific field in chase of statistical significance.

Why Most Published Research Findings Are False, John P. A. Ioannidis

2 :Lloyd’s of London was originally a coffee house. It was opened on Tower street, London in 1686, and became popular amongst merchants and shipowners. Edward Lloyd catered to them by providing reliable shipping news, and so the establishment became a place to discuss maritime insurance. It even became a notorious venue for illicit gambling under the guise of insurance.

3: It’s not just your imagination – sunrise and sunset do look different – sort of. This is because we adapt to light over the course of the day, and because temperature changes and wind currents mean there is more dust and pollution in the air at dusk. These particles scatter more blue light, making the sunset appear redder than sunrise. Even so, you might struggle to tell the difference between the two without other environmental cues.

Sunrise or sunset?

4: Smart highways are roads that incorporate a number of different technologies for a variety of purposes such as monitoring traffic and road conditions, monitoring vehicles’ speeds, melting snow and ice, improving the operation of autonomous vehicles and even charging electric cars through electromagnetic induction.

5: Medieval fashion, pointy shoes, and bunions: even in medieval times, people were prioritising fashion over their own comfort – and their own bones. Analysis of remains dating to the 14th and 15th centuries suggests that bunions were significantly more common during this period, with around 27% of individuals having the condition compared with around 6% during the two preceding centuries.
While it’s impossible to know the cause for certain, researchers have proposed that parsnip-shaped shoes known as poulaines could have been to blame. They became widespread in Britain in the 14th century, and the longer the shoe, the more fashionable. In 1394, a monk of Evesham noted that the shoes could reach “half a yard in length, thus it was necessary for them to be tied to the shin with chains of silver before they could walk with them”. The trend became so ridiculous that in 1463, King Edward IV made it illegal for anyone below the rank of lord to wear shoes with a point longer than two inches.

Composite of the shape of an adult’s shoe from late 14th-century Cambridge, and excavated medieval foot bones showing signs of hallux valgus. 
Cambridge Archaeological Unit/Jenna Dittmar

6: While fertility rates have declined massively in Asia over the past 70 years, the fertility rate in sub-Saharan Africa has barely changed. The average fertility rate in Niger was 6.91 births per woman as of 2018, which still falls short of what is considered the preferred number: when asked, the average number of children Nigerien women wanted to have was 9.1!

7: Between 2020 and 2070, it is estimated that 75% of all births will be in Africa.

8: You can tell a lot about the cultural symbolism of a given animal by its term of venery: the collective noun used to describe a group of that animal. A group of lions is a pride, a group of bears is a sleuth, and a group of owls is a parliament. But a group of ravens? That’s a conspiracy.

10 Ravishing Facts About Ravens | Mental Floss
What are they planning?

9: The ‘percontation point’, a reversed question mark, was proposed in the 1580s by English printer Henry Denham, and was to be used at the end of a question that did not require an answer – a rhetorical question. Its use died out in the 1700s. What other punctuation will we lose in the next 300 years⸮

10: How a resin 3d printer works: You’ve probably seen 3d printers that build objects by depositing layer after layer of plastic or other materials. This is called a fusion deposition modelling printer (FDM). However, there’s another much cooler type of printer called a stereolithography (SLA) or resin printer. These printers build objects from photoreactive liquids that solidify when exposed to certain wavelengths of light. This means that layers can be built up using an LCD screen or a laser, allowing very fine details to be produced.

11: A football game turned exceptionally violent when a player began fighting the referee after refusing to leave the field as ordered. The referee stabbed the player, wounding him fatally. The pitch was then stormed by spectators, who killed the referee and mounted his head on a stake. Yet this was not some game of ‘mob football’ that took place in medieval Europe, but an amateur football game which took place in Brazil in 2013. The referee’s name was Otávio Jordão da Silva, and the player was Josemir Santos Abreu.

12: Ant queens can take over other colonies by murdering their real queen and bathing in her bodily fluids to avoid detection. It’s also likely that ants decorate their homes with the heads of other ant species to mask their own scent.

Formica archboldi, a species of ant native to Florida, likes to collect the skulls of its enemies.

13: A Banana Equivalent Dose (BED): is the additional dose of radiation a person will absorb from eating one banana (because of decaying potassium). Average daily exposure to radiation is about 100 BED. The maximum permitted radiation level in a nuclear power plant is 2500 BED, a CT scan delivers about 70 000 BED, and about 35 000 000 BED would constitute a lethal dose of radiation. However, eating a large number of bananas would not actually increase ones exposure to radiation significantly, as the amount of potassium in the body is kept relatively constant. Eating 35 million bananas might still be lethal for other reasons, though…

14: The origins of chivalry: The term chivalry, derived from the old French chevalerie (horse soldiery), originally meant just that – your skill at riding and fighting from the back of a horse – and did not come to be associated with honour and virtue until centuries after the existence of knights. The original knights were not particularly honourable – they had horses, they had weapons, and they were prone to violence. The idea of knightly ideals and the code of chivalry emerged later in an effort to make knights into more respectable figures, but there was never a firm consensus on what it meant to be a good knight.

15: Sweating – a human superpower: A horse can sweat around 100g of water per square metre of skin per hour, while a camel can sweat around 250g. A human, on the other hand, can sweat around 500g per square metre per hour. While losing water faster may sound like a bad thing, our sweating ability makes us exceptionally good at regulating our body temperatures. This ability may have been vital to our ancestral hunters, allowing them to do what most apex predators cannot: run for hours on end under the hot sun. They may not have been able to outrun an antelope, but they could outlast one until it collapsed from exhaustion.

