News for Nerds - The Celebrity Advice Edition

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  • Posted by: Dom Testa|
  • 12/20/2013 |
  • 10:00 am
News for Nerds - The Celebrity Advice Edition

Welcome back to News for Nerds! This week we'll close the book on multivitamins, we'll learn why laughter may not be the best medicine after all, and we'll get a look at a gorgeous celestial holiday wreath. But first, here are your headlines.

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When it comes to health advice, whose opinion matters most to you? Your doctor? Your mother? Suzanne Somers?

According to a new study out of Canada, the human brain may be hardwired to trust celebrities -- even when we know that they aren't medical experts.

This has both good and bad effects. On the positive end of the spectrum, celebs like Michael J. Fox and Sir Elton John have brought heightened awareness to conditions like Parkinson's and HIV/AIDS. On the other hand, less-than-knowledgable mouthpieces like Jenny McCarthy and the aforementioned Somers spread misinformation on topics ranging from vaccination to hormone therapy. So what gives?

Calling on data that stretches back as far as the early 19th century, researchers at McMaster University point to a handful of biological, psychological, and social forces in our brains. These include phenomena such as classical conditioning, cognitive dissonance, and the so-called 'herd behavior'. Perhaps the most obvious factor is the halo effect, which is when the brain confuses success in one field -- such as acting or singing -- with success in other, unrelated fields (like medicine).

So the lesson here is that you should fight the urge to do whatever celebrities tell you to do, and listen closely to your doctor instead. Probably couldn't hurt to keep Mom on speed dial, too.

- from LiveScience

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I love science -- obviously -- but boy, sometimes it really does scare the heck out of me.

Case in point: this story about the supervolcano that lies beneath the well-known geyser Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park. According to a study that was presented at last week's American Geophysical Union, this particular supervolcano has the capacity to erupt with 2,000 times the force of the devastating Mount St. Helens blast in 1980.

Geologists have long suspected that this volcano may be more massive than previously estimated, but now that all the facts are in, even the experts are shocked by just how dangerous it is. To wit: the magma chamber beneath Old Faithful is 55 miles long and 18 miles wide, and it runs between 3 and 9 miles deep.

Over the course of the last 2.1 million years it has only erupted three times, or roughly once every 700,000 years or so. The last eruption was 640,000 years ago, and it was a doozy. If the next eruption is anything like that one, the result would be large amounts of ash spewing into the atmosphere, with volcanic material circling the entire Earth.

Says one geologist involved with the study, "It would be a global event. There would be a lot of destruction and a lot of impacts around the globe."

Yikes.

- from CBS News

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Here are a few other cool science stories you might enjoy:

  • It seems like every week there's a conflicting story about vitamins. They're good for you, they're bad for you, they're good for you, they're bad for you. Well, the latest evidence doesn't bode well for the supplement industry. Several new studies say that, at best, multivitamins are a waste of money . . . and at worst, they could be really harmful to your health.
  • Is laughter the best medicine? There's no doubt that sometimes nothing feels better than a good belly laugh, and over the years there's been some evidence indicating that laughter can lift spirits and have a positive effect on your health. But don't tell that to the researchers who published this study. They've done a lot of work to show that in the big picture, laughter can do a lot of damage, too.
  • And finally, just in time for the holidays, I present this gorgeous celestial holiday wreath, courtesy of an unstable Cepheid variable snapped by the Hubble Space Telescope. Don't say I never gave you anything.

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That's all for now! I'll be back with more News for Nerds next week, but be sure to follow me on Facebook and Twitter, and to sign up for the free e-Newsletter so that you can properly get your nerd on every single month! And please send any juicy News for Nerds tips to me right here!

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