Friday, June 11, 2010

What's Happening At The Newsstand?

In this segment we focus on 'BBC Focus,' an informative and entertaining science magazine from the UK. My favorite part is the monthly Q&A section where readers submit profound questions to a panel of experts. One of the questions in the June issue asks 'Why don't dogs have belly buttons?' It turns out that they do, sort of. If you're so inclined, find out for yourself. Gently roll over your dog and take a look at its midsection. In all likelihood you won't find what constitutes an 'iny' or an 'outy,' but you should be able to find a tiny scar where the umbilical cord was once connected.

In another section, Evolutionary Anthropologist Professor Robin Dunbar answers the question 'How many Facebook friends should one have?' Professor Dunbar sets the absolute maximum at 150, citing 'a correlation between the size of natural social groups and the size of the neocortex region of the brain.' Simplified, the human brain isn't large enough to keep track of the lives of several hundred friends in any meaningful way. When it comes to friendship, often times quality wins out over quantity.

Another interesting article by Dallas Campbell concerns the sense of smell. Using this sense, studies have shown that humans will seek out mates with immune systems vastly different from their own. The reason being is that you don't want to be sickened by the same things that sicken your mate. In this case, the healthy one can nurse the sick one. Furthermore, if a couple choose to bear children, they will want to avoid passing on recessive disease traits.

Professor Tim Jacob from the University of Cardiff points out that "The average human has about 5 million olfactory receptor cells per nostril." Indeed a large number, but that's nothing compared to dogs. He says that the bloodhound probably has the best nose, "With something like 250 million receptor cells in total." No wonder dogs love to hang their heads out the car windows.

Next issue: What makes the sea sound when you hold a shell to your ear? Don't miss it!


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