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Science Talk

The End: Death, Endings and Things That Should End

Editor in Chief Mariette DiChristina and issue editor Michael Moyer talk with podcast host Steve Mirsky about the September single-topic issue of Scientific American--endings in science. Plus, we test your knowledge of some recent science in the news

Editor in Chief Mariette DiChristina and issue editor Michael Moyer talk with podcast host Steve Mirsky (pictured) about the September single-topic issue of Scientific American—endings in science. Plus, we test your knowledge of some recent science in the news.

Podcast Transcription

Steve:          Welcome to Science Talk, the weekly podcast of Scientific American, posted on September 14th, 2010. I'm Steve Mirsky. This week on the podcast we'll talk with Editor in Chief Mariette DiChristina and issue editor Michael Moyer about our annual single-topic issue of the magazine. Plus, we'll test your knowledge of some recent science in the news. Every September we publish a single-topic issue. Last year's choice helped dictate this year's. Mariette, Michael and I will explain further, and we chatted in the recording studio at the magazine's offices.

Steve:          So we have this issue that might scare some people because it might look like it's our last issue because we have this big red cover and in large white letters it says "The End".

DiChristina: Right, and after we just finished celebrated our 165th anniversary last month, maybe people were wondering about that. But really what it is, is the beginning—the beginning of Scientific American's latest single-topic issue.

Steve:          Which is all about endings…

DiChristina: Which is all about endings, and sort of, deals with our eternal fascination with the topic of endings. It's one of those Steve, you can't look, you can't look away feelings—and it seemed to us a really interesting book  to do after last year when we had done a single-topic issue on origins.

Steve:          And in fact this issue had been, sort of, suggested many times over the last 10 years, originally as "the death issue".

DiChristina: Yes.

Steve:          Which people naturally, sort of, shyed away from. But by expanding it to just endings it became somewhat more palatable, and actually it winds up covering a lot of really interesting territory.

DiChristina: It really does, I mean, I think when we kiddingly call it the death issue in internal editorial conversations, some of us really might have liked to focus more on that aspect of human endings. But then as we looked at it more we realized it was such a big opportunity, a larger, much larger well to mine of what endings mean for us in various areas that Scientific American covers and obviously we do cover biology, and so there's an article on why, you know why can['t] we live forever for instance? But we cover so many other things including, you know, astrophysics and chemistry and so on. And so this issue takes a look at endings across a wide array of categories, and not just endings but how endings can in turn be a start of something new.

Steve:          We've an article that talks about the what happens after the end, after the end of your particular existence—what happens to your body. And in your letter from the editor, you talk about having read Mary Roach's book Stiff, which is a long explication on the subject—and we just had Mary on talking about her Mars book—but in our shorter version we go through skeletally, if you will, you know what happens to your body after you die. You want to talk about that for just a little bit?

DiChristina: Sure, yeah absolutely. One of the things, you know, that Scientific American does so well is explain how things work or what happens, various processes. And so we thought it might be interesting to take a look at what happens to the human body after you die. I know Mary's book, Mary Roach's wonderful book, looks at what happens to cadavers in general and not just how decomposition works but where do they go to medical schools and what happens there, and what happens in various scenarios. But we looked at what happens if you take human body and you leave it be; a human body that has, you know, died—a person has died—and then what happens with the biology then. And there were four states of decomposition for the human body, and they're very clearly, kind of, defined, they range a little bit in amounts of time. And we know a lot about this because of the body farm at Tennessee where they have been studying this for many years now.

Steve:          Yeah, if anybody wants to donate their body to science, in addition to medical schools you can do so by donating to a forensic decomposition farm where they bury your body, maybe in a [shallow] grave, maybe in a deep one, maybe they just leave it out where animals can get at it. I know that sounds pretty nasty for, you know, what might happen to you, but it's really useful for forensic researchers to identify all the various stages of decomp.

