THEORY OF ACES: A study of Germany's air combat record in WWI suggests that the infamous Red Baron was a skilled flier but probably had luck on his side in racking up his record 80 wins. Image: iStockPhoto
Was the Red Baron just lucky?
Manfred Albrecht Freiherr von Richthofen, better known as the Red Baron, was the most feared German flying ace of World War I. He racked up 80 official air combat victories—the biggest winning streak on either side—before being shot down on April 21, 1918, over northern France. We're inclined to interpret the Baron's record as proof that he was the best of the best. But a study published in the Journal of Mathematical Sociology claims that much of Richthofen's success could be chalked up to plain old luck. German records list 2,894 WWI fighter pilots, who together scored 6,759 victories (planes shot down) and only 810 defeats. Although the win ratio seems suspiciously high, electrical engineers Mikhail Simkin and Vwani Roychowdhury of the University of California, Los Angeles, contend they can still use the numbers to analyze the pilots' defeat rate—their total chances of being shot down after each flight. That rate started off high—25 percent for the first flight—but fell sharply; by the 10th flight it had leveled off below 5 percent, consistent with the weaker pilots getting picked off and the remaining aces having similar skills in the air. At that rate, the researchers conclude that the odds of one in 2,894 pilots racking up an 80-win streak are about 30 percent—not so remarkable after all.
Los Angeles tops list of nation's most polluted cities—again
Los Angeles still holds the crown for the smoggiest city, but Pittsburgh surprisingly took top honors in daily spikes in air pollution levels, according to the American Lung Association's annual State of the Air report released this week. Meanwhile, some cities previously touted for cleaning up their act (among them: San Diego, Atlanta, Charlotte and the Baltimore–Washington, D.C. region) fell down on the job, scoring higher on the sullied air scale. "The air quality in several cities has improved, but in others, declines in pollution have stalled," ALA president and CEO Bernadette Toomey said. Cities in California dominate the list, including Fresno, Bakersfield and Visalia/Porterville. (Reuters)
Absinthe: Not an Artist's Secret to Success
Ever feel like you could write the next great novel or paint a masterpiece, if only you had the right artistic inspiration—or, short of that, could get your hands on a bit of absinthe, the mysterious green alcoholic spirit rumored to have mind-altering qualities that "inspired" the impressionists in the late 1800s? Most European countries and the U.S., worried about its potential psychological effects, had banned absinthe by the early 1900s. But it was—and still is—legal and available in Spain, where Pablo Picasso reportedly was a fan. Now new research punches holes in the enigmatic drink's allure. It turns out that it never actually contained enough thujone (a compound derived from wormwood leaves) to conjure a psychedelic muse. Instead, German researchers report in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, people who drank it just got really drunk. The scientists, from the Chemical and Veterinary Investigation Laboratory of Karlsruhe, examined the contents of three still-corked pre-1915 bottles of absinthe manufactured in France and found that even if a person were to ingest an entire liter of the stuff, he or she still would not consume enough thujone to have a psychedelic experience. (FYI: It's no easy task to drink a cup, let alone an entire liter, of the incredibly bitter beverage.) The team did, however, find that it is 70 percent alcohol by volume (or 140 proof), which means that it contains 20 percent more alcohol than standard vodka and gin. (Newsweek)