The Flynn Effect

Are we getting smarter? IQ scores around the world have been going up by about three IQ points per decade.

Suggested reasons include improved nutrition, smaller families, better education, and the stimulating modern environment, but no one really knows what’s causing it.

It’s called the Flynn effect, after New Zealand political scientist who discovered it.

“The Planet of War”

The land regions of Mars can be distinguished from the seas by their ruddy color, the seas being greenish. But here, perhaps, you will be disposed to ask how astronomers can be sure that the greenish regions are seas, the ruddy regions land, the white spots either snow or cloud. Might not materials altogether unlike any we are acquainted with exist upon that remote planet?

The spectroscope answers this question in the clearest way. You may remember what I told you in October, 1876, about Venus, how astronomers have learned that the vapor of water exists in her atmosphere. The same method has been applied, even more satisfactorily, to the planet of war, and it has been found that he also has his atmosphere at times laden with moisture. This being so, it is clear we have not to do with a planet made of materials utterly unlike those forming our earth. To suppose so, when we find that the air of Mars, formed like our own (for if it contained other gases the spectroscope would tell us), contains often large quantities of the vapor of water, would be as absurd as to believe in the green cheese theory of the moon, or in another equally preposterous, advanced lately by an English artist — Mr. J.T. Brett — to the effect that the atmosphere of Venus is formed of glass.

— Richard A. Proctor, St. Nicholas Magazine for Boys and Girls, November 1877

Science Marches On

Thinking they had found a Viking settlement, a team of experts spent months in 2003 excavating a platform of slabs in Marion Garry’s garden in Fife, Scotland.

They finally realized it was a patio from the 1940s.

Archaeologist Douglas Speirs admitted to ignoring an old television remote found during the dig.

“Looking back now,” he said, “that probably wasn’t the best approach.”

Light Up

When a candle is burnt so long as to leave a tolerably large wick, blow it out; a dense smoke, which is composed of hydrogen and carbon, will immediately rise. Then, if another candle, or lighted taper, be applied to the utmost verge of this smoke, a very strange phenomenon will take place. The flame of the lighted candle will be conveyed to that just blown out, as if it were borne on a cloud, or, rather, it will seem like a mimic flash of lightning proceeding at a slow rate.

— Alfred Rochefort, Healthful Sports for Boys, 1910

Image: Wikimedia Commons

After he’d been stung by almost everything, entomologist Justin O. Schmidt created the Schmidt Sting Pain Index, a four-point scale comparing the overall pain of insect stings:

  • 1.0 – Sweat bee: “Light, ephemeral, almost fruity. A tiny spark has singed a single hair on your arm.”
  • 1.2 – Fire ant: “Sharp, sudden, mildly alarming. Like walking across a shag carpet and reaching for the light switch.”
  • 1.8 – Bullhorn acacia ant: “A rare, piercing, elevated sort of pain. Someone has fired a staple into your cheek.”
  • 2.0 – Bald-faced hornet: “Rich, hearty, slightly crunchy. Similar to getting your hand mashed in a revolving door.”
  • 2.0 – Yellowjacket: “Hot and smoky, almost irreverent. Imagine W.C. Fields extinguishing a cigar on your tongue.”
  • 3.0 – Red harvester ant: “Bold and unrelenting. Somebody is using a drill to excavate your ingrown toenail.”
  • 3.0 – Paper wasp: “Caustic and burning. Distinctly bitter aftertaste. Like spilling a beaker of hydrochloric acid on a paper cut.”
  • 4.0 – Pepsis wasp: “Blinding, fierce, shockingly electric. A running hair drier has been dropped into your bubble bath (if you get stung by one you might as well lie down and scream).”
  • 4.0+ – Bullet ant: “Pure, intense, brilliant pain. Like walking over flaming charcoal with a 3-inch nail in your heel.”

What Would Darwin Say?

Robert Wallace had a noble impulse when he discovered a new species of monkey in Bolivia’s Madidi National Park. Rather than name the species after himself, he would auction off the naming rights to raise money for the park.

The marketers of the world are not so noble: $650,000 changed hands and the new species was named after an Internet casino. It’s officially called the “ Monkey.”