DiChristina: Well and one of the—not to get derailed on this—but one of the very useful purposes there is when you're trying to solve [a] crime, let's say, and the body is found; you want to know based on the condition of the body, how long ago the crime was committed. This is where that sort of information comes from. So at first what happens, for a week or so from day one to six is the fresh state after a body dies. And what happens in the fresh state is basically when respiration ends, when we stop breathing and we stop clearing toxins from cells, all those processes that were ongoing—and the cells don't know what yet, right; the rest of the body, the heart has stopped, the brain is stopping, but the cells still have some chemistry that's going on after the body has died. And the first thing that begins to happen is carbon dioxide builds up inside the body, and with it there is a rise in acidity; that acidity rise contributes to cellular membranes decaying and then collapsing and then digestive enzymes that were already always present in the cells begin to slosh around to the body and [it] begins a state of what's called self digestion, so the body begins to liquefy inside rather literally. The muscles stiffen—everybody has heard of rigor mortis—and the body begins to cool by about 0.8 degree Celsius per hour or so. And red blood cells settle to the bottom which is why if you've seen somebody who has died even after just an hour or so, you'll see very pale on top and kind of deeper redder color near where the, let's say, the hand of the body meets the ground.

Steve:          Yeah, it's a very predictable, these sequence of events.

DiChristina: It is, and then it moves on to a stage called the bloat stage, which lasts from the first week to about 3 weeks roughly, where those cellular processes continue and the gases that the cells create, as they continue their digesting and chemical processes, begin to build up in the body and the body starts to bloat. The third stage is called active decay and this is from days about 24 to 50. This is where insects and other animals may continue the process of removal of tissue from the body. And if it is exposed to air the body will tend to be kind of basic in it's chemistry, more to the base side, and if it is buried, it would be more acidic. And last is the so-called dry stage, which is stage four, from days 51 to 64 or so where tissue is all removed and the bones then begin their own process of cellular decay and decomposition.

Steve:          And the bones can either just sort of become powder, or if you're in the right kind of environment, you can permineralize the bone—replace some of the biological, the biochemical entities in the bone with actual minerals, and then you get your good fossils that might be on Earth thousands or millions of years later. And you mentioned insects. Many years ago I did an article for us on forensic entomology, the use of insects in CSI. And I'll never forget what this one expert in the field said; that basically, you'll start to be the home for insects from the minute, this is how he put it, "the meat hits the sod"; so as soon as you keel over, insects will start to work on you.

DiChristina: Well, this is their job, right, as nature's reprocessor. So thank goodness they do that job, and we don't have a bunch of piled up bodies around.

Steve:          So that's the end of us as individuals. Let's bring Michael Moyer in here. And you were the editor really for this whole issue?

Moyer:          That's right.

Steve:          We have a section on things that deserve to end.

Moyer:          Good riddance.

Steve:          Why don't we discuss a few these things like, for example, the space shuttle which is ending. We really think it deserves to end.

Moyer:          Yeah, with our good riddance section, we looked a lot of human inventions that we thought, you know, their time has come and gone. And one of the things we had is the space shuttle and, of course, we all [love] the space shuttle in a lot of ways historic heroic feats, certainly it's done—we wouldn't have a lot of thing such as the ISS or Hubble space telescope up there. But it was designed, you know, more than three decades ago to be a cheap reliable pick-up truck into space, and it never really got to be cheap or reliable. And so now we have our entire space program based on this low Earth orbit–platform that costs, you know, anywhere from half a billion dollars and up per launch, and it's in a lot of ways held us back from doing some of the more ambitious, exploratory programs that we'd like to do.

Steve:          And it is ending and right now we're not really sure what's going to replace it.

Moyer:          Yeah, that's right, and I believe now it's March of next year will be its final flight up to the International Space Station. Right now, there is much hubbub going on in Congress and the like. President Obama has a plan to end what was to be the replacement program, the Constellation program, and replace a lot of the functions with private space entrepreneurs. And we would, kind of, help those people get them seed money and then by tickets up to the International Space Station. NASA would go back to being a more of a research and development organization trying to find the next way, really to get to Mars, because we still have no idea how we're going to get people to Mars and back.

Steve:          Well, you know, the really great idea is not to bother to bring them back.

