Click Here for Gaia 2001
Gaia shares Bernard Dixon's enthusiasm for humour in science. He cites, in the British Medical Journal (vol 312, p1484) a number of 'splendid paper titles that used to enliven the journal reading of yesteryear' including his favourites the "Limited nutritional value of cannibalism" and "An instance of the pitfalls in graveyard research". Gaia has found others noticed by the magazine Physics World such as "Nuts have no hair" from the journal Classical and Quantum Gravity, and "Black holes have no short hair" from Physical Review Letters. Just shows that zines do not have a monopoly on fun.
Gaia was interested to note that last year at least one Italian journalist successfully protected their analysis of cold fusion from a libel case. Martin Fleischman and Stanley Pons objected to some colourful wording of Giovanni Pace's review of Axel Kahn's (a prominent French geneticist's) book called False Prophets. The review referred to Pons and Fleishman's work as fraudulent. The judge ruled that Pace's words "represented an expression of the right to report and criticise on the part of the journalist and as such are not derogatory". The scientists had to pay the costs. Non scientist readers should note that for research to be 'scientific' it must be reproducible and this is something that has not yet happened as perfectly as many scientists might like with cold fusion However while Gaia notes that freedom of the press still exists in Italy, she is concerned at the level of governmental controls in Romania.
Gaia has previously reported on the increasing weight of western populations and that found in fandom (Concatenation no. 7). The latest news on this front is that those in the antipodes are not spared from this trend. Research published in the New Zealand Medical Journal (vol 109, pp90-2) shows that since the early 1980s 10% more men and women are clinically overweight. One factor has been a decline in smoking, but the main cause is over eating. Meanwhile the weight of Americans continues to rise. A third of Americans over 20 are now considered overweight and comparisons of previous surveys shows that this trend itself is increasing. The US government plans to reduce the proportion of people overweight to no more than a fifth by the end of the century (Journal of the American Medical Association (vol 272, pp205-11). Similarly, the UK government aims to reduce UK obesity to 6% men and 8% of women by the year 2005. However we are not told how they plan to undertake this feat. Suggestions on a postcard.
Another problem is that of the growing World population. Gaia was intrigued to learn of a phenomenon countering this. Apparently having sex can trigger a heart attack and that research has shown that sexual activity was reported twice as commonly as might be expected in 24 hours preceding an acute myocardial infarction. A comment from Gaia's counterpart Minerva in the British Medical Journal (vol 312, pp1048) vaguely recalls that extramarital sex carries the greatest risk.
Mike Dash, publisher of the intriguing Fortean Times, claims (Feb 97 issue) that his advertiser-sponsored reader survey (itself a contrived affair) reflects that "we are a nation who have experienced the strange." Really!? 17% claim to have spotted a UFO, 22% believe they have seen a ghost and 41% have experienced/witnessed something beyond explanation. Gaia abhors this lowest-common-denominator spin. Instead 83% of FT readers have not seen a UFO and 78% not seen a ghost. (Yes, Mr Dash, the majority of Fortean readers are sane!) As for 41% experiencing something beyond explanation, Gaia has sympathies. How does one explain over the years some UK election results? Would Mr Dash please leave the writing to Fortean Times' capable editors and stick to print and circulation affairs. Other magazines cater for sad souls who blindly believe in astrology and such bunkum. Chaz Fort presented the bizarre and the exotic and considered his interpretations "more as suggestions and gropings and stimuli (New Lands)."
Crop circles continue to delight (and fool some). One of the best of last year's in the UK was a double helix (as in DNA) pattern some 200 metres long in a field in Alton Barnes in Wiltshire. The pattern contained 89 circles and was formed in under four hours according to the field's owner, Polly Carson. The field was empty at midnight but at daylight at 4.00 am, there were the circles. Apparently crop circles appear regularly in her fields. She has even had a scale map of the Solar System which was accurate and included the planets' eccentricities. Gaia leaves it up to readers as to whether they believe the circles were made by extraterrestrials or an exercise in the public understanding of science.
On the other hand, good news for fandom! A dialogue in the journal Addiction (vol 91, pp325-37) notes that the fatality curve against quantity of alcohol regularly drunk is 'j' shaped. While very heavy drinkers are at great risk, abstainers still face a slight risk. The least risk is for those who drink a little regularly. The journal also points out that while very heavy drinking is deviant behaviour, so is abstention. Fair enough, but what Gaia wants to know is how long she must wait between rounds? We should be told!
Even Gaia is prepared to contribute to this issue's international dimension. Romanians (or Romulans as they are affectionately referred to by the team) beware. The BBC is producing a Romanian radio soap opera based on The Archers! The Archers is a UK radio series about 'everyday folk in the countryside'. It originally was meant as a vehicle to get agricultural information to the rural population so as to boost food production -- though these days it is the usual run of petty local scandal and intrigue. The Romanian version is apparently designed to help Romanians adapt to modern living! A similar project apparently was launched in Russia three years ago. Called House Seven, Entrance 4, it attracts audiences of up to 10 million. If there is anything stranger than SF it is fact.
Gaia agrees with New Scientist's Feedback, 'a good story deserves a good airing'. She shamelessly reports a story spotted by Feedback in Bike magazine whose journalist had seen it in Pilot magazine. Two members of the Lothian and Borders (on the Scotland-England border) police were recently having an honest time out on the moors trapping speeding motorists with a radar gun. Suddenly their device went crazy registering a speed of over 300 miles per hour (approx 500 kilometres per hour) when it jammed. An instant later our brave boys in blue found out why as a low-flying Harrier fighter jet roared by narrowly over their heads. Miffed at their broken device, the policemen put in a complaint to the Royal Air Force (RAF).
They then found out that they were lucky that they only ended up with a damaged radar.
The RAF informed them that, as their craft came over the brow of the hill on to the moor, their craft had detected and locked on, with the frightening speed and precision typical of military equipment, to what it had interpreted as an enemy radar. Before the pilot could even blink, the craft immediately triggered an automatic air-to-surface missile. Fortunately for the two policemen, and unbeknown to the plane's sub-systems concerned, the Harrier was in unarmed training otherwise the radar would not have been the only thing broken.
How times have changed. In scanning the Bookseller (29th March 1996) for SF publishing news, Gaia stumbled across a new title in 'Books in print' that a decade or so ago could only have been picked up by the SF&DA published by an underground small press (as opposed to a mainstream publisher). Other hippy SF fans might be interested in Rowan Robinson's Great book of hemp: The complete guide to the commercial, medicinal, and psychotropic uses of the World's most extraordinary plant. All 256 pages with 50 illustrations can be your for just £15.99.
Gaia has found that she has something in common with US Vice President Al Gore when he gave his address to the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Gore attributes the anti-science bent of the current US Congress to what he sees as a relatively new phenomenon -- the decline in scientific knowledge by the public. Of 535 in Congress only seven are scientists (including a science teacher) and two engineers. Gore said of Congress members that: "A few may talk like Johnny Mnemonic, but most support policies designed for Fred Flintsone." Such pseudo-science has resulted in a budget that Gore categorised as "more for Star wars, less for environmental research." He noted that Congress currently plans to reduce federal funding for science and technology by one third in real terms by the year 2002. Gaia wants to know whether European governments will seize the opportunity to boost their own funding for science so to take Europe ahead into the next century. She dreams on...
Gaia's previous columns appreared in the annual print edition of Concatenation that were published 1987 - 1996 (see also Concatenation's history). There have also been a couple of whimsical science articles published in the science journal Biologist.
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