© Norman Sperling, January 31, 2015
Barbara and David Mikkelson run the famous rumor/urban legend website snopes.com . I enjoyed a lunch with them in 2010.
I asked them to draw some generalities from the profusion of individual narratives they research. Science most often comes in when:
* it buttresses a fear, due to fears of technology and manufacturing,
* or when people claim it validates a religious or political point.
Science rarely makes their top-25 list. Fabrications such as the Weekly World News concocted would often make it. The Mars-closest-in-August claim does recur every summer. Aspartame, and exploding cell phones, often make the top 25.
A fascinating aspect of legends is how attributions converge on the most famous examples in their category:
* Stories about a scientist become about Einstein.
* Stories about hamburgers become about McDonald’s.
* Stories about chicken become about Kentucky Fried Chicken.
* Stories about soft drinks become about Coca Cola.
Sometimes the attribution to the best exemplar is true, such as the item you’re just finishing about Science in rumors: it’s about snopes.com .
© Norman Sperling, January 5, 2015
Service stations with service, especially mechanics. Service bays have been turned into convenience stores.
Gas stations. A lot of corner stations have been consolidated into big facilities, often near highway interchanges.
Single-screen movie theaters have morphed into multiplexes.
Local drug stores. Chains have bought them out.
Local book stores … though with the collapse of big chains (spurred partly by Amazon and avarice) a few are creeping back.
Seesaws. Though that’s the iconic symbol for playgrounds, I’ve only noticed one playground in the last 2 years that actually had a seesaw. Were they killed by liability lawyers?
Phone booths have been outmoded by cell phones.
Fewer rest stops on highways. Many have been removed in the last few years. I doubt that maintenance is that prohibitively expensive.
Fewer junk yards and rusting hulks in yards. Fewer, but still a lot of eyesores. If the old cars are useful, make use of them. If not, sell them as classics, or junk the hulks for spare parts or recycling.
© Norman Sperling, January 5, 2015
Chain stores have taken over even more than before. There are still regional and local stores but overall every covered shopping center looks and feels like every other one, and so does every big-box shopping center.
Many chains are now huge. Enormous numbers of small towns have a local grocery store, of sorts, because Dollar General and Family Dollar have spotted their niche. Lowe’s and Aldi are among many other big chains. Truck stops used to be largely Union 76; now they’re Love’s and Pilot/Flying J.
This has brought tremendous variety to places that formerly didn’t enjoy as much. Customers flock to Walmart not only because the prices are low and the quality acceptable, but also because the store has many tens of thousands of different items more than the local stores it replaced. Collectively, chain stores have unified the “American experience” about as much as the highway network and mass media.
Wineries have sprouted all over the map! Most of them probably don’t grow their own grapes, but the wineries themselves have enormously proliferated.
Good coffee is a phenomenon America owes mostly to Starbucks. You always could get a cup of coffee, but there used to be just one kind, and it wasn’t gourmet. Now even truck stops offer >5 types, most of them premium quality. For consumers, this is wonderful.
Cellphone towers uglify the landscape but serve the public. As spectacularly as cellphone service has grown, I still find myself in plenty of places with no service, or very little. I expect that when I go geologizing and nature walking. More surprising is the lack of signal in many RV camps and US routes. Cellphone towers seem ubiquitous but they aren’t all in my network.
Electronic message signs have sprung up on roads and elsewhere.
Firewood bundles are now for sale, often in self-serve stacks for a few bucks. People used to gather their own.
Singlewide and Doublewide mobile homes have largely replaced older, flimsier dwellings like shotgun shacks. Manufactured homes look awfully plain, and old, damaged ones are not rare or pretty, but I remember the shanties they replaced, and mobile homes are way better. They seem to last 30-40 years, which is way less than a sturdy house, but can handle a major part of a person’s or family’s life. Though a great many people find them the solution of choice for their budgets and situations, many towns don’t let them in. That’s a huge mistake. The image of “trailer trash” is not a total myth but slurs a lot of people of good character who, for various reasons, have to (or prefer to) make do on little cash -- like me.
Storage facilities have proliferated immensely. A lot of them occupy marginal land near freeways, rivers, and railroads. There’s also a burgeoning business in storage sheds. All that means that Americans now own more than we used to. Some of it is not so good -- displaced people stowing stuff till they can recover, for example. But much marks the prosperity that started in the post-WWII boom. We’re not yet wise about what not to buy and what not to keep, having had no cultural experience with the problem. But we have stuff that we want to keep, which is way better than not having it.
