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IFLScience 117 Things You Should F*#king Know About Your World
By Paul Parsons
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117 Things You Should F*#ing Know About Your World is a compendium of the greatest articles from IFLScience’s long history, broken up by leading subjects:
- Health & Medicine
- Plants & Animals
- The Brain
- The Environment
From pinpointing the exact worst time to be alive in human history, to learning what makes you a procrastinator or a go-getter, to the very key to a happy sex life, and so much more, this is the science book that only the world’s leading source of crazy-but-true stories could produce.
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by Elise Andrew
“The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not ‘eureka!’ but ‘that’s funny…’”
That quote from science fiction writer Isaac Asimov headed up the original I Fucking Love Science Facebook page. Obviously, Asimov meant funny as in strange, not funny ha-ha, but the dual meaning pretty much encapsulates what IFLScience is all about—sharing science stories that appeal to the human sense of humor and curiosity.
The Facebook page launched in March 2012. I was a student in my final year of a biology degree at the University of Sheffield. I was frequently posting links to cool science stories (and lots of extremely silly science jokes) on my personal Facebook page until, that is, one of my friends told me he was bored of seeing so much science in my feed and that I should make a separate page for it that people could subscribe to see—or not, in his case.
So that’s what I did. I don’t really remember where the name came from. I vaguely recall a meme of a lemur holding a stick looking incredibly excited about it, with a caption of “I fucking love this stick.” I think perhaps it stuck in my head, because that’s the name I chose almost mindlessly. Within a day, the page had received 1,000 likes. Six months on and we crossed the 1 million milestone. Today, it has over 25 million followers, and that figure is still growing day-on-day.
My motivation was really just the same as the desire that leads others to circulate content online. But rather than videos of errant dogs or cats playing the piano, I had a burning desire to share stories about all the cool stuff that’s happening in the world of science and technology. That stemmed from what I was learning at university. I was always good at science, but didn’t necessarily fucking love it. Choosing to study biology was more of a practical decision, when I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do next. I was taught about science in the same way all children are taught about science—to pass exams. Everything changed for me at university. For the first time, I was being taught by real scientists with a passion for what they were teaching. I had my mind blown every single day sitting in those lectures, and it hit me that all these incredible facts about the world were largely unknown to the majority of people. My immediate thought was that everybody should know these things, not to expand the curriculum necessarily, but simply because they’re so cool and interesting.
I think it’s that slightly maverick outlook which, at least partly, explains why IFLScience has been such a success. One of the great peculiarities of our age is that we take children and sit them in a room to have knowledge and information forced into their heads. Is it really any wonder they find it dull, unpleasant even, and want to rebel? Wouldn’t it be better to cultivate interest and enthusiasm instead, so as to make learning an activity they pursue voluntarily rather than something they’re told to do by parents or a teacher?
This has always been our approach at IFLScience—to find the jaw-dropping picture or the irreverent news story or just the catchy, infectious headline that inspires people to tell their friends, to read a book, watch a documentary, or to just go online and find out more about this amazing universe in which we live.
In October 2014, the IFLS Facebook page became a website of its own, with the launch of iflscience.com. From then on, rather than linking to other people’s content, our talented team of scientists, journalists, and communicators have been creating their own, bringing the site’s millions of readers daily updates on everything from the natural world to medicine, from driverless cars to climate change, quantum physics to the Big Bang.
What you hold in your hands is, if you like, our greatest hits so far—117 of our strangest, funniest, and most incredible stories from the world of nature, science, and technology. We think it’s brilliant, and if you do too, then please do take a look at iflscience.com for more.
I think you’ll fucking love it.
THE GREAT SCIENCE FICTION WRITER AND FUTURIST Arthur C. Clarke once declared that technology is indistinguishable from magic. No doubt because, whatever the gadget, you can guarantee there’ll be a half-crazed individual, waving their arms furiously and uttering arcane exclamations—of the sort Dumbledore probably wouldn’t have learned from his mother.
We human beings enjoy—if that’s the correct word—a somewhat precarious relationship with our technological creations. Take, for example, smartphones. Always-on, high-bandwidth internet with 95 percent coverage has its obvious appeal. But when it invades your privacy, erodes your free time, and then refuses to work when you need it most (“Siri, where’s the fucking car…”), you begin to ask yourself… why? Sometimes, owning a Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy–style pocket widget that’s able to regurgitate whatever morsel of knowledge your brain desires with one clumsy stab of the thumb—all from the comfort of your favorite toilet seat—doesn’t seem worth the bother.
