Alternative Medicine I – The Ultimate Dilute: Homeopathy

Homeopathy. One of the most popular alternative medicines in the Western world, and perhaps the most widely misunderstood. The science against homeopathy, like the skeptics, is unequivocal. The British Homeopathic association list homeopathy as a possible treatment for long-term chronic problems such as eczema, chronic fatigue syndrome, asthma, migraine, IBS and depression, but numerous healthcare bodies agree there is no evidence that homeopathy is effective in treating any health condition.

Continue reading

The Science of Snow

One of the best things about this time of year is that faint possibility that it might snow. The promise of snowmen and snowball fights, of time of work and school, of that cheer that only snow can bring, is almost enough to get us through the long, dark, bleak winter. They say no two snowflakes are alike, and although some pesky scientists have proved that incorrect, the intricate crystalline structure of snowflakes is truly beautiful. Snow is also hugely important for wildlife and people, and plays an important part in keeping our climate stable. To say Merry Christmas from Curious Meerkat this year, here’s a look at the science of snow – from its formation to its recreational uses and its role in the healthy functioning of Planet Earth.

Snow is simply a form of frozen rain, or precipitation, which occurs when cloud temperature is at or below freezing. Snow crystals tend to form in heavy, moisture-rich clouds, containing dust particles. Ice crystals form around these dust particles, called ice nuclei as the water vapour in the cloud slowly condenses. Snowflakes can be formed from multiple crystals that have melted slightly and fused together, or through new water vapour condensing onto existing crystals. As ice crystals grow inside the cloud, they get heavier and heavier until eventually their weight causes them to fall from the cloud. If the air temperature at the ground is low enough (below about 2°C), these crystals will remain frozen all the way and land on the ground as snow. Often, snow flakes that form in the clouds will have melted by the time they reach Earth, and all we see is the rain that results.

Continue reading

Mind Over Matter

In recent years, developments in brain computer interface technology have been turning science fiction into science fact. Some unbelievable achievements have been made, including giving locked-in syndrome suffers a means to communicate, allowing amputees to feel their prosthetic limbs and restoring sight to the blind. And in 2013, Harvard researchers made a rat’s tail wiggle with only the power of their minds! The brain computer interface is revolutionising medicine, technology and even gaming. But some of the current research may make people feel a little uneasy….

The brain computer interface (BCI) is a system that allows a computer to read human brain activity and interpret the signal, as well as inputting new signals back into the brain. Essentially, the BCI allows computers to read your mind. Well, sort of. The Brain-computer interface has had an incredible impact on the quality of life for suffers of paralysis, Amyotrophic lateral schlerosis (ALS), myopathy, spino-cerebellar ataxia (SCA), cerebal palsy, and is even now being adapted to help autistic children train their minds and improve concentration. BCI can allow patients with limited mobility to control motorised wheelchairs and prosthetic limbs, and communicate with the world. It has also been used to identify signs of life in patients with no means to communicate. More recently, it has been applied to a far wider range of uses, including video games and fashion.

Continue reading

What’s So Sexy About a Beard?

Beards. You either love ’em or you hate ’em. Science tells us that beards make a man look more masculine, older and more powerful. Apparently women think they’ll make better fathers. But new research published earlier this year suggests that the attractiveness of beards might merely come down to their novelty – beards are under negative frequency-dependent sexual selection, and we may soon pass peak beard.

As movember draws to a close, I for one shall breath a sigh of relief – don’t get me wrong, I’m all for it as a charitable campaign and I’m sure it does a great deal of good, but as one of many single women who doesn’t appreciate facial hair, November has recently become the most dangerous month for dating. You can argue about it until you’re blue in the face (and I have done – well, almost!) but ultimately the facial hair debate is a matter of opinion.

Continue reading

Estimating Extinction

We are in the midst of the sixth mass extinction, and everyone is in a hurry to tell us about it – we are constantly bombarded by statistics about how many species are threatened, but how do scientists work out which species are threatened and which are not? The recent Living Planet Report tells us that over 50% of wildlife has been lost from Earth since 1970. But what are those estimates based on, and how do you even begin to try and monitor the population statuses of the 9 million or so living species on Earth??

With an estimated 9 million species on Earth today, the task of monitoring and assessing the status of the World’s biodiversity is no small one. Yet if we have any hope of putting a halt to the astonishing loss of species occurring worldwide, we must try to understand what species are threatened and by which human activities.

