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A little perspective

Published April 1, 2007


One egg, two sperm, twins

Nature magazine reports a very strange set of circumstances that led to unusual twins: one egg fertilized by two sperm. As Nature ( reports, that means they are identical on their mother's side, but share only half their genes on their father's side, a previously unreported way for twins to come about, say the team that made the finding. The babies, now toddlers, were conceived conventionally. "Their similarity is somewhere between identical and fraternal twins," geneticist Vivienne Souter says in the Nature piece, which adds that such twins' existence and discovery relies on three unusual, and unlinked, events: an egg fertilized by two sperm develops into a viable embryo; that this embryo splits to form twins; and the children come to the attention of science.

Wikipedia in footnotes

Wikipedia, the brainchild of St. Petersburg's own Jimmy Wales, is increasingly being used in court. When a special master last year rejected the claim of an Alabama couple that their daughter had suffered seizures after a vaccination, she explained her decision in part by referring to material from articles in Wikipedia, the collaborative and ever-changing online encyclopedia. The court above reversed her: Materials "culled from the Internet do not - at least on their face - meet" standards of reliability. To cite the "pervasive, and for our purposes, disturbing series of disclaimers" concerning the site's accuracy, the same Court of Federal Claims relied on "Researching With Wikipedia," found - where else? - on Wikipedia. (The family has reached a settlement.) More than 100 judicial rulings have relied on Wikipedia, including 13 from federal circuit courts of appeal, one step below the Supreme Court. (The Supreme Court thus far has not cited Wikipedia.) A professor at New York University Law School says for now Wikipedia is best used for "soft facts" not central to a ruling.

Fingernails on chalkboard? 16

Trevor Cox, a professor at Britain's Salford University, claims to have determined the sound that humans detest the most, based on a year of input from of more than a million online test subjects. It's not fingernails on a chalkboard, which ranked only 16th among the field of 34 horrible sounds. The study sought opinions at in the hope of learning what makes certain noises so objectionable. Tying at No. 3 were the sounds of many babies crying, and what was simply called a "horrible scraping" sound. No. 2 was the sound of microphone feedback. No. 1? Sorry about this - vomiting, as performed by a hired actor.

Deep in the soul, Viet vets and their songs

At the University of Wisconsin, scholar Craig Werner and Vietnam vet Doug Bradley have found that music is a highway into veterans' memories of the war, reports Washington Post science writer Shankar Vedantam. "What music does is reach down into parts of our brain, it opens networks and pathways that you can't get to via language," said Werner, who is chair of the Afro-American studies department. As he started researching his book, which is to be called We Gotta Get Out of This Place: Music and the Experience of Vietnam Vets, he found that songs popular among troops in the field were not always the ones popular on the home front. Music by the Doors, for example, was huge on campuses back home and even in Saigon, but not out in the field where the battles raged. The No. 1 hit? We've Gotta Get Out of this Place, by the Animals. "We had absolute unanimity is this song being the touchstone," says Bradley. "This was the Vietnam anthem."

Also at the top was Chain of Fools, by Aretha Franklin. Surprise hit? These Boots are Made for Walkin', by Nancy Sinatra, pictured below. "It's amazing how many vets out there are in that Nancy Sinatra army of supporters," Bradley says.

Credence Clearwater Revival was popular with vets, as were the Beach Boys' Sloop John B., Martha and the Vandellas' hit, Nowhere to Run, and the Rolling Stones' Gimme Shelter. Another separate and surprising finding: When McGill scientist Robert Zatorre asked people to listen to their favorite pieces of music as he ran brain scans on them - people selected whatever kinds of music sent chills down their spine - he unexpectedly discovered that music activated ancient parts of the brain, not the higher levels of the cortex. Which means that music can be deep indeed. Read more at

[Last modified April 1, 2007, 01:05:31]

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