Skepchick Quickies 4.29

  • Mythical worm captured – “The giant Palouse earthworm has fascinated scientists for decades after long being written off as an extinct creature. Reports suggested that the worms had a penchant for spitting and smelled like lilies, further enhancing the myth of the earthworm in the agricultural Palouse region on the Washington-Idaho border.” From Craig.
  • Dating by blood type in Japan – From Amber.
  • Can world’s largest laser zap Earth’s energy woes? – “Scientists at a government lab here are trying to use the world’s largest laser — it’s the size of three football fields — to set off a nuclear reaction so intense that it will make a star bloom on the surface of the Earth.” From Skept-artist.
  • Three Palestinian girls win trip to international youth science fair – “Armed with spare parts that are hard to find in the West Bank, Asil Abu Lil and two classmates patched together an obstacle-detecting cane that has won them a trip to San Jose, California, for Intel Corp.’s international youth science fair. The three girls are the first Palestinians to participate in the prestigious event.”


Amanda works in healthcare, is a loudmouthed feminist, and proud supporter of the Oxford comma.

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  1. Awesome news day! Nothing to infuriate me and an amazing uplifting story (the young Palestinian female scientists). Thanks for a bright spot in the day!

    All that said: dating by blood type, really? It’s really funny to me that the women in the article are looking for A and AB specifically, mostly because they’ve only limited themselves to just under 50% of the population- doesn’t seem like it could be that helpful.

  2. Although various types of laser canes have existed since the early 1970s, the girls’ design resolves a fundamental flaw in previous models by detecting holes in the ground, said Mark Uslan, director of the American Federation of the Blind’s technology division.

    The cane beeps when it passes over a hole or steps going downward.

    Ok, that’s freakin’ awesome.

  3. “All that said: dating by blood type, really? It’s really funny to me that the women in the article are looking for A and AB specifically, mostly because they’ve only limited themselves to just under 50% of the population- doesn’t seem like it could be that helpful.”

    Belief that personality is affected/ correlated with blood type is a prominent folk belief in Japan. Nothing new. It’s as strong there as say astrology is here.

    That said..I have to wonder how Sickle-Cell Trait fits into this?

  4. “the young Palestinian female scientist”

    Waiting for the news report of clerics speaking out against them in 3…2….1…

  5. Holy crap, that Laser/Star story filled me with perhaps the greatest sense of optimism since I first acknowledged the reality of peak oil and global warming. Any physicists out there know if this is really something to be excited about or just CNN grossly misrepresenting what those scientists are ACTUALLY doing?

  6. @PrimevilKneivel: I’m slow clapping at my monitor.

    Re: sickle cell trait/dz- that’s unrelated to the membrane glycoproteins. I’m more curious whether they care about the myriad other membrane markers on a red cell (but that may be because I’m a former blood banker).

  7. @FFFearlesss: I’m not a physicist, but I’m a chemist with an interest in nuclear physics. This is a new approach compared to the Tokamak one that was explored for the past 50 years fruitlessly as a method of harnessing fusion power. It’s also an interesting, and quite likely viable approach to causing a fusion reaction.

    The issue is still in commercialization, just like with the Z-Machine’s attempts at creating nuclear fusion. The question is always how you translate that into getting more energy out than you have to put in, and how to use that energy.

    Cold fusion is another possible energy source, which has finally been looked at again after the whole Fleischmann-Pons debacle ensured no funding agency would pay for research in it for a good 20 years. There was actually a panel of lectures on it at the most recent American Chemistry Society conference last month. Still need to find out the details of what was discussed.

    And I’m actually more interested in the fact Bill Gates is funding a push for new nuclear fission plants. Didn’t expect that, but I’m happy to. We need everything we can get to slow down when peak oil hits, and removing oil burning power plants from it at least helps. Not to mention if we manage to make our cars run off of hydrogen, nuclear fission plants would greatly help in producing that.

