Discovered: La Niña weather patterns could cause pandemics, when men outnumber women they tend to spend more, and the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle gets an update.
La Niña brings pandemics New research suggests that La Niña, weather-pattern cousin of El Niño, makes global pandemics more likely. La Niña periodically brings cool water to the surface of the Pacific Ocean making for warmer, dryer winters. More importantly, the U.S. researchers posit, it alters the migratory patterns of flu-carrying birds, which might explain why the four most recent outbreaks -- in 1918, 1957 and 1958, and most recently in 2009 with the swine flu -- were preceeded by periods of La Niña. This is less than awesome news as we're in the middle of a La Niña episode right now. Researchers note, though, that there are many incidents when La Niña doesn't precede a flu outbreak, so more research should be done to explain why certain periods result in the spread of disease. Luckily, the fear inspired by swine flu, bird flu, and Gwyneth Paltrow mean we've stepped up efforts to monitor pigs, people and flu genes, so research into its spread should only move more quickly. [BBC, Houston Chronicle]
When women are scarce, men will spend more. New research posits that when men think they outnumber women, they'll often increase the amount they spend. Researchers at the University of Minnesota fed men articles saying they outnumbered the women in the area, then asked them questions about how much of their next paycheck they wanted to save and how much they wanted to borrow. The lady drought made them 42 percent less willing to save and 84 percent more willing to borrow money. The researchers draw some reasonable theories for why: "How do humans compete for access to mates? What you find across cultures is that men often do it through money, through status and through products," lead author Vladas Griskevicius said. The Wall Street Journal finds this pretty natural when examined through an economic lens. "When something is in short supply, common sense suggests that it should become more valuable." So there you have it ladies. Move to China! [USA Today, Wall Street Journal]
The Heisenberg uncertainty principle gets more complicated. Just when we were wrapping our heads around the Heisenberg uncertainty principle (just kidding), research published in the journal Nature Physics suggests our understanding of it is incomplete. As you might recall, the principle is a foundational one for quantum physics and it says that it's hard to measure multiple properties of a particle at the same time because the act of measuring them alters the properties. But Vienna University of Technology researchers found experimentally what Japanese researchers had already posited theoretically that different sources of uncertainty can, in fact, be distinguished. Heisenberg's principle isn't disproven, it's just often oversimplified (uncertain, dare we say?), they say. It's all a bit confusing, but a good reminder that even foundational theories can be updated. [Science Daily]
Babies can learn language by lip reading. Previous research held that babies learned language primarily through hearing it, but a new study says babies learn langauge partly by watching the mouth move, and the new finding could help us diagnose autism earlier. Researchers at Florida Atlantic University tracked the eyeballs of infants less than 12 months old and found that their eyes moved to the speaker's mouth more often than older babies or adults. Other research has shown that older autistic children keep paying close attention to a speaker's mouth even after most infants stop the habit after about one year, potentially allowing earlier diagnoses of the condition. [ABC News]