The truth is out there: 14/11/2009

A weekly look at the world

After the historically low turnout in the Glasgow North East by-election (32.97 per cent) on Thursday, it seems valid to ask what is a vote worth. For those who voted for New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg last week, the answer is exactly $180 (£108) after he secured a third term by spending a record $100m (£60m) on his election campaign.

Recession has many quirks, one of which had long been assumed to be a spike in crime caused by rising unemployment. But, points out the Freakonomics blog, the fact that so many people are at home during the day now seems to be having the opposite effect as vigilant job-seekers deter burglars. Reports from Associated Press highlight the effect, pointing out a 14 per cent drop in burglaries in Phoenix.

In the latest in its series on the world's water crisis, National Geographic highlighted work by Washington researchers which found all sorts of unusual things in the world's drinking water; from cooking spices to cocaine, heroin to rocket fuel. The team found different substances depending on the time of day, week or year; for instance, sage and thyme at Thanksgiving.

CCTV cameras are more frightening than reassuring according to a new study reported by the BPS research digest. The study of 120 people found that Britain's 4.2 million surveillance cameras are more likely to alert people to a threat than to comfort them.

British diplomats quashed rumours of Margaret Thatcher's death this week after a text message about a dead cat sparked a flurry of gossip in Canada, reports CanWest News. Buckingham Palace and Downing Street are both reported to have received condolence calls from the office of the Canadian Prime Minister to confirm the demise of the 84-year-old Iron Lady. The rumour was started when Canadian transport minister John Baird sent a message reporting the death of his 16-year-old cat Thatcher, which quickly spread among officials, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper, at a gala tribute to Canada's armed forces.

The phrase fashion victim took on new meaning this week when designer Lauren McCarthy unveiled her new hat which pokes the wearer with a metal spike until they smile, says nydaily The former MIT student said the creation was inspired by research that shows that even a forced smile can intensify positive emotions in people.

If picking out conversation at a noisy party is a problem, then try music lessons, New Scientist suggested this week. Research has found that musicians are better equipped to pick out speech from loud background noise.

The mystery of a van stolen in 1965 in Washington has finally been solved after US customs agents recovered the vintage VW camper in a container bound for Germany, reports The van was probably worth just a few hundred dollars when it disappeared but it has now been valued at $27,000.