Uh, Right

Decimal arithmetic is a contrivance of man for computing numbers, and not a property of time, space, or matter. It belongs essentially to the keeping of accounts, but is merely an incident to the transactions of trade. Nature has no partiality for the number 10; and the attempt to shackle her freedom with them [decimal gradations], will for ever prove abortive.

— John Quincy Adams, recommending against the metric system in 1821, as reported in Chambers’ Edinburgh Journal, May 15, 1852

Silly Old Bear

Psychological diagnoses of inhabitants of the Hundred Acre Wood, according to an article published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, 2000:

  • Winnie-the-Pooh: ADHD, inattentive subtype; OCD (provisional diagnosis); borderline intellectual functioning (Very Little Brain)
  • Piglet: Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Eeyore: Dysthymic disorder
  • Rabbit: Narcissistic personality disorder
  • Owl: Reading disorder
  • Tigger: ADHD, hyperactivity-impulsivity subtype

“Pooh needs intervention,” the authors conclude. “We feel drugs are in order. We cannot but wonder how much richer Pooh’s life might be were he to have a trial of low-dose stimulant medication. With the right supports, including methylphenidate, Pooh might be fitter and more functional and perhaps produce (and remember) more poems.”

Naming Rights

Some paleontologists have a sense of humor. When Jenny Clack of the University of Cambridge discovered a fossil amphibian in the bed of an ancient swamp, she named it Eucritta melanolimnetes.

That’s Greek for “the creature from the black lagoon.”

The Loneliest Number?

In most lists of numbers, the leading digit 1 occurs about 30 percent of the time.

That’s Benford’s Law, named for the American physicist Frank Benford. It’s surprising, but it’s true, and it applies to most statistics relating to society and the natural world, from street addresses to the lengths of rivers.

It can even be used to detect fraud. When people make up lists of numbers, they tend to use too few leading 1s.

Great Moments in Science

In 1994, 17-year-old Boy Scout David Hahn decided to build a nuclear breeder reactor in his backyard shed in Michigan. He gathered radioactive material from smoke detectors, camping lanterns, clocks and gunsights, hoping to transform them into fissionable isotopes in a hollowed-out block of lead.

He should have stuck to homework. The experiment started to emit toxic levels of radiation, and he was trying to dismantle it when the police found him and brought in the FBI and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. To his mother’s dismay, her property was declared a Superfund hazardous materials cleanup site, and the shed was moved to Utah and buried as low-level radioactive waste.

On the bright side, Hahn made Eagle Scout.