Moyer:          Sure, sure. We have staff members here who would volunteer to be on that trip.

Steve:          Right.

Moyer:          Not myself, but others…

Steve:          I know. George Musser wants to go. I have heard, you know—send very fit old people to Mars who know that it's a one-way trip. And it really cuts down on your technological necessities.

Moyer:          Absolutely.

Steve:          So, another thing that we really need to end—this is such an ironic kind of thing to me—is dropped phone calls. We have, I mean, I marvel on a daily basis, I really do, at my iPhone and all the different—I mean, I watch television on it; I play Scrabble on it with people in other parts of the country; I listen to satellite radio through the iPhone. But I can't make a freaking phone call on it.

Moyer:          Yeah it's terrible. A friend of mine just got an iPhone for the first time, had an old clamshell phone, and the first thing I said to her was, "Well, welcome to the future." You know, this is how it works, this is what we're all supposed to have in the palm of our hands. Except, of course, you can't make a phone call on it, you know that. I don't really used the phone anymore; I text everyone. But when I do try and call my mother for instance, every 10 minutes, I have to call her back again. You know, it's a problem. Dropped calls are really something that needs to go away, and the solution that a lot of companies have come up with now—what they call femtocells—is that you can, for a fee of about a $100 or something like this, have basically a little cell tower in your house or apartment, and it connects to your high-speed internet and you have very, very good coverage with that. Of course, you know do you want to pay another $100 bucks just so to make a pay call with your $300 appliance?

Steve:          Right. You could just get a landline if you're going to make calls from home.

Moyer:          But I don't have a landline, I know many people who don't have a landline anymore.

Steve:          That's really true and you can tell. I mean, as somebody who sometimes records the interviews on the telephone, the lack of landlines is becoming a real issue because the audio quality is just not as good when you're on the wireless.

Moyer:          Femtocells for everybody.

Steve:          Another great thing to get rid of: Humans behind the wheel of motor vehicles. When I drive, because of course I am an excellent driver, I marvel at the incompetence of all the humans who are driving the other vehicles on the road.

Moyer:          It's a truism that everyone else is a terrible, terrible driver. And Steve, of course, you grew up in New York city, really New York City drivers are people who were born and raised in New York city, you know, they should probably stick with the subway a lot of times, I got to say.

Steve:          Oh you see … that's so wrong. Although I'm a big proponent of mass transit. But New York City drivers are excellent drivers because we actually know what we're doing, as opposed to say Florida drivers, who have no idea what's going on. They can't really see out the windshield. Or I'm not even going international because I don't know, I have never driven in a foreign country other than Canada, which is, you know, a wholly owned subsidiary of the United States. I'm frightened to drive in Boston.

Moyer:          Yeah, yeah. You should be. [Although I will say] internationally, in Europe especially—Germans are excellent, excellent drivers. Apparently it's difficult to get a driver's license in some places.

Steve:          Right. Well that's really true. The tests in certain other countries, I mean, you just must have read about this woman in Korea who had to take the driving test 960 times.

Moyer:          No, I didn't see that. So okay, it seems, you know, people who have real trouble with paying attention on the road, [we] see all these things; but then you think, well why would we possibly give it over to the computers. I mean, you heard about, you know, all the Toyota recalls earlier this year—this seems insane. But what happens is most accidents are because of driver error. And now the technology is to the point where you have devices—I've driven in them; they're amazing—and these [have] cruise control which have radar in the front, which allows you stay a certain distance behind the car in front of you, it will speed up and slow down. You have now these lane change warning sensors, which are really just little cameras that look in the lanes in the side of the road, and if you're kind of drifting out of the lane because you know, you're late at night, you're tired, these big-foot truck drivers, then it'll sound an alarm. It's not hard to attach one of these to your steering wheel and just keep you in the lane. So now you have a d[e]vice, not just to work the accelerator and the brake, but also the steering wheel.

Steve:          You would actually still be driving the car. You just have many more systems that keep you driving it correctly.

