January 11, 2011

What’s in a Name
Researchers from the University of Michigan have found it’s not just celebrities who are opting to give their children unique names. North American parents are increasingly passing over traditional names in favor of something more unusual, prompting the pope to snub designer names and encourage parents to choose biblical appellations like John and Mary as a way to imbue their children with their faith. (Tamsin McMahon and Misty Harris, National Post, Postmedia News)

There’s a Brain Area for That?!
In a newly published article in the journal of Perspectives on Psychological Science, Diane Beck, a professor of psychology at the University of Illinois, argues that the allure of many neuroscience studies is that they can be made to offer “deceptively simple messages” about human behavior. She also says that their popularity is partly based on a “sometimes misguided confidence in biological data.” (Nate Kornell and Sam Kornell, Miller-McCune)

Kepler Space Telescope Finds a Rocky Planet
“This one is the first unquestionably rocky exoplanet anyone has ever found, and it’s one more link in the chain of finding Earth-like ones,” said Natalie Batalha, a professor of astronomy at San Jose State University and deputy leader of the Kepler team at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View. But the newfound planet is by no means inside what planet hunters term its star’s “habitable zone,” where liquid water—and life—might possibly exist. (David Perlman, San Francisco Chronicle)

Oldest Known Wine Press Discovered
Archaeologists have unearthed the oldest wine-making facility ever found, using biochemical techniques to identify a dry red vintage made about 6,000 years ago in what is now southern Armenia. The excavation paints a picture of a complex society where mourners tasted a special vintage made at a caveside cemetery, the researchers reported in the Journal of Archaeological Science. (Maggie Fox, Reuters)

The Bounds of Oxytocin
As oxytocin comes into sharper focus, its social radius of action turns out to have definite limits. The love and trust it promotes are not toward the world in general, just toward a person’s in-group. Oxytocin turns out to be the hormone of the clan, not of universal brotherhood. Psychologists trying to specify its role have now concluded it is the agent of ethnocentrism. (Nicholas Wade, The New York Times)

Using Generic Products Could Harm Your Sense of Self-Worth
Newly published research from Taiwan suggests shoppers who opt for store-brand items may pay a hidden price. Their credit card bills may be lower, but so is their self-esteem. (Tom Jacobs, Miller-McCune)

Would You Volunteer for a One-Way Mission to Mars?
An interplanetary trip to Mars could take as little as 10 months, but returning would be virtually impossible—making the voyage a form of self-imposed exile from Earth unlike anything else in human history. What would inspire someone to volunteer? We’ve just found out. (Maxim Lott, FoxNews.com)

Tevatron Will Be Shut Down at the End of the Year
The search by U.S. physicists for the most coveted particle of all, the so-called Higgs boson, will come to an end in September. (Adrian Cho, ScienceInsider)

Confession and Absolution App
Penance, an application released for the iPhone in early December, allows users to absolve one another’s sins. (Vincent Gonzalez, Religion Dispatches)

More on “The Exorcist Files”
Why would the Roman Catholic Church take part in a TV show about exorcisms when much of the public, even religious people, find the practice controversial at best, hokum at worst? Or did the Vatican ever really bless the upcoming cable project called The Exorcist Files in the first place? (T.L. Stanley, Show Tracker, Los Angeles Times)

Ralph Keyes

Author Ralph Keyes is intrigued by how we say certain things without quite saying them. In Euphemania: Our Love Affair With Euphemisms, he explores subjects that have inspired creative phrasing, from sex and money to food and death. Whether it’s because we are afraid to blaspheme, want to be polite, or (like Shakespeare and Mae West) just like to have fun with language, there’s no shortage of motives for employing euphemisms. (Alexandra Silver, TIME)

Category: Field Notes


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