The Myth of Holiday Suicides

The suicide rate actually peaks at late spring/early summer, not the holidays


The idea that there are more suicides over the holiday season is a belief which is as persistent as it is wrong. I think this is one of those beliefs that persists because we WANT it to be true, rather than because we actually think it is. Anyone who has had to drag themselves through a round of holiday shopping or sat through another tense family meal can find it a credible belief, right? 
(And of course, the idea of holiday suicide was cemented in Frank Capra's holiday classic, "It's A Wonderful Life.')
The truth is that suicide rates increase in the warm weather of summer. And not only do we not understand why, but this has been true for hundreds, maybe even thousands of years. A sociologist named Emile Durkheim studied the rate of suicides in Europe in the 1800s and found that they peaked at the height of summer.

The Mystery of the Poisonous Quail

The real mystery is why people keep eating quail on the toxic migratory routes


Coturnix quail are pretty adorable little creatures. Tasty, too. Except that sometimes they can poison and kill you. In fact, this problem is so common that it has been given a name: coturnism. I expect it to show up on an episode of "House M.D." any day now.
Coturnism only happens with wild quail, and only those in the Old World. There are several species of Coturnix quail which migrate between Africa and Europe every year. They travel north to Europe in the spring, and south to Africa in the fall. These days their migrations are greatly reduced in numbers, due to habitat loss and overhunting. But hundreds of years ago, the coturnix migration was truly astounding, massive flocks moving past. Who could resist hunting and eating a few of the round, plump little birds?

Face in Tumor Ultrasound Perplexes Doctors

"The doctors agreed the image was probably just a coincidence and not a divine testicular imprint."

We like finding faces and figures in all sorts of places. Normally, people find the divine imprinted upon the mundane. Jesus shows up on toast, Mary appears as a water stain on the subway wall. We're starved for miracles in this day and age, so we take what we can get. It's still comforting to think that some presence is watching over us even if the only way they can communicate with us is through vague outlines on breakfast foods.

Not all chaotic apparitions are benevolent, though. Satan allegedly showed his face in the smoke coiling from the World Trade Center on 9/11, and now some guy in Canada has a demon in his balls.

Vestigial Human Tails


In the earliest stages of development of a human embryo, it has a little tail. This tail measures about 1/6th the size of the entire length of the embryo (the equivalent of a 12-inch tail on a 6-foot man). But as the fetus develops, the tail is absorbed. Enzymes dissolve the bones, and the entire structure retracts into the fetus's body.
Sometimes, for a variety of reasons, a baby is born with its vestigial tail still attached. According to the National Institute of Health, "There have been 23 vestigial tails reported in the literature since 1884," or approximately one baby born with a tail every 5 ½ years.

Magnetic Children in Serbia

Two boys mysteriously attract metal


Maybe some of us really are X-Men. Maybe we'll wake up one morning and find ourselves able to shoot lasers out of our eyes or manipulate the way we perceive time. We don't know all the secrets of the human genome yet. We don't know just what all those nucleic acids are capable of awakening in us. We certainly don't know why certain children in Serbia seem to be magnetic.

They're not comic fanboys, either. They've probably never even heard of Professor X or Magneto. Yet these two kids--cousins living in the same town--are capable of attracting metallic objects just like your everyday magnet. 

Death by Sleeplessness

A rare form of fatal insomnia has no cure


Life tip #271: remember to sleep. Sleep's good for you, kids. If you don't sleep, you're going to die. 

After about a year, that is. That's how long a human can stay awake before permanently shutting down. For what it's worth, most people don't make it that long without conking out for at least a little while. The body needs sleep to complete essential cell processes and the brain needs it to keep you from going completely off the rails. While sleep's purpose and functions are still in many ways mysterious to us, it's proven to be an indispensable biological function. And like food or water, people die without it.

Appalachian "Wifi Shelter"

The BBC News has a great article up about what they term "wifi refugees," people who believe that they suffer from sensitivity to wifi and other electronic signals. Luckily for a select few, there is an area in the Appalachian mountains where wireless is banned.
The town of Green Bank, West Virginia (population 143) lies in the heart of the US Radio Quiet Zone. This is a 13,000 square mile area of the Allegheny Mountains which is kept wireless-free by the US Government, in order to prevent interference with their radio telescopes and other electronic monitoring systems.

Permanent Stranger Syndrome

Neurological disorder prevents people from recognizing friends and family


Most of the time, it takes the witnessing of a disability in order for us to realize the extent to which we take our own ability for granted. Those of us who have no trouble walking rarely think about how we're capable of our own automatic physical transportation--unless we meet someone who's incapable of just that. Physical disabilities manifest themselves in obvious ways that we can automatically relate to, but mental disabilities provide us with further insight as to how the mind works--by demonstrating what happens when it fails to. 

People Born Without Fingerprints

In the common imagination, the crafty criminal goes through an arduous and painful process to remove his fingerprints. (It's always a "he," I don't know of any scenarios where a female criminal removes her fingerprints. I wonder what that says about the genre.) Off the top of my head I can recall criminals burning their fingerprints off with acid, sandpapering them off, and gradually building calluses at each fingertip which obscure the fingerprints.
Of course, there are two problems with these methods: you can still be identified based on the pattern of scarring (like John Dillinger!), and in most cases your fingerprints will eventually grow back. They grow back because your fingerprints are determined at the genetic level.
Unless you have a mutation in your SMARCAD1 gene, that is!


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