That said: Anyone touches my phone and they’re dead.
Technology is the science of invention. It began when an anonymous caveperson picked up a stick and realized that whacking their lunch, and indeed their enemies, over the head with it was far more effective than resorting to bare fisticuffs alone. Fast-forward 2.5 million years and, along with replacing the sticks with assault rifles, we’ve managed to surround ourselves with all manner of other labor-saving modern conveniences.
Perhaps the best example of useful tech emerging from seemingly abstract science was provided by quantum mechanics. The physics of the very small, this determines how tiny subatomic particles of matter behave. In particular, it governs how electrons (those negatively charged particles, which, when sloshing around inside a wire, become known collectively as “electricity”) interact with so-called semiconductors—materials that in some ways behave like conducting metals and in other ways are like insulators. Semiconductors are the building blocks of electrical junctions called transistors, which in turn are key to the construction of modern computers. And computers, as if I need to tell you, are in everything from your dishwasher to your smart TV. And in your computer, obviously.
Even Albert Einstein’s wacky old theory of relativity has found its killer app—telling scientists how to adjust satellite signals to take into account the distorting effects of the Earth’s gravitational field. The stark fact is that without relativity your sat-nav system simply wouldn’t work. So next time you fail to get lost on your way to visit those awful relatives, remember to thank Einstein.
There are some other fairly brilliant inventions that the modern world just wouldn’t be the same without. In 1926, Scottish engineer John Logie Baird became the first to demonstrate the transmission of moving pictures—what we would now call “television.” Though perhaps mercifully, he was long dead by the time The Big Bang Theory became a thing. In 1875, Alexander Graham Bell, another Scot, filed a patent for the “acoustic telegraph,” which was the first example of a telephone. Telemarketing soon followed in the early 1900s. And in 1886, an early gasoline-powered motor car was developed by German engineer Karl Benz. While his buddy Otto Bahn built the first road. (Actually, I made up that last one.)
Meanwhile, in 1791, France gave us the guillotine. While many other technological innovations have been the sole province of the well-heeled, the guillotine stood out as a notoriously effective means for leveling the socioeconomic playing field.
Other gadgets and gizmos have been less well received. No one’s really likely to lament the apparent demise of Tamagotchis, Crocs shoes, or the Segway, for example. And it can certainly be argued that the world today might be a far nicer place without the likes of plastic bags, CAPTCHA, and pop-up advertising. Safe to say, these particular genies won’t be climbing back into the bottle any time soon.
In this chapter, we bring you up-to-date on some of the most significant and not so significant—yet still highly amusing—technological breakthroughs that are taking shape in labs around the world.
Scientists discover why drones and airports really don’t mix by chucking store-bought plastic quadcopters at airliners as hard as they possibly can. Which, if nothing else, is further proof that science is in fact a lot more fun than your school teachers may have led you to believe.
After various data breach scandals, and concerns over how social media companies use our data, we are proud to show you the simple way to download every scrap of info that Facebook holds about you. Mine amounted to a photo album of the last 10 years, along with transcripts of several hundred arguments. Oh, and a list of “ad preferences” that were clearly racked up by my evil twin from a parallel universe.
We meet the Star Trek–style, engine-less, electric airplane, air transport that somehow manages to drift along with no moving parts whatsoever—a bit like Air France. Meet the scientists who have managed to turn human excrement into fuel. As one does. And check out the phone battery that only needs to be charged once a week.
Plus, can you guess the novel way users of adult meta site Pornhub chose to celebrate the wedding of Britain’s Prince Harry to Meghan Markle? Hint: Harry wasn’t the only one rushing to an appointment with the bishop.
Alexa, order more tissues…
“SUICIDE MACHINE” THAT LETS YOU EXPERIENCE DEATH IS NOW AVAILABLE FOR THE PUBLIC TO TRY
by Madison Dapcevich
CHEER UP. DEATH COULD BE AS EASY, QUICK, AND PAINLESS as pressing a button. At least, that’s what the creator of the world’s first 3D-printed “suicide machine” intends for the future.
