Bay Area Skeptics

The San Francisco Bay Area's skeptical organization since 1982

SciSchmoozing the Unexpected

Sperm whale mother and calf – photo by Gabriel Barathieu

Hello again, dear reader,

Of all the unexpected phenomena in our unfathomable universe, ambergris shat by sperm whales rates pretty high. A lump the size of a Costco muffin could sell for thousands of dollars – if it had floated in the ocean for a long time. Bafflingly, the stinky excrement is used in high-end perfumes.

A surprising situation 70 million years ago apparently isolated herbivorous dinosaurs on an island with no big predators. Result: Island Dwarfism and aerial predator gigantism.

Far more recently, Australia was home to a quarter-ton bird that suffered from osteomyelitis

Climate change is having unexpected and gruesome consequences, like killing piglets and people in Australia.

¿Were you aware an eyedrop medicine can improve close-up vision?

For people who are reluctant to get vaccinated against COVID-19, they are recommended to talk with their physician. There’s a fundamental and unexpected problem with that: 10% of doctors in the U.S. themselves eschew those shots.

When an oil well reaches the end of its profitability – commonly yielding mostly water – it might get repurposed for heating buildings and/or producing a little electricity.

A healthy mouse pup was born from an unfertilized egg. (Actually, several were born but not all were totally healthy.)

To avoid serious illness (or worse) from an excessive inflammatory response, a.k.a. cytokine storm, you may one day credit – wait for it – tick spit.

¿Were you expecting that your Pilates Ring came with a cancer warning

Health professionals advocate kicking the Centers for Disease Control out of Washington.

Sunlight is necessary for  plants and aquatic organisms to produce the gaseous oxygen so necessary for vertebrates, but Nitrosopumilus maritimus unexpectedly creates its own oxygen when in the dark.

Now that the spectre of nuclear war is back at a level not seen since i was in grade school, i’ve heard a few people opine that only cockroaches will survive. Nonsense. (That link points to the “Difficulty” section on Wikipedia’s ‘Human Extinction’ page.) Professor Dirk Schulze-Makuch of the Technische Universität Berlin has nominated naked mole-rats as survivors that could possibly evolve into a technologically advanced civilization. ¿Would their King be duped into wearing clothes?

I’m sorta hoping you had not (yet) heard that red-light testicular treatments might assist guys in becoming ‘manly men.’ (I cannot help but reflect that ‘manly men’ are responsible for nearly all of the inhuman ruthless atrocities throughout history.)

Rock dust can help alleviate the climate crisis. Huh? Stay with me here; i’ll explain. 

  1. For billions of years, CO2 has been constantly cycled from the atmosphere and sequestered for varying epochs. Without such a process, Earth would be nearly as hot as Venus.
  2. Currently, over 99% of this process involves CO2 chemically reacting with olivine, the most common mineral in rocks on Earth’s surface. The resulting magnesium bicarbonate is washed to the sea where marine life locks the carbon away in carbonate rocks. 
  3. Since the industrial revolution, this natural process has not been able to keep up with CO2 emissions resulting in excess greenhouse gasses and ocean acidification.
  4. Idea: Crush rocks into dust and (a) spread the dust lightly over farmland to sequester atmospheric CO2 and (b) dump the dust into oceans to alleviate ocean acidification.

Doctors want to employ dogs in medical labs. (A pun is lurking in there somewhere.)

Sadly, spinal cord injuries all too often lead to the permanent loss of muscular control of the lower limbs. Enormous research efforts hope to someday allow some healing, but then along comes an African mouse that recovers from a totally severed spinal cord! 

There were significant science events this last week that i did not report on, (e.g. I watched the Dragon capsule dock with the ISS – thankfully as exciting as watching bean sprouts grow until the crews greeted each other) – so please forgive me for focusing only on “the unexpected.” 

Have a great week — and keep expanding your sphere of empathy,
Dave Almandsmith
Bay Area Skeptics

“All creative people want to do the unexpected.”
– Hedy Lamarr (Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler), inventor & actress (1914 – 2000). With financial support from Howard Hughes, she and composer George Antheil patented frequency hopping radio communications (using a player piano mechanism) and spread spectrum radio communications. At age 19, Ms. Kiesler was the star of the Czech movie Extase, “the first non-pornographic movie to portray sexual intercourse and female orgasm.”

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