Moyer:          Yes. You know, the question, is you wouldn't go back, it wouldn't the Jettisons future of, you know, sitting back and [starting to] read the paper, although certainly, knowing drivers, people do that anyway.

Steve:          Oh yeah, I've seen that plenty of times, especially in Boston. Yeah and texting is a big problem.

Moyer:          Oh, lets not even get started with, I mean, yeah it's a huge problem. So this will be more of, in theory, kind of like the autopilot in an airplane. It's not like the captain and the copilot on an airplane go and start reading the paper, you know, when they're on autopilot; they're monitoring the systems and making sure everything is fine, they're paying attention to what's around them. But you know they're not actively working the pedals.

Steve:          So do you think you can, you know, put your future glasses on and see what things are going to be like? I mean, 30 years from now, do you think you'll be driving a car that's pretty much independent of you as the driver?

Moyer:          Well, the big problem with this is human psychology. People like to drive. People like to be in control of their vehicles. I mean, I certainly, I like driving [stick shifts] because I think it gives me more control of the vehicle. So will people really accept this? Now you get into a thing where if you have encouragement such as, for instance, if you have a special lane on the freeway, which is for vehicles which can, kind of, run all in a line, it helps solve lot of the traffic problems. So if you have these, kind of, cruise control–like vehicles or if you have vehicle-to-vehicle communication, so that the car in the back and the car in the front knows when the car in front is slowing down or stopping, you could run vehicles closer together.

Steve:          And that would also increase their fuel efficiency.

Moyer:          It would increase fuel efficiency, it would lead to fewer traffic jams, because around traffic jams you have these kind of amplifying effects where a car brakes and the car in the back brakes [and the car in back brakes] and then it kind of ripples out, and all the cars are so close together, and then you have these humans who have bad reflexes and overcompensate for what they see in front of them. So if you have institutional encouragement such as that,—and I think that you'll probably see that in other countries before you see it in the US; countries such as Japan which are much more comfortable with technologies such as this—then, yes, I could see getting on, driving under the freeway, getting in the lane, taking your hands off of everything and, you know, getting off at [your designated] exit.

Steve:          Maybe you'll see it in China where they have this traffic jam that's apparently been going on for weeks and is going to keep going on for months.

Moyer:          That I have seen. You know, and it takes some central planning to make these systems work, so …

Steve:          We also recommend getting rid of bunker fuel, which I ha[d] never even heard of.

Moyer:          Bunker fuel is basically the nastiest stuff on Earth that we burn, and it's burn[ed] by cargo ships out on the open ocean. Just to give you an idea of what this stuff is: Ordinary diesel, gasoline sold for cars in the U.S. is something like 0.00015 percent sulfur—sulfur, of course, is the nasty stuff that when combust[ed] makes sulfur dioxide and acid rain and causes respiratory problems, et cetera, et cetera. Bunker fuel is 5 percent sulfur. So you have these ships on the open ocean basically burning the nastiest stuff on Earth as they come into port—ports like the Port of Los Angeles, where you have the strong westerly wind and huge amounts of port traffic, [and] all this burning bunker fuel comes inland. This is a huge contributor to the smog problem [and] respiratory problems in places like that. And finally there's, kind of, a movement afoot to, if not get rid of bunker fuels, well, at least clean it up. In the next few years, [they're] talking about bringing down the sulfur content of the fuel burn close to shore down to 1 percent, which would be a great help. Right now epidemiologists estimate that bunker fuel leads to premature deaths [of] 90,000 people each year.

Steve:          Is that people on the ships themselves [who] are highly exposed to it, or is that an actuarial kind of averaging worldwide?

Moyer:          The second. The actuarial averaging worldwide in terms of respiratory problems, smog, you name it.

Steve:          That's really amazing—I mean, 90,000 people.

Moyer:          Yeah, from something that no one's ever heard of. You know, the thing with bunker fuel in the open ocean is that the open oceans have no rules and regulations.

Steve:          Law of the sea.

Moyer:          It's the law of the sea which is…

Steve:          Pretty much do whatever you want.

Moyer:          Do what you can get away with, right, and you can get away with a lot.