In April 2018, Dr. Philip Nitschke and his organization Exit International announced plans to debut the suicide-assisting machine “Sarco” (short for sarcophagus) at Amsterdam’s Funeral Fair. You can even try it out for yourself—at least, in virtual reality—by stepping inside a full-size depiction of the euthanasia capsule. VR glasses give the user a glimpse into what assisted dying might actually be like.
Plans for 3D-printing the capsule will be available on the internet, according to Nitschke, who said the device can be assembled anywhere to “allow a person a peaceful passing” at a location of his or her choosing.
Potential users of the real deal will have to fill out an online test to gauge their mental fitness. If they pass the test, they will then receive an access code valid for 24 hours. Once the code is entered, another confirmation from the user must be given.
The Sarco will sit on a generator using liquid nitrogen which, when released, will bring down the level of oxygen in the capsule to induce hypoxia. The brain relies on oxygen to function. When put in environments with low levels of oxygen, the body slowly begins to shut down, resulting in confusion, increased heart rate, rapid breathing, shortness of breath, sweating, and wheezing. In the Sarco, however, Nitschke said death will have “style and elegance”—within one minute, the user loses consciousness. Death follows shortly thereafter.
To activate the process, the user simply steps inside, lies down, and, when ready, presses a button.
“A Sarco death is painless. There’s no suffocation, choking sensation, or ‘air hunger’ as the user breathes easily in a low-oxygen environment. The sensation is one of well-being and intoxication,” wrote Nitschke in The Huffington Post.
Critics argue that legalizing a person’s “right to die” could normalize suicide, be difficult to regulate, and that it will degrade the value of life. But Nitschke, who performed his first legal assisted death in 1996, argues that the option to end one’s life voluntarily is a civil right.
“The Sarco is intended to get people talking positively about death, and with broader considerations than being afraid, scared, or shocked,” he said in a statement. “After all, we are all going to die. Increasing numbers of us want some say in how we are going to die.”
PORNHUB’S DATA SHOWS SOMETHING HILARIOUS HAPPENED DURING THE ROYAL WEDDING
by James Felton
EVERY NOW AND THEN, THE INTERNET PORNOGRAPHY website Pornhub releases data on its users. It’s often grim, and frequently hilarious, but occasionally it reveals an interesting insight into human behavior.
In 2018, Pornhub released data on the effect that the UK royal wedding, held on May 19 that year, had on people’s pornography habits around the world. It reveals some rather odd ways people across the globe honored the couple, choosing to celebrate through the medium of cranking one out.
First, here are the respectful bits. Out of a sense of duty to the royal family, the world eased off on jacking it for most of the duration of the wedding.
Worldwide, people stopped paying a one-handed salute to Prince Albert long enough to watch Prince Harry marry Meghan Markle. Traffic dipped 10 percent globally, slightly less than the whopping 21 percent it went down in the UK, compared to a normal Saturday.
England and Wales were the most likely to stop “doffing their hat to her majesty” during the ceremony. At noon, when the vows took place, England was watching 21 percent less porn than normal. Meanwhile in Scotland, where there is (according to the pollster ICM) less support for the royal family, there was only a 14 percent downturn in traffic during the ceremony.
This gracious tribute continued across the Commonwealth. In Australia, viewing figures went down 17 percent, in New Zealand 18 percent, and Canada 16 percent. Weirdly, though, France seemed to be the most respectful of all, as viewing figures there slumped a whopping 23 percent.
Now, here’s where it gets a bit sordid. The data from Pornhub also looked at search terms surrounding the royal wedding. In the days leading up to the wedding, searches on the site containing the word royal rose a spectacular 1,865 percent, and prince and princess also saw a spike as people… got in the mood for the big event?
Grimmest of all, though, searches for Meghan Markle skyrocketed, going up 2,812 percent.
Interest in celebrities who attended the wedding was also up, with searches for Victoria Beckham, David Beckham, and various co-stars of Meghan Markle’s former TV show Suits all seeing massive increases.
Check out the rest of the data for yourself on the Pornhub Insights website (https://www.pornhub.com/insights/). It’s safe for work, though you might still want to look when you’re at home, just in case you trip the IT department’s porn filter.
THE US HAS LOST FIVE NUCLEAR WEAPONS. SO WHERE THE HELL ARE THEY?
by Tom Hale
KEYS, PHONES, SOCKS, THERMONUCLEAR WEAPONS—some things just don’t seem to stay where you put them.
