Tag Archives: The Conversation

Why Does Anyone Still Believe In The Loch Ness Monster?

By The Conversation via science20

big-foot-loch-nessPeople are fascinated by the unknown, by the possibility that there are things out there that are yet to be discovered.

We think that most of our planet has been mapped by satellites and continents have been thoroughly explored. Although scientists estimate that millions of species are yet to be discovered, these are mostly assumed to be very small animals, especially invertebrates.

Long gone are the days of famous explorers, when the borders of uncharted lands were marked with warnings such as “here be dragons”. And yet, many of us, still hope that some amazing, unexpected creatures may be hiding somewhere.

These creatures are the so-called “cryptids”, animals such as the Himalayan Yeti, north American Bigfoot or Australia’s own Yowie.

Perhaps the most famous is the Loch Ness monster, which has been back in the news recently, thanks to the discovery of a nine-meter long object at the Scottish lake.

Engineers prepare to tow Munin, an intelligent marine robot, on Loch Ness in search for the mysterious monster. REUTERS/Russell Cheyne

Engineers prepare to tow Munin, an intelligent marine robot, on Loch Ness in search for the mysterious monster. REUTERS/Russell Cheyne

A team of Norwegian researchers found what was initially thought to be evidence for the existence of the monster, informally known as “Nessie”.

But this evidence later turned out to be just a prop from the 1970 movie The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, which sank after its buoyant humps were removed.

This team of researchers was using some advanced sonar technology in the hope of unveiling the mystery of Loch Ness once and for all. But the prop is all they have found so far.

Certainly, many people were disappointed. But from a scientific perspective, what are the odds that a prehistoric reptile actually inhabits the depths of Loch Ness?

Continue Reading @ science20 – – –

Five myths about the chemicals you breathe, eat and drink

Via The Conversation

Hate chemicals? Even this won’t work.

Hate chemicals? Even this won’t work.

All too often the use of the word “chemicals” in the news, in advertising and in common usage has the implication that they are bad. You never hear about chemicals that fight infections, help crops grow or lubricate engines. That is because the chemicals doing that job are called antibiotics, fertilisers and engine oil, respectively.

As a result of the emotive language often used in conjunction with “chemicals”, a series of myths have emerged. Myths that Sense about Science and the Royal Society of Chemistry are debunking with the publication of Making Sense of Chemical Stories. Here are five of the worst offenders.

1. You can lead a chemical-free life

Despite the many products that claim otherwise, using the term “chemical-free” is plain nonsense. Everything, including the air we breathe, the food we eat and the drinks we consume, is made of chemicals. It doesn’t matter if you live off the land, following entirely organic farming practises or are a city-dweller consuming just processed food, either way your surroundings and diet consists of nothing but chemicals.

Compound Interest/Sense About Science

Compound Interest/Sense About Science

2. Man-made chemicals are dangerous

So we have established that there is no way to lead a chemical-free existence. But surely natural chemicals are better than synthetic ones?

Apple seeds contain amygdalin, which decomposes into toxic benzaldehyde and prussic acid (hydrogen cyanide).

Apple seeds contain amygdalin, which decomposes into toxic benzaldehyde and prussic acid (hydrogen cyanide).

Nope. Whether a chemical is man-made or natural tells you precisely nothing about how dangerous it is. Sodium thiopental, for example, is used in lethal injections but it’s about as toxic as amygdalin, which turns up in almonds and apple seeds. What makes one of these chemicals dangerous and the other part of your healthy five-a-day is quite simply the quantity that you consume.

Granted there are many documented cases of man-made chemicals that have been banned due to health concerns. But on balance chemicals have done far more good than harm. A good example is brominated flame retardants which are no longer used in furniture due to allegations of unpleasant side-effects. However these worries should be balanced against the estimated 1,150 lives saved because the chemical stopped furniture fires spreading.

Even substances that are upheld as terrible cases of chemical pollutants, such the pesticide DDT, have their place. The World Health Organisation support its use for control of malaria transmitting mosquitoes stating:

DDT is still needed and used for disease vector control simply because there is no alternative of both equivalent efficacy and operational feasibility, especially for high-transmission areas.

3. Synthetic chemicals cause cancer

News outlets are fond of reporting about research showing “links” between particular chemicals and occurrences of cancer and other diseases. Sometimes the stories even claim that a substance definitely causes cancer or definitely cures it.

But more often than not these reports  .  .  .

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