Gaia 2008

has the last word...

SF & science oddities, gossip, exotica and whimsy from the past year to Easter 2008


Britain's Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) had a computer cock up. Their automatic blog censor replaced the word 'cock' with asterisks. For non-native Anglophones, 'cock' both means a male bird and also a colloquial term to describe the (human) male sexual organ of gamete delivery. Yet 'Great Tits' (Parus major) -- a possible euphemism for large human mammary glands -- remained uncensored. The RSPB website now allows 'cocks'. That's sexual equality in action for you.

More on er... 'cocks'. The average erect human penis is 15 cm in length. This comes from a survey of 11,531 men. 12% of men believed that they have a small penis, yet 0% of men complaining of a diminutive size actually had what is technically called a micropenis (defined as a non-erect length of less than 7cm. Men incorrectly believing they are of such small size have what is called 'small penis syndrome' (SPS) which is part of a broader 'body dysmorphic disorder' (bdd) which is related to dysmorphophobia. (Source: British Journal of Urology vol 99.)

Er...continuing the theme so far... the average duration of human coitus in the US is apparently 7 minutes and 54 seconds (Source: Nature 447, 761.). (Well, it is the nation that popularised fast food.) During this time the Earth has moved around good old Sol some 8,818 miles (14,191 km), only a little (11%) more than the Earth's own diameter. However while such an Earth-Sun system scale is fine for Gaia, you lot probably want the cosmological perspective! So (sigh...) the distance the Earth travels in 7 minutes 54 seconds taking into account the expansion of the Universe is 88.8 million miles (143 million km) which is a little under (4.5%) the distance from the Earth to the Sun.   So there you have it: the Gaia column linking sex, the size of the Earth and its distance from the Sun in one paragraph. Want more? OK then, check out

Beer is bad for ecology! Thomáš Grim, a Czech avian ecologist, has formally surveyed his colleagues and found a correlation. The more beer an ecologist regularly drinks the fewer scientific papers they get published in a peer-reviewed journal. The study itself has been published by a peer-reviewed journal, Oikos. This is undoubtedly bad news for two of the Concatenation team with an ecological science bent. Yet Thomáš Grim, with another paper safely under his belt, can now take time off to celebrate with a beer... but not too many. +++ Concat's physicist would be of no doubt that the paper provides no evidence that this effect applies to those working in the physical sciences. Perish the thought.

Oddest titled book. The Bookseller's Horace Bent again had his annual competition to find the daftest or most humorous titled book of the year. Looking through the short-list Gaia's favourite is How to Write a How to Write Book by Brian Piddall. The winner, by on-line public vote turned out to be If You Want Closure in Your Relationship Start With Your Legs. Horace Bent is not too happy with this. Up to 2000 the Diagram Prize was decided on by a jury: a jury of one, Horace himself. Since then, Horace complains (not without some merit it should be added), that the great unwashed public have gone for those short-listed titles with sleazy innuendo. Meanwhile this autumn Arum press, in homage to three decades of the Diagram Prize will be publishing How To Avoid Huge Ships And Other Implausibly Titled Books. ISBN 978-1-845-1-3321-4.

Last year Concatenation saw its 20th anniversary... It also listed a number of others both science and SF anniversaries. Another has come to light, it was also the 75th anniversary of the neutron. The anniversary was celebrated by Britain's Royal Society who released scientific correspondence it kept secret, during and since World War II, that indicated that neutrons could theoretically be used in a nuclear power reactor.

Britain's fast breeder sees 50th anniversary. Following on from the above neutron's 75th, May this year sees the 50th anniversary of the opening of Dounreay, Britain's fast breeder nuclear reactor that uses neutrons to transmutate uranium into plutonium and so greatly improve the efficiency of uranium use.

In selling terms the final Harry Potter book, Deathly Hallows, was the book genre event of 2007. Its sales were phenomenal and the book especially popular by the young. It also saw the big book chains and supermarkets undercut small, independent booksellers to such an extent that reportedly some small booksellers bought their copies at a big discount from the chains rather than the publisher. (See short news paragraphs here.) Independent booksellers are already having a hard time. And so it becomes ironical that the Harry Potter phenomena that has done much to encourage the next generation to read has simultaneously helped contribute to the decline in the bookshops that could nurture their new-found interest!

In this age, when presentation is everything, what NASA really needs is a catchy slogan. The science journal Nature's 'Sidelines' snippets compiler noticed (vol 449, p265) that Wired's magazine's blog called for suggestions that NASA might like to consider. Nature's favourites were:-
          NASA: In 100 years you'll wish you'd given us more funding.
          NASA: Actually this is rocket science.
          NASA: The budget is the limit.

Being called 'Ruler of the Solar System' would be the envy of Ming the Merciless or the Mekon among others. In reality the 'Head of Earth & Planets' may be the next best thing. Indeed it is the real job title of Professor Philip Allen; a title he has held since 2003 at Imperial College, London. When not running the Earth -- that is to say for virtually all his time -- Philip Allen examines the way geology interacts with the biosphere and its evolution. This last year he received the Geological Society's Lyell Medal, which is something neither Ming nor the Mekon achieved.

And finally... In case you wondered the Astrological Magazine has really ceased publication. The last issue was December 2007. The closure, the magazine said, was due to 'unforeseen circumstances'. Who would have predicted that?

See you in 2009 with more frivolity. Meanwhile Gaia is obliged to plug a book for those (seriously) into global warming, Climate Change: Biological and Human Aspects from Cambridge University Press. (Obligation to JC over -- Now JC, don't write another next year.)

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