Steve:          What else do we need get rid of?

Moyer:          Well one of the things we have to get rid of is gene patents and this is a kind of active issue in the courts today. It was an interesting story that I never had really heard of before working on this issue, which was that there was, in the U.S. you couldn't patent, kind of, a naturally occurring organism, or a human part of an organism. But then in 1980, a researcher with IBM ended up patenting a microbe that could eat fuel. It could eat petroleum, which you know, is one of these things we've seen a lot of this past summer. He applied for a patent they, of course, said no; the patent office said no. He took it all the way to the Supreme Court and they said, "Well okay it's a novel invention, you should be able to patent this thing, okay."

Steve:          Okay. Well it was genetically engineered.

Moyer:          Genetically engineered, that's right. Fast forward, now in the mid '90s, you have these companies coming up, and they're basically purifying, or extracting and purifying, naturally occurring human genes and getting patents on that. So in the case that we discuss in the article, Myriad Genetics of Utah patented what's called the BRCA gene, which is a gene which is associated with high rates of breast cancer in women. So now Myriad can charge two groups of people large amounts of money. One is researchers who want to work with the BRCA gene—which again is not an engineered thing, it's something that happens, you know, in a percentage of people in the U.S. And they can also charge the women who want to get tested to see if they have this gene a large amount of money. So, a case that now is working its way now through the courts where a woman who could not afford the test for the gene is suing because she thinks that's an illegal use of the patent. And recently an appeals court has agreed with her and said that it's not the case that if you just isolate a gene than you're able to claim ownership of it. This case though will probably make its way all way to the Supreme Court.

Steve:          Right. And that I believe is Judge Robert Sweet who made that decision, who has also made some other interesting decisions. He was involved in the McDonald's suits, maybe seven or eight years ago that I remember writing about in a column. His decisions make for some fun reading sometimes. If anybody's in law school out there, check out Robert Sweet's writings. One of the interesting things that we could get of rid of is daylight saving time, which, they did some studies in Indiana, where different parts of the state had different times and it's not really the electricity or the energy saver that we've been told it is.

Moyer:          Yeah that's right. Daylight savings time, of course, was started, the idea came back in the late 19th century, and it was first instituted during World War I in order to be an energy saver, which makes sense especially if most of your energy comes from lighting. And we stay up during the night, during the evening hours, and it'd be nice if there's light for longer. Now in the climate-controlled world, there's a question of having it be lighter for longer outside, does that negate any benefits you might get for lighting. And in Indiana, as you say, they did kind of a natural experiment. Different parts of the state had different daylight savings times as rules, and researchers, kind of, did a study of energy use in those different parts of the state. And they said that daylight savings time is pretty much a wash, and, if anything, it might use a little more electricity than it saves.

Steve:          Because people use their air conditioners more.

Moyer:          Exactly. Because people use their air conditioners more. And, you know, when it's nine o'clock at night, and it's light outside and your air conditioner is running in July, then daylight savings time is probably not helping your energy usage. Now for me, it was very difficult to include this one in the package, because I happen to love daylight savings time.

Steve:          Well, who doesn't like it to be light at nine o'clock at night?

Moyer:          Yeah, exactly, and I don't wake up before sunrise like a farmer does, so it's just gravy to me.

Steve:          Well that shows your journalistic objectivity that you were able to force yourself to include this.

Moyer:          Let the science speak for itself.

Steve:          Mariette, why don't we just very quickly talk about some of the other things in the issue? And then we can talk about our 50, 100 and 150 Years Ago column.

DiChristina: So Steve, one of the things we haven't talked about, and I know I think you're speaking with the other folks [about] some of the stories in the issue—one of them I mentioned little earlier, which is about human biology, why can't we live forever, and it talks about what the efforts are, ongoing efforts, to see if we can extend human life span; it's an interesting one. We talk about the end of the universe—What if time should unravel? And it's a lovely article.

Steve:          Yes, we'll be talking.

DiChristina: By George Musser.

Steve:          I'll be talking to George about that, for the listeners.