Motorcycle clubs tour all sorts of places. Not only on scenic routes everywhere I go, but also on some less-scenic highways, I see many groups of motorcyclists. Harleys dominate but other brands buzz by me too. Most riders appear to be in their 50s and 60s. They’re invariably polite and sociable; the fearsome thunderous noise runs counter to their personal demeanor. Not only are pleasure rides very much a thing to do, but lots of places now qualify as such. Maybe the non-scenic areas are on the way to a scenic goal, such as a tourist town tucked away somewhere. Seeing so many joyriders reassures me that I’m seeing a lot of the best scenery myself.
© Norman Sperling, December 31, 2014
As always, The Journal of Irreproducible Results brings up real issues in its light-hearted way.
“We submitted most of our research design and several very good red velvet bundt cakes and a bottle of Scotch to the local Institutionalized Review Bored consisting of a bioethicist and his medical marijuana, a fairly convincing female impersonator, Plinkey (a nearsighted but lovely golden cocker spaniel), a black & white photograph of Merv Griffin, Mrs. Bronson, and 2 bowling pins. As usual, we were granted full authorization to proceed.”
- Herschel Knapp, PhD, UCLA, page 25
How good and proper are Institutional Review Boards? Occasionally I hear a little grousing. Surely researchers don’t have as much latitude as they used to, and shouldn’t. Are some boards too lax? Are some too restrictive? Should the rules they enforce be adjusted? Should some research be opened back up?
Fireplaces recede into history as more recent heating methods keep us warm. Fireplaces still lend romance and atmosphere. Unfortunately, the atmosphere they generate when users don’t know any better is carbon monoxide, which has killed humans for centuries. The Doherty family wrote an article pointing out that CO deaths rise in the Holiday season, following cheery fires. Let awareness rise instead of deaths.
An optometrist focuses on the problem that “most multi-focal contact lens patients need to accept that to be able to see well for reading, one has to put up with the occasional automobile accident. Conversely, to maintain adequate distance vision, most multi-focal contact lens wearers should expect to carry a lighthouse with them wherever they go, to provide adequate lighting for near tasks.” Exaggeration brings out humor, but to what degree is this true? Should advertising be reined back?
Siri leads consumers by the ear. Her “artificial intelligence” flows out of smartphones. Will she eventually violate Asimov’s 3 laws of robotics? John Wade thinks she could. Or at least, he thought that when he submitted the article we just printed. We haven’t heard from him since.
Hanjo Hamann of Bonn, Germany, tells how a legal scholar there conjured up a type of animal that nature never made. Laws that are contrary to reality and contrary to evidence need to be expunged. Citizens could not tell whether to follow reality, or, instead, law. That cannot promote respect for the law. JIR invites more hilarity on “legal fictions”.
Ice Bucket Challenges made a big splash in late 2014. Sports teams had dumped on heroes for decades, but all of a sudden it became a charity issue, and spread incautiously. Someone died immediately after being dumped on, and the meme receded as abruptly as it arose. A lot of memes aren’t great ideas, and JIR will happily target many of those. Thanks to future-doctor Ryan Sieli for this one.
A curiosity of archaeology and paleontology caught the attention of 3 researchers from the Wolff family (Wolvves?). Excavators in the field *lick* specimens. Bones and their fossils stick to the tongue, while stone and pottery do not. They investigate and propose a reason.
Our front cover continues a JIR tradition stretching back decades: a microscopic photo resembling something funny, in this case Edvard Munch’s “The Scream”. These days, Science develops more imaging that ever. We invite amusing contributions from every form of imaging, not just microscopy. Embellishments welcome.
Futurist Steve Johnson shows how current building materials could be fashioned into vastly different houses than tradition fosters.
My front-cover quip mentions alternating-current batteries, a curious concept that an engineer once blew past me. We invite richer exploration of the possibilities.
Once more, contributors have been great with words and less great with illustrations. Once more, we filled in from our now-favorite source, WikiMedia Commons, part of the Wikipedia cluster. A lot of their trove of illustrations are “some-rights-reserved”, usually simply requiring attribution. This time, we thank Kim Quintano, and for the cute cat pictures: Lauraprl, Stephan Czuratis, Alexandra, Dan4th, and chmee2.
Wikipedia and WikiMedia, though not always right or best-proportioned, are spectacular places to start an inquiry. You have some expertise, or you wouldn’t be reading JIR. Please donate some of that by improving Wikipedia articles in subjects and languages you know well.