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Medieval folk didn't drink alcohol to avoid dirty water

A well-established myth debunked. [via MeFi] Rob 33

B.F. Skinner totally geeks out over the box he built for his baby

The Skinner Box, as applied to human infants, was not what you think it was. Psychologist B.F. Skinner did not raise his daughter inside a box without human contact. Nor did she later grow up to be crazy and commit suicide because of said lack of contact. In fact, just a few years ago, Deborah Skinner Buzan wrote a column for The Guardian debunking those powerful urban legends herself.

Instead, what Skinner did was build his daughter the sort of crib that you might expect a scientist raised in the era of mid-20th-century Popular Science-style scientific futurism and convenience to build. He called it the "Air-Crib" and it was designed to maintain a perfectly comfortable temperature, provide baby Deborah with built-in toys to keep her entertained, be simple to clean, and make it easier to stick to the "cry it out" and heavily regimented feeding/sleeping schedules that were, at the time, standard parenting advice.

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Two redheads can have a brunette child

Turns out, whether or not you are a ginger is not determined by the simple genetics of a single gene. In fact, the pigment that causes red hair is likely present in many brunettes. What matters more seems to be how much of the ginger-hiding brunette pigment you have — and the genetics that determine that are a lot more complicated. Which, frankly, makes the brunette-guy-with-red-beard phenomenon make a whole lot more sense.

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What makes dry quicksand so deadly?

Dry quicksand was a mythical substance — normal-looking sand that could swallow you in a flash. That is, until 2004, when scientists made the stuff in a lab. (Mark told you about that development.)

In this video, geologist Matt Kuchta explains how dry quicksand is different from both wet quicksand and stable sand. Hint: Think "Jenga".

Tesla vs. Edison vs. The Myth of the Lone Inventor

We're going about this feud all wrong says Matt Novak, who blogs about techno-history at Paleofuture. "The question is not: Who was a better inventor, Edison or Tesla? The question is: Why do we still frame the debate in this way?" Novak asked in a talk yesterday at SXSW. He's got a damn fine point. The myth of one guy who has one great idea and changes the world drastically distorts the process of innovation. Neither Tesla nor Edison invented the light bulb. Instead, the light bulb was the result of 80 years of tinkering and failure by many different people. Novak's point (and one I tend to agree with): When we buy into the myth, it gets in the way of innovation today. I've only been able to find a couple of small bits from this talk — a write-up by Matthew Van Dusen at Txchnologist and a short video from the Q&A portion where Novak talks about Tesla, Edison, and the Great Man Myth with The Oatmeal's Matthew Inman. But, rest assured, this is something you'll see more of at BoingBoing soon. Maggie

Not-exactly-near-death experiences

In 1990, researchers investigated the stories of 58 people who had had a near-death experience during surgery. Turns out, 30 of those people were never actually near-death, at all. They just thought they were. Maggie

Tired? You're not filled with tryptophan, but with food

Somewhere around the late 1990s, blaming tryptophan consumption for post-Thanksgiving lethargy became as much of a holiday tradition as the food itself. This amino acid — present in turkey meat — is supposed to accumulate in your brain, prompting your body to use it to make extra serotonin, a chemical that can make you feel sleepy.

But, as this RiskBites video and a very excellent article by Matt Shipman both explain, there's actually a simpler explanation for the sleepiness you feel after eating two helpings of turkey, trimmings, and pie. Simply put: You ate too damn much.

Many people gorge themselves at the Thanksgiving table. During the resultant digestive process, the body diverts as much as 50 percent of its blood to the small intestine, to maximize absorption of calories and nutrients. That means there is less blood available for physical activity. Furthermore, most traditional Thanksgiving meals are high in fat and protein content, which actually slows down the digestive process. So your body is going to be diverting blood to the small intestine for a longer period of time.

Unfortunately, pointing this out to the family members sprawled on your living room furniture will not make you sound nearly as clever as the tryptophan myth does. And the bit about the blood flow to the intestine might get you (slowly, sluggishly) lynched. Maybe, instead, you can just recommend a nice walk.

Read the rest of Matt Shipman's piece on tryptophan, including an interaction between mashed potatoes and turkey that could, conceivably, cause tryptophan-induced sleepiness.