Steve Connor: A case of swine flu or the Monday blues?
Science Notebook: The idea that swine flu strikes harder on a Monday than on any other day of the week is hard to believe
Tuesday 11 August 2009
We don't like Mondays, right? It goes without saying that we don't like the first working day of the week. Bob Geldof's Boomtown Rats epitomised the belief in their song about a 16-year-old American girl who went on a shooting spree 30 years ago. Asked why she decided one Monday to shoot 11 people, killing two in the high school opposite, she replied: "I don't like Mondays. This livens up the day."
But other than our own anecdotal accounts of not liking Mondays – and this tragically extreme example – is there any scientific evidence showing that we really don't like Mondays? Yes there is, and it comes from data collected on the number of people consulting the National Pandemic Flu Service.
Government scientists call it the "Monday effect" and it clearly stands out on the chart showing the daily rate of consultations for members of the public who believe they may have the symptoms of swine flu. On 27 July, for instance, nearly 80 consultations per 100,000 head of population were recorded, compared to just over 40 consultations per 100,000 for the Friday of the same week.
What the graph clearly shows is that the decline in consultations tails off at a fairly steady rate each day from the Monday to the following Sunday, 2 August, which recorded the lowest consultation rate of the seven-day period, at just over 20 per 100,000. The following Monday, 3 August, the rate shot up again to about 50 per 100,000.
The idea that swine flu strikes harder on a Monday than on any other day of the week, and gradually tails off until the following Monday, is hard to believe. There seems no plausible explanation other than we feel, or feign feeling terrible on a Monday, so terrible that some of us resort to consulting the National Pandemic Flu Service for some relief. This is not anecdote, the statistics show it to be true – but how many of these people really have swine flu is another matter.
Return of the collider
Like a hyper-powerful sports car, the Large Hadron Collider at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research is a dangerously temperamental beast, which is what you might expect of something that has the power of revealing the fundamental forces of nature.
The LHC is designed to accelerate sub-atomic particles to 99.9999991 per cent of the speed of light. But last year's grand opening went belly-up when something went wrong with one of the 10,000 high-current superconducting electrical connections. As a result, the LHC had to be closed down for repairs.
The LHC is expected to be re-started in November, but it will only be operating at half the energy – at least until scientists are sure that everything is running smoothly.
Rolf Heuer, the director-general of the nuclear organisation Cern, said that the softly, softly approach will help the scientists to gain experience of running the machine safely. "The LHC is a much better understood machine than it was a year ago," he explained.
That's a relief.
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