Believe it or not, the US has lost at least five atomic bombs, or samples of weapons-grade nuclear material, since it began developing nuclear weapons in the 1940s.
Not only that, but the US is responsible for at least 32 documented instances of a nuclear weapons accident, known as a “broken arrow” in military lingo. These atomic-grade mishaps can involve an accidental launching or detonation, a theft, or a loss—yep, loss—of an operational nuke.
FEBRUARY 13, 1950
The first of these unlikely instances occurred in 1950, five years after the first atomic bomb was detonated. In a mock nuclear strike against the Soviet Union, a US B-36 bomber, en route from Alaska to Texas, began to experience mechanical trouble. Icy conditions and a sputtering engine meant the landing was going to be nearly impossible, so the crew jettisoned the plane’s Mark 4 nuclear bomb over the Pacific. The crew witnessed a flash, a bang, and a shock wave.
The military claim the mock-up bomb was filled with “just” uranium and TNT.
MARCH 10, 1956
A Boeing B-47 Stratojet set off from MacDill Air Force Base in Florida for a non-stop flight to Morocco with two “nuclear capsules” onboard. The jet was scheduled for its second mid-flight refueling over the Mediterranean Sea, but it never made contact. No trace of the jet or the nuclear material has ever been found.
FEBRUARY 5, 1958
A B-47 bomber with a 7,500-pound (3,400-kg) Mark 15 nuclear bomb onboard accidentally collided with an F-86 aircraft during a simulated combat mission. The battered and bruised bomber attempted to land numerous times, but to no avail. Eventually, the crew made the decision to jettison the payload into the mouth of the Savannah River near Savannah, Georgia. Luckily for them, the bomb did not detonate. However, it remains “irretrievably lost” to this day.
JANUARY 24, 1961
The wing of a B-52 bomber split apart while on a mission above Goldsboro, North Carolina. Onboard were two 3.8-megaton nuclear bombs. One of these successfully deployed its emergency parachute, while the other fell and crashed to the ground. The unexploded bomb landed on farmland around the town and, while wreckage has been recovered, the warhead is still missing. In 2012, North Carolina put up a sign near the supposed crash site to commemorate the incident.
DECEMBER 5, 1965
An A-4E Skyhawk aircraft, loaded with a nuclear weapon, rolled off the back of an aircraft carrier, the USS Ticonderoga, and fell into the Philippine Sea off Japan. The plane, pilot, and nuclear bomb were never seen again.
In 1989, the US eventually admitted that the bomb was still lying on the seabed around 80 miles (128 km) from a small Japanese island. Needless to say, the Japanese government and environmental groups were pretty pissed about it.
FACEBOOK HAS A “SECRET FILE” ON YOU. HERE’S HOW YOU CAN VIEW IT
by Jonathan O’Callaghan
EVER WONDERED WHAT DATA FACEBOOK IS KEEPING about you? Well, it’s pretty easy to see—but you might not like what you find.
Facebook stores a lot of personal data on its users, including images, adverts you’ve clicked on, conversations, documents shared on Messenger, and much more. It’s not alone in doing this, mind. Google, for example, keeps pretty close tabs on its users, too.
So Nick Whigham, a reporter for the New Zealand Herald, decided to find out just how much Facebook knew about him. He was surprised to discover it had collected a huge amount of data, some of which he didn’t even know existed.
“It included scanned copies of lease forms from a previous rental property I must’ve sent to my buddies over Messenger, my current tenant ledger report, an old monthly billing statement for my home broadband, screenshots of banking transfers and seemingly endless web pages of all the banal conversations I have ever had on the platform,” he wrote. “It’s an odd feeling to think that, in some ways, Facebook knows you better than you know yourself.”
The site also stores facial recognition data, names and numbers from your contact list, where you’ve been on the internet, and much more.
You can find out the cache of data Facebook has on you pretty easily. All you need to do is log in, click the small “down” triangle in the top-right corner of any Facebook page. From here, click “Settings,” then go to “Your Facebook information” in the left-hand bar. From there you can either view or download your data. Facebook has argued previously that it harvests data—openly, mind, not in secret—in order to keep the platform free.
“We work with third-party partners who help us provide and improve our Products or who use Facebook Business Tools to grow their businesses, which makes it possible to operate our companies and provide free services to people around the world,” Facebook noted in its data policy.
Whether you’re willing to hand Mark Zuckerberg the keys to your life in order to