100-watt bulb set to be dimmed permanently
Congress this week passed legislation designed to boost energy efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The measure raises fuel-efficiency for passenger vehicles to 35 miles per gallon (mpg) by 2020, up from 25 miles mpg now (the first such increase since 1975) and phases out 100-watt incandescent light bulbs by 2012. It also mandates that companies manufacture more energy efficient appliances, slap labels on TVs and computers specifying their energy consumption, and requires gasoline producers to quintuple the amount of ethanol and other biofuels in the fuel supply to 36 billion gallons by 2022. The Los Angeles Times reports that the 822-page bill, which passed after Democrats agreed to strip out a $21 billion tax increase to avoid a presidential veto, is expected to shave the nation's energy consumption by an estimated 7 percent and cut carbon dioxide emissions by 9 percent by 2030. (Los Angeles Times)

EPA nixes California's auto-emissions rules
One added bonus of the new energy bill: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator Stephen Johnson cited it to deny California's proposed rules to limit cars' total greenhouse gas emissions instead of limiting them indirectly by reducing gasoline consumption. In rejecting the rules—which 18 other states have adopted or pledged to implement—Johnson overruled the unanimous recommendations of his agency's legal and technical staff. The Supreme Court ruled in April that greenhouse gases are pollution and therefore the federal government can regulate their emission from cars. Environmental groups and state officials have threatened to sue to overturn Johnson's decision, which enjoys the backing of automakers. Published accounts note that EPA lawyers expect to lose the case. (Washington Post)

Monkey sex: loud, hot and confusing
Nothing makes a male Barbary macaque ejaculate like a female partner screaming in his ear. Don't take SciAm's word for it, though: German primatologists watched the monkeys doin' the shout for two years on a nature preserve in Gibraltar and found that females hollered in 86 percent of encounters—presumably in encouragement. After the yelping started, males turned up the thrusting rate and attained climax 59 percent of the time, compared with just 2 percent when their partners endured silently. The researchers found no evidence that shouting signaled fertility. Rather, recruiting multiple sperm donors may confuse males as to who sired a baby, forcing them to hedge their bets by helping raise the kid. (LiveScience; Proceedings of the Royal Society B)

Wii sports won't make you fit
Wii athletes counting on the game system to play double duty as a weight-loss aid are in for a rude awakening. In a new study, researchers monitored the energy expenditure of six boys and girls aged 13 to 15 while they played an XBOX game and three Wii Sports games (bowling, tennis and boxing) for 15 minutes each. Teens burned about 50 percent more calories playing the more active Wii games than the sedentary XBOX game, but the energy spent "was not of high enough intensity to contribute towards the recommended daily amount of exercise in children," the group reports in the British Medical Journal. (BMJ)

Anorexics may be thin on pleasure
It's commonly believed that the continual barrage of rail-thin models in the media may trigger anorexia in young women eager to copy their waiflike appearance. But that doesn't explain why the unrealistically skinny images would affect some but not all women. Trying to figure out why, University of Pittsburgh researchers used an MRI machine to study the emotional responses in the brains of 13 formerly anorexic women as they played a game that rewarded them for making correct guesses. The recovered anorexics' brains showed no change in activity in a region linking action and outcome that lit up differently in 13 nonanorexic women depending on whether they guessed right or wrong. The group suggests that such women may feel no visceral pleasure from food, either, predisposing them to anorexia because of the way their brains had developed. It would certainly explain why slender party girl Paris Hilton always seems like she just woke up from a nap. (The American Journal of Psychiatry)

Japan to world: just kidding about killing those humpbacks!
After an international outcry, Japan announced this week that it would not kill 50 endangered humpback whales as part of an annual whaling expedition, saying it would hold off on the plan "for one year or two," a government spokesman told reporters. When the Japanese whaling fleet set sail in November, officials revealed that among the 1,000 whales on the hit list were the humpbacks, which the World Conservation Union considers to be endangered. A group of 30 countries protested the hunt, and Australia this week said it would gather evidence for an International Court challenge if Japan carried out the humpback slaughter. The International Whaling Commission issued a moratorium on commercial whaling in 1986 but Japan quickly resumed the practice for what it claimed to be scientific purposes. (Reuters)

Monkeys do basic math like humans
A new study finds that rhesus monkeys can intuitively add numbers as well as college students. Duke University researchers presented subjects (14 college students and two female rhesus monkeys) with two dot-covered slides shown in rapid succession, containing a total of no more than 16 dots. Subjects then had to choose which of two other slides had the same number of dots as the sum of the first two. (Humans were instructed not to think of number words when making their choices.) Monkeys scored about the same (76 percent correct) as humans (94 percent), providing evidence that evolution has given other species some of the same nonverbal cognitive tricks that humans have—or that U.S. colleges are really slipping. (Public Library of Science Biology)

Better the Martians, than us
NASA researchers announced this week that a recently discovered near-Earth asteroid has a one in 75 chance of hitting Mars early in the morning (U.S. time) of January 30, not far from the Opportunity rover near the planet's equator. If so, they estimate it would explode with a force of three million tons of TNT and blast a crater 0.6 mile (one kilometer) wide. Spotted on November 20, asteroid 2007 WD5 measured an estimated 160 feet (50 meters) across and passed within five million miles (around eight million kilometers) of Earth, or about 20 times the distance from Earth to the moon, according to the space agency. The last good asteroid–planet smashup happened in July 1994, when fragments of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 struck Jupiter. (NASA)