    If we can just get more fission plants going, and breeder reactors that allow us to recycle their waste repeatedly until little is left, it’d help bridge the gap between peak oil and commercial nuclear fusion.

  8. The blood type post reminds me of video games from when I was a kid always listing the blood types of the characters. I had no clue why that was, and it drove me mad trying to figure it out.

    It wasn’t until years later when I had the Internet I found out that was the Japanese equivalent of “What’s your sign?”

  9. @James Fox: Gasp! Are you a fellow blood banker? Dating based on CMV status would at least make a little more sense to me than blood type, though. I guess you could use it as a marker of previous intimate contact.

    I have to admit, I used to hold onto my donation number to see if I could find out what my cmv status/antigen makeup was if one of my units came back into our blood bank. I never ran across my own blood/blood products, though. Is that too much information?

  10. @Displaced Northerner: Not a banker just an O-neg CMV-neg who gets lots of phone calls. I had a tech tell me one time I was the only person over 30 she’d seen with a negative CMV status.

  11. According to the hospital blood lab, I have “unknown antibodies” in my blood that make me “hostile to transfusions”. This made it very difficult to pour the red stuff into my veins, despite ostensibly being type A. I told you I was an alien.

  12. “Re: sickle cell trait/dz- that’s unrelated to the membrane glycoproteins. I’m more curious whether they care about the myriad other membrane markers on a red cell (but that may be because I’m a former blood banker).”

    hey if glycoproteins are enough to effect it, then a completely different shape should really effect it.

  13. @LtStorm: Videogames are not only art (despite PZ and Ebert’s assertions) but educational. I too learned about the blood type thing through Japanese games. I’m not sure it’s any more goofy than astrology.

  14. Interestingly there really is a reason to care about blood type in dating – but it relates to the rhesus factor (+/-) which is omitted from the Japanese system.

    If an Rh- woman has a baby fathered by an Rh+ man, then the baby may be Rh+, which causes complications. Therefore an Rh- woman has reason to prefer an Rh- mate.

    Oh, and by the way, I’m an O- skepbloke. I just thought I’d mention that for no reason whatsoever. Nope, no ulterior motives here. (I’d never heard of CMV status until 4 comments ago, so I have no idea about that. I do have good reason to believe I’m over 30.)

  15. Note that the three Palestinian girls came from the West Bank which is controlled by Fatah. They’re lucky they don’t live in Gaza or Hamas where Hamas is in control. Hamas would likely discourage this sort of education of females and would certainly discourage such travel to the United States.

  16. I’d never heard the Japanese beliefs about blood type, and first expected it to be about Rh type, since that would make at least a tiny bit of sense…

    As it is, it seems almost like an experiment designed to prove the ridiculousness of race-based discrimination, like those famous class room tests wherein blue-eyed or brown-eyed children were praised as better students, leading to poorer performance by, and poor treatment of the less-favored group. It just goes to show that, if we don’t have race as such an obvious marker of physical difference, we make up the same myths about less obvious markers — even blood type! What’s next, people who think cilantro tastes soapy are superior lovers? I suppose I shouldn’t be so surprised though — every culture with an aristocracy or caste system was basically the same, “racist” even without racial differences.

    Clearly humans are very susceptible to this kind of fallacious reasoning, and the assumption ought to be, even when we see what we think is evidence supporting some kind of generalization like this, that we are likely deceiving ourselves. Because we are just too good at reaching this conclusion about whatever differences we happen to notice among groups.

  17. Useful fusion has been 50 years in the future for as long as it’s been an idea. It’ll still be 50 years in the future when we’re all dead. The engineering challenges in harnessing a miniature sun, whether it’s with tokamaks or laser ignition, are just too mindbogglingly difficult.

  18. In the US I’ve heard a number of people talking changing their diets based on blood type. Apparently people who are type O must eat meat and lots of it (but no legumes) but type A people should be vegetarians. B’s and AB’s get to be omnivores, except for chicken.

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