DiChristina: Here-before mentioned Mars editor and an interesting piece of ….

Steve:          Mars bureau editor.

DiChristina: Mars Bureau editor. An interesting piece that we have at the end of the feature well is about what comes next. So I mentioned at the beginning of our chat today that endings are often a way to, or an opportunity toward, a new beginning. And so we went to Scientific American's board of advisors and said to them, "Hi folks what"—you know these are some of the most preeminent scientists in the world today, and we said to them "what do you see ending and what beginnings are you seeing?" And we got a variety of really interesting responses, some of which we were very happy to add to this issue. For instance, one of them, a piece by Danny Hillis that leads off the section—he is the co-founder of the Long Now Foundation—talks about the age of digital entanglement. What does that mean? Well that means nowadays whenever you, there's no single, siloed device anymore. We're all very interconnected through the Internet, and while that's brought us great benefits if the Internet should be pulled down say by a cyber attack or something, our entangled existence would mean that's very, very disruptive. So actually and this is a short item Danny outlines this problem, and also explains, you know, we have ended the era of the siloed computer, and they're all interconnected in the entanglement, he sort of calls for some simple systems that we can use as backups because, hey, the old days had some good elements to them as well. That's one example.

Steve:          And he mentions, as in all good apocalyptic sci-fi, the ham radio operators will come to the rescue.

DiChristina: I love the ham radio operators. And you know this year of course there was that huge news when Craig Venter announced the making of synthetic life form. What does that mean? In this instance—it means a lot of things actually—but in this instance he took an engineered piece of DNA that had been replicated and inserted it in a mycoplasma bacteria. And [Arthur Kaplan,] who's a member of our board and a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, wrote about, you know, what does this mean? This is the end of natural biology, now we are into synthetic biology where humans have greater control than ever over life around them, and our ability to manipulate life can be fairly said to be unequalled in all of humankind's time before—what does that mean? So this was a collection of ideas that looked at endings that mean beginnings and what we might do about those.

Steve:          One of our board of advisors is a former director of the CIA.

DiChristina: Yes, that's true, our James Woolsey, who now is [chair] of Woolsey Partners. He is a former director of the CIA, and he wrote about energy that, you know, [now] we're ending [an era,] and we were just talking about bunker fuel, horrible bunker fuel and we've long known the problems of using coal and other kinds of energy; so his item talks about energy that is not harmful to your health. So in the era of energy sources that have consequences like 90,000 people dying a year from bunker fuel outpourings and eventually get to a world of, sort of, more sane energy provided by means that are nontoxic to humans.

Steve:          It's very interesting to consider that energy [is what's] currently on the mind of a former CIA director.

DiChristina: Not put too fine a point on it, but energy security is really part of what's, you know, [at odds here]; so insecurity in a couple of dimensions. One is protection of Americans and humans in general, which I can imagine a CIA director would, of course, be interested in; and the other is, as we've often spoken about in around public circles, energy independence means that you're less susceptible to hostile interest[s]. So one other thing that I kind of like in this column is everybody walks around this three pound organ in our heads called the brain and we use this thing every [day,] but we don't really understand how it produces the consciousness that we all take for granted. I mean on the one hand, consciousness is such a familiar thing; everybody experiences it. On the other hand, we have no idea how it works. So one of the other things that—this was Christof Koch, who's a computational neuroscientist at Caltech— wrote an item about an end of our nonunderstanding of consciousness, and he sees some of the new tools looking forward on that. One of them that he talked about, which I think is [fascinating], is something called optogenetics. This is the idea of inserting a gene into cells and that gene is light controlled, so that you can use light to manipulate the cell. So it could be switched on or off, and you could get—maybe we could—through doing such experiments, a better understanding of how consciousness arises from this network of a billion cells and their cellular activity in the brain.

Steve:          Who is going to volunteer for that?

DiChristina: So far mice and rats.