16: Western rainbows vs. Russian rainbows: If you visit the Russian Google (images.google.ru) and search for the Russian word for rainbow, радуга, you’ll see that Russian drawings contain seven colours, not six: the Western blue stripe has been subdivided into light blue and dark blue, as shown in the figure below. These pictures demonstrate that concepts of colour are influenced by culture. In Russian culture, the colours синий (blue) and Голубой (sky blue to a Westerner) are different categories, as distinct as blue and green are to an American.

Western vs Russian depictions of the rainbow.

17: Robert Boyle’s List of Scientific Projects – Over three hundred years ago, renowned physicist, chemist and inventor Robert Boyle FRS wrote a list of things that he hoped could be achieved through science. Beginning with ‘The Prolongation of Life’, the list includes items such as ’emulating fish … by custom and education only’, ‘attaining gigantick dimensions’, and ‘recovery of youth, or at least the signs of it’.

18: Schizophrenia is thought to be the most heritable mental disorder with up to 70-80% genetic heritability. The least heritable psychological trait is thought to be extreme introvertedness or extrovertedness.

19: Scientists can analyse tree rings of ancient trees without felling them, using a drill to extract a core from the trunk. In 1964, one such scientist got his corer stuck while attempting to measure the age of a Great Basin bristlecone pine. A helpful park ranger cut the tree down so that the tool could be retrieved and the rings studied – the tree was found to be over 5000 years old.

Methuselah - Bristlecone Pine - The Green Directory
Methuselah, a Great Basin bristlecone pine estimated to be 4852 years old, White Mountains, Eastern California

20: Nesbitt’s paradox is a phenomenon in which a drug has one effect at low doses, and the opposite effect at high doses. It is named after Doctor Nesbitt, who first described how nicotine was a stimulant at low doses and a sedative at high doses.

21: Unlike maximum heart rate, resting heart rate doesn’t significantly decrease with old age, remaining at around 70 beats per minute in healthy individuals from early adulthood onward. This is because although the sinoatrial node (the heart’s natural pacemaker) slows down during ageing, inhibitory signals from the brain also decrease, while stimulatory signals become stronger.

Changes in resting heart rate, intrinsic heart rate (set by the sinoatrial node), and maximum heart rate during ageing. Resting heart rate drops between birth and adulthood because parasympathetic inhibition increases during this period.

22: The FBI has previously struggled to hire hackers due to the rule that applicants may not have used cannabis during the previous 3 years. This period has recently been changed to 1 year. For any other illegal drug, the period is 10 years.

23: 50 years before women were allowed to enroll into medical schools, Margaret Bulkley dressed as a man for 56 years to become her alter-ego, Dr James Barry. Only when she died in 1865 was her secret exposed, after 46 years working as an army medical officer.

Barry (left) with John, a servant, and Barry’s dog, Psyche, c. 1862, Jamaica.

24: Loneliness and pain medication: According to a recent study, older adults in the US who report being lonely are significantly more likely to use painkillers (including opioids) for chronic pain, sedatives for insomnia, and anti-anxiety medications.

25: Scrofula, a condition in which the bacteria that cause tuberculosis cause symptoms outside of the lungs (usually in the form of inflamed lymph nodes in the neck) used to be called ‘King’s evil’, as it was supposedly curable by the touch of royalty. From the time of Henry VII, sufferers were even presented with special coins touched by King, to be worn as charms against the disease.

Engraved illustration of a royal ceremony. Patients kneel before the king, who is sitting in a throne. A crowd of people watch.
Charles II touching a patient for the king’s evil. Engraving by R. White in Adenochoiradelogia. Thomas Browne, published London 1684.

26: According to a report in 2017, over 70% of the global greenhouse gas emissions since 1988 were produced by just 100 companies.

27: The Gregorian calendar was not adopted in Russia until 1918, before which the Julian calendar (which is 13 days behind the Gregorian calendar from 1901 to 2099) was used. Consequently when the 1908 Olympics took place in London, the Russian shooting team arrived 12 days late, despite aiming to arrive early!

28: Sweden’s February 30th: When adopting the Gregorian calendar, the Swedish Empire decided to take it slowly. Rather than dropping the required 11 days off their calendar at once, they decided to skip every leap year from the year 1700 to 1740. This plan quickly went awry, however, when the Empire ‘forgot’ to skip the leap years in 1704 and 1708. The King decided to abort the mission and return to the Julian calendar by adding an extra leap day to 1712. Thus, Swedes had the unique opportunity to experience the 30th of February.

Print of Roman Julian Calendar | Poster prints, Print making, Print
Julian calendar

29: On April 14, 1865, Abraham Lincoln signed the piece of legislation which created the Secret Service into law. This law enforcement agency was originally concerned mainly with ”protecting the financial infrastructure of the United States”, though many now associate them with defending the President from, among other things, assassination attempts. Lincoln was shot the evening of the day he signed the legislation, and would die the next morning.

30: In The Terminator, Arnold Schwarzenegger was not allowed to dub his own role in German, as the film studio decided that his Austrian accent didn’t suit the role and hired a German voice actor instead.

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