Friday Science Bites 9/16/16

This week I resumed teaching my chemistry class after the summer break, and with the enhanced activity I found myself with less time than usual to peruse the headlines.  But I did come across a few exciting things . . . .

  1.  After my experience with my daughter as a baby, I am an utter and complete nonbeliever of this claim that babies do not need to be burped.  But, if the claims are valid, the pressure is off for next time, when I’m going crazy trying to release that elusive burp.
  2. Fascinating piece about a potential upcoming vanilla shortage due to new demand for the “natural” form of this flavoring.
  3. The presidential candidates’ respond to science questions.  No matter where you stand in this upcoming election, it’s worth taking some time to read through their views on these pressing issues.  Bravo to sciencedebate.org for putting this together.
  4. I won’t lie, I was hugely attracted to the donuts underneath the headline of this article on decision-making.  But I’m happy I was.  The article addresses seemingly irrational decisions.  For example, pretend your favorite candy bar is Snickers.  When faced with a choice between Snickers and Almond Joy, you pick Snickers.  But when faced with a choice between Snickers and twenty other candy bars, you don’t always pick Snickers, though even you are baffled by your own decision when you later inspect a side-by-side line-up of Snickers and your choice.  (I’m now starving.  For Snickers and donuts.)   The author reports on a concept proposed to explain this whereby a recalibration process may muddle what would otherwise be straightforward decision making.  Only relative differences between choices are considered, and thus, when faced with a large number of related choices (eg, 20 candy bars), it becomes more difficult for our brains to sift the “signal” (Snickers) from the noise (all the other candy bars).  I wonder if this process is impacting current presidential election polls?
  5. This isn’t really “news”, as it was published 2.5 years ago, but, a current topic in the world of early childhood education.  I attended a panel discussion on children’s picture books last night, and one of the emergent themes was the increased sophistication of children with graphics and the reduced role words play in their lives.  This article challenges that concept by showing the role words play in focusing 3-year-olds on I Spy games, over using just images alone.

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