A round up of interesting articles and posts that I have come across the last couple of weeks.
The Guardian article is about the newest research into the Greenland shark which indicates that they have a lifespan of centuries, and might be the oldest vertebrate animals around. The scientists did this by looking at the carbon-14 in the eyes of some captured sharks, and used this to estimate the ages of the specimens. This is obviously imprecise, but it does clearly indicate that the sharks have been around for a long time.
As a side note, this article can’t help remind of the old story about the bowhead whale swimming around with a 100-year old harpoon fragment embedded in it.
In other marine news, it appears that humpback whales protect potential prey from Orcas, even when the prey is of entirely different species, such as seals.
Humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) are known to interfere with attacking killer whales (Orcinus orca). To investigate why, we reviewed accounts of 115 interactions between them. Humpbacks initiated the majority of interactions (57% vs. 43%; n = 72), although the killer whales were almost exclusively mammal-eating forms (MEKWs, 95%) vs. fish-eaters (5%; n = 108). When MEKWs approached humpbacks (n = 27), they attacked 85% of the time and targeted only calves. When humpbacks approached killer whales (n = 41), 93% were MEKWs, and ≥87% of them were attacking or feeding on prey at the time. When humpbacks interacted with attacking MEKWs, 11% of the prey were humpbacks and 89% comprised 10 other species, including three cetaceans, six pinnipeds, and one teleost fish. Approaching humpbacks often harassed attacking MEKWs (≥55% of 56 interactions), regardless of the prey species, which we argue was mobbing behavior. Humpback mobbing sometimes allowed MEKW prey, including nonhumpbacks, to escape. We suggest that humpbacks initially responded to vocalizations of attacking MEKWs without knowing the prey species targeted. Although reciprocity or kin selection might explain communal defense of conspecific calves, there was no apparent benefit to humpbacks continuing to interfere when other species were being attacked. Interspecific altruism, even if unintentional, could not be ruled out.
Nation Geographic has a good write up about this: Why Humpback Whales Protect Other Animals From Killer Whales
In completely unrelated news, it appears that better health coverage makes people more healthy. Hardly a surprising information, but there are now actual data to back this common-sense conclusion up.
A few recent studies suggest that people have become less likely to have medical debt or to postpone care because of cost. They are also more likely to have a regular doctor and to be getting preventive health services like vaccines and cancer screenings. A new study, published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine, offers another way of looking at the issue. Low-income people in Arkansas and Kentucky, which expanded Medicaid insurance to everyone below a certain income threshold, appear to be healthier than their peers in Texas, which did not expand.
It seems incredible that it is necessary to collect data about this, when it is so obvious that it would be the case. There are, however, many things that appears obvious, which turns out to be wrong, so it is good that the researchers uses this opportunity to find data to expand our knowledge.
Jennifer Raff has written a very interesting post about human cannibalism:
The post starts out with the following bit of family story:
One of my aunts was once asked during an interview for a position in the criminal justice field “Is there any kind of criminal you don’t feel you could work with?”
“Yes,” she replied. “Have you ever seen ‘The Silence of the Lambs?’ I don’t do cannibals.”
This reminds me of a story I was once told by an elderly lady from New Zealand, who told about back when she went to school, and one of her teachers explained to the class that people used to be cannibals, but that this no longer was the case, and that they of course don’t know what humans taste like, to which a Maori girl in the class put her hand in the air, and said, “excuse me miss, it tastes like chicken”.
The girl, who almost certainly didn’t have any firsthand knowledge of this, didn’t make any friends in the class.
There certainly is a strong taboo surrounding cannibalism. Probably especially so when you are in areas where it has been practiced within the last couple of centuries.
ThinkProgress has a good article on John Lott, a pro-gun “scientist” who is actually a fraud:
The United States seems to be in a perpetual cycle mourning mass shootings in the country. This year alone, there have already been 233 mass shootings, where four or more victims were shot, leaving 310 dead and 930 injured. But every time another shooting happens, advocates pop up arguing that more guns don’t actually lead to more violence and stall the much-needed conversation about gun control.
John Lott is, if not the most influential, certainly the most prolific “academic” in the gun debate. He has authored weekly columns in local newspapers on the horrors of gun free zones, published widely-distributed books on the ostensible benefits of right-to-carry laws, and his newest book The War on Guns has received rave reviews by prominent conservatives, like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Newt Gingrich.
I had missed the fact that John Lott had turned up again like a bad penny.
As the ThinkProgress article explains, John Lott lies and distorts gun statistics, makes undocumented claims, lies about his data and research, and has been caught sockpuppeting both book reviews and comments to articles and blogposts.
Tim Lambert at Deltoid has done a lot of work debunking John Lott’s stuff in the past.