Discovered: praise for old football helmets, the latest way to search for alien civilizations, why potential scientists don't pursue science careers, and more good news for Weight Watchers.

  • In praise of leather football helmets. A new study to be published in the Journal of Neurosurgery: Spineis touting itself with a pretty eyebrow-raising claim: vintage football helmets from a century ago are "are often as effective as – and sometimes better than" modern football helmets. Although USA Today notes that they "conceded that modern helmets in many instances provided better protection from skull fracture and brain bleeds." After a series of literally head-to-head crash tests of the ancient helmets and modern ones, the Cleveland Clinic researchers came to the conclusion that the old helmets offered good  protection. "The point of this study is not to advocate for a return to leather helmets but, rather, to test the notion that modern helmets must be more protective than older helmets simply because 'newer must be better,'" said the lead researcher, Adam Bartsch, in a release that will certainly get attention for the message that more helmet safety reforms are needed. [Cleveland Clinic, USA Today]
  • New theory for how to best find aliens requires aliens to behave like humans.  This is no knock on those scientists doing their best to figure out if there's anyone else out there, but the latest theory from researchers affiliated with Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics is much more practical than imaginative. From their release, it appears to boil down to this: if aliens are building light polluting metropolitan areas just like earthlings, maybe we can see them with powerful telescopes. "It's very unlikely that there are alien cities on the edge of our solar system, but the principle of science is to find a method to check," said one of the researchers who proposed the theory, tempering alien-searchers optimism. [Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics]
  • One sensible, possibly obvious, reason why potential scientists, researchers and doctors get scared off. It isn't news to note that plenty of undergraduates interested in pursuing STEM careers end up not pursuing them. But why? The New York Times tried to answer that question today by turning to a few studies, which found one unsurprising reason why future scientists go elsewhere: "The latest research also suggests that there could be more subtle problems at work, like the proliferation of grade inflation in the humanities and social sciences, which provides another incentive for students to leave STEM majors. It is no surprise that grades are lower in math and science, where the answers are clear-cut and there are no bonus points for flair." In other words, math is hard. [The New York Times]
  • Weight Watchers gets more good news from research.  A study published in the British Medical Journal found that "weight-loss programs such as Weight Watchers and Slimming World are more effective and cheaper than family doctor-based services led by specially trained staff," Reuters informs us. It doesn't say in the Reuters write-up who funded the latest research, but that "results suggest that while commercial schemes generally help people to lose weight, doctor-led programs do not." Reuters does point back to another randomized-controlled trial that found a favorable result for Weight Watchers last month. That one was funded by Weight Watchers International, but conducted by an independent research team. [Reuters and Reuters