The truth is out there: 24/10/2009

A weekly look at the world

*Sitting in a dark and silent room might not sound as exciting as experimenting with psychoactive drugs but it could have the same effect, according to reports on Psychologists found that just 15 minutes of total sensory deprivation triggered hallucinations, paranoia and depression in their 19 healthy subjects.

*Bird flu is a sexually transmitted disease, reports the New Scientist, or at least it is in ducks. The more rampant the sex and larger the penis, the lower the chances of infection. The discovery helps to explain seasonal peaks in outbreaks during the mating season, according to Farmers Weekly Interactive.

*It follows news last month on that koala bear populations are being attacked by an Aids-like virus. The species are already on the point of collapse for numerous reasons, including their susceptibility to chlamydia.

*South African police shot dead 556 people last year, including 32 bystanders, according to the Independent Complaints Directorate, reports Johannesburg's Mail & Guardian. It is the highest figure for a decade.

*Climate change should be blamed on the dog, according to a new book from scientists at Victoria University in New Zealand. The carbon pawprints of big dogs double that of a Toyota Land Cruiser driven 10,000km a year.

*Computerised phone calls asking "what are you doing right now" have been sanctioned by the National Institute of Health in America in the name of substance abuse research. The team from Buffalo, New York, is studying the situational use of alcohol and marijuana and has incorporated automated mobile phone calls to gather its data from willing subjects, reports

*The decisions of judging panels at high-profile awards have provoked headlines of late. This week the New Republic elucidated on why the wrong person always wins, citing a recent analysis of wine awards which found widespread randomness. The study of 4,000 wines in 13 competitions compared how many medals each wine received at each competition, finding that 84 per cent of wines deemed exceptional by one panel received no mention from others.

*Last year researchers proved that a hot cup of coffee made us more likely to judge a person kindly. Now scientists from Utrecht University have found links suggesting room temperature can affect how socially close we feel, what type of language we use and our relationship with shapes, reports the BPS Research Digest.

*And there was good news this week for anyone who has ever dreamed of controlling their dreams as reported on a new face mask which claims to allow just that. The device flashes light signals while you sleep, which in theory allow the dreamer to take control of the final, woo the girl, win the prize, murder the boss, get that letter delivered...