Sunday, July 17, 2011

Weird Science has a drink, a smoke, and a loaded firearm

No wonder alcohol and tobacco are handled by the same agency: The US government has an agency devoted to alcohol, tobacco, and firearms, which strikes many as an odd combination. Based on some new research, however, that may be a perfectly rational choice. One Garen Wintemute of UC Davis has looked into the habits of over 15,000 Americans, and found that alcohol and tobacco do go together. Firearms owners were more likely to drink heavily and drive afterwards. Worse still, among gun owners, those who tended to overindulge with alcohol were more likely to carry a gun for protection against others and keep the gun unsecured in the house loaded. There's no obvious connection to tobacco here, but we're going to guess "potential for self-harm" might tie them together.

Parrots get names from their parents: Parrots are impressive vocalists, especially when raised among humans, but those skills also play a role in the wild, where some species have been observed to use what are termed "contact calls"—essentially, unique names that help identify an individual. Now, researchers have tracked a series of parrot nests to figure out how these calls develop. The young green-rumped parrotlets in the study picked up their names from their parents. It's not that the parents name them per se, more that the youngsters begin to develop their unique contact calls by taking elements of things they hear from both of their parents and merge them into something unique. To demonstrate that this isn't some form of genetic recombination, the researchers tracked nests with foster chicks, and found that the calls remained a mixture of those of the parents that raised them.

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