In this feature article, I summarise recent research into extinction risk and ask the experts their views on estimating extinction during the sixth mass extinction. Includes interviews with Dr Monika Böhm (Institute of Zoology, Indicators and Assessment) and Prof Andy Purvis (Natural History Museum, PREDICTS Project).

Download

Patrons can download the pdf feature article below.

To read the full article, please sign up to support Curious Meerkat from as little as $1 per blog.

How the Moon Affects Us

The idea that the phases of the moon are linked to the human psyche is one of the oldest and most pervasive examples of folk lore and mythology. It is woven into the fabric of our classic literature, poetry and music. Even today, a surprising number of people believe that our deepest emotions and mental states are influenced by the lunar cycle, and there are plenty of police officers, doctors, nurses and prison guards who would swear blind they’ve seen evidence of it in their everyday lives. But is the lunar effect real? How and why does it work? Humans have spent thousands of years discussing the lunar effect in stories and legends, and the last 40 years documenting it in the academic literature. So what’s the verdict? How does the moon affect us?

In it’s simplest form, the Werewolf exemplifies our most primitive understanding of a link between human behaviour and emotion and the moon. It captures our idea that during the full moon, man becomes wild, violent and instinctive, a reversion to a more basal, less civilised version of ourselves. This is probably the most pervasive aspect of the myth, that the moon controls human aggression, impulsivity, violence and mood. But the lunar effect has also been proposed for a range of scenarios so broad it will make your mind boggle. A quick google search will tell you that the moon controls our fertility and reproduction, influences violent crime, suicide and even traffic accidents, affects seizures, blood loss, sleep quality and even our political leanings. All of this begs the question, how and why might such a mechanism exist?

Continue reading

The Truth Behind the Badger Cull

In the UK, the Badger Cull has become a national news item, and has stimulated fierce public debate, campaigns, protests and petitions from both sides. Many impassioned articles have been written over the last few months and years, but in many cases, even reputable authors have been guilty of cherry-picking data to support their claim. Everybody seems to have an opinion on the UK badger cull, and this often obscures the real science that is being done to investigate this crucial social and economic issue.

A Little Background

For those of you who haven’t heard about it, the badger cull is a UK government policy aimed at reducing the incidence of bovine tuberculosis (Mycobacterium bovis) by reducing transmission rates from a suspected infection reservoir in the European badger (Meles meles). It has been implemented on and off since the early 1970s, despite legal protection of the badger since 1986.

Continue reading

Lighter than a Feather:
Aerogels

Frozen smoke, the world’s lightest solid material, is hard at work powering supercapacitors, insulating space ships, firefighters, surfers and rockets, thickening paints and cosmetics, performing classified roles in nuclear weapons, collecting interstellar dust… It is one of the lightest, most expensive substances on Earth, and we are surrounded by it.

Aerogel005Aerogel, also known as frozen smoke, solid smoke or solid air, is an ultralight synthetic material produced from a gel. Composed of 99.98% air, it looks and feels like very light polystyrene, with a slight blueish tinge. First developed in the 1930s as the result of a bet, aerogels are incredibly light, strong and flexible, and are being applied to everything from home decor to aerospace engineering.

Continue reading

Is There Such a Thing as Sustainable Fishing?

Globally, seafood represents 15% of animal protein consumed by humans, and the fishing industry employs around 35 million people world wide. Fish are big business, but not for long. That business is set to vanish in the next few decades, unless we make some major changes. Massive cuts to global fishing quotas and to our consumption of fish are necessary if we are to avoid totally eradicating all remaining edible fish in the space of a generation. The loss of our fish would be catastrophic – millions of people unemployed, millions of people without adequate nutrition, a collapse of the ocean ecosystem and the loss of many crucial ecosystem services. It may even make global warming worse, too!

But for us consumers, what can we do? Is there any way to sustainably include fish in our diets?

Continue reading

Eating Insects

What if I told you I’d found an edible source of protein that is cheap and easy to rear in captivity, releases fewer greenhouse gases in the process and yields a versatile, healthy food containing many of the vitamins and minerals we might usually obtain from meat?

If I then told you that potential food source was insects, you’d probably be disgusted. If you grew up in the Western world, that is. For nearly 2 billion people, insects are already on the dinner plate, and have been for centuries. Yet for some reason, in Western cultures insects are often considered less than palatable. If we could somehow shift this perception, however, we could change the world.

Continue reading