Steve:          Volunteer being loosely interpreted. So this is the issue "The End". It's not really the end of the issues though. And speaking of not being the end, we will go back to closer to the beginning and back, you know, we have the 50, 100 and 150 years ago section every month. Back in September 1860, Scientific American had an article, and I quote from that article: "A paper has just been published in England on the capture of whales by the means of poison, the agent being hydrocyanic or prussic acid. The subtle poison was contained in glass tubes in quantity about two ounces secured to a harpoon. Messrs. W. and G. Young sent a quantity of these harpoons from one of their ships engaged in the Greenland fishery and on meeting [with a fine] whale, the harpoon was skillfully buried deep in his body. The Leviathan sounded or dived perpendicularly downward, but in a virtue of time the rope relaxed and the whale rose to the surface quite dead. The men were so appalled by the terrific effect of the poisoned harpoon that they declined to use anymore of the them." Which his understandable, if a small dose like that took down a whale all of them realized, "Gee, I am going to stay as far away from this stuff as possible."

DiChristina: Well speaking of endings, you know, maybe it was Scientific American's, sort of, hint of the first call for no whaling.

Steve:          So one other thing from September 1860: "A lady in an omnibus at Washington espied"—we don't use the word "espied" enough anymore..

DiChristina: I like the word espied—it's like "egads"; [we should say egads, espied.

Steve:          Egads!

DiChristina: And "23-skidoo,"—let me put in a vote for that [one]. I've always loved 23-skidoo.

Steve:          Well, we should have at the end of the every article, to let the reader know that the article's [done] and they can leave now—23-skidoo! So, "A lady in an omnibus at Washington espied the great unfinished dome of the Capitol and said innocently, 'I suppose those are the gas works?'; 'Yes madam, for the nation,' was the reply of a fellow passenger." And you know…

DiChristina: Yes the gas works for the nation, and now they're roaring, they continue to roar, and long may they roar.

Steve:          Now it's time to play TOTALL……. Y BOGUS. Here are four science stories, but only three are true. See if you know which story is TOTALL……. Y BOGUS.

Story number 1: Relaxing the ban on DDT could provide a powerful weapon in the fight against resurgent bedbugs.

Story number 2: After a psychic claimed that crocodiles at a sanctuary in Belize had killed two missing children, a mob destroyed the sanctuary.

Story number 3: Money can buy some happiness and the amount of money you need in the U.S. is, on average, $75,000 a year.

Story number 4: Undergrads said they were more likely to give positive reviews to a professor with tattoos than to a tat-free prof.

Time is up.

Story 4 is true. A study of 128 students found that they were more likely to give positive ratings to their tattooed professors. The students viewed pictures of a woman with and without the tats and their scores in [nine] areas indicate that they thought with skin [ink,] she would be a better teacher, she would be a more imaginative lecturer, and they would be more motivated and more likely to recommend her. The study appeared in the journal Psychological Reports.

Story 3 is true. Indeed $75,000 a year seems to be the magic number right now for happiness. That's according to a survey published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. People's ratings of their own contentment rose until they were bringing in about $75,000 a year but further increases in income did not increase happiness, and people aren't as excited about raises after they've hit the 75K mark either.

Story 2 is sadly true. On September 5th, a mob destroyed the American Crocodile Education Sanctuary in Belize. A self-professed psychic claimed that two missing children—who are still missing—had been fed to the crocs; the so-called psychic has been charged with fraud, which could be done by definition.

All of which means that story 1, about DDT against bedbugs, is TOTALL……. Y BOGUS. A Newsweek story explains that bedbugs had grown tolerant of DDT before it was even banned. The story also quotes a Cornell entomologist as saying that in a study of numerous pesticides just in the lat couple of years, DDT was the worst one tested against bedbugs. Another bug expert said that the most effective treatment is to take a pesticide can and actually slam the bedbug with it.

Steve:          Well that's it for this episode, get your science news at http://www.ScientificAmerican.com where you can check out John Horgan's stake on Stephen Hawking's latest book The Grand Design. Follow us on Twitter where you'll get a tweet every time a new article hits the Web site. Our Twitter name is @SciAm. For Science Talk, the podcast of Scientific American, I'm Steve Mirsky. Thanks for clicking on us.

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