Friday, February 23, 2007
Speaking of looking good, Columbia researchers have found that living in densely populated areas, with a mix of residential and commercial spaces and transit options, is related to significantly lower BMI. Philosophically I hate BMI studies, as BMI is a terrible measure for obesity (while technically it should include a body composition component, in practice it's just weight/height^2), but it is a useful blunt instrument for this kind of study. Hopefully these results will result in people getting on with better smart development, etc.
We humans like to think that we're pretty special. We probably are, but we also have a lot more to learn about how other animals work. For instance, UK researchers have found that at least one species of bird, the western scrub-jay, conscientiously plans for the future - something only humans were believed able to do. In a really elegant-sounding experiment, the researchers taught jays that they might be denied their usual breakfast, but gave them the opportunity to store food instead. The birds not only hid food in the right places, but also hid a variety of it as well. Like setting up a menu. Cool!
And then there's chimps. Our closest cousins, they do all kinds of stuff that we used to like to think was unique to us. Now, researchers have observed wild chimps doing something really 'human': making spears to hunt prey. Whether or not we're actually seeing cultural evolution in action, or if this is an old trick we've just never before observed (unlikely), this is a really amazing discovery, and has huge implications for all kinds of stuff.
While animals are looking cleverer and cleverer, old people just got less clever and more annoying. OK, well, not really, now there's just a study to say so. A UVa study of older (60-80 years) and younger adults (under 60) found that while there were no differences in actual memory recall between the two groups, the old folks were much more adamant about their wrong answers. This study has implications not only for criminal justice (eyewitness accounts are the focus of the paper), but also for generally confirming how stubborn Grandpa is. And taking the leap of generalizing this to 80-100+ year-olds, who probably do have real memory problems, is a scary vision of a really frustrating place*.
And finally, to get to such stubborn old age, you have to not die first. One good way to die first is, of course, to get AIDS**. But, an African study has made an interesting discovery: an drug used to treat genital herpes seems also to reduce circulating HIV load by as much as 70%. Use of these drugs in HIV patients (who are frequently co-infected with HSV) could greatly reduce transmission and help prevent tons of cases. Assuming HIV doesn't mutate and render them ineffective. Also, it'll be really interesting to see how, exactly, the effect happens at a molecular level.
* To all who say that this stubbornness is part of old people's charm, I say yes of course it is: as long as it's someone else's problem.
** That's right kids - even with all the new modern treatments, including the one I'm about to tell you about, AIDS will still make you sick and die younger. So please, kill this 'barebacking' meme that's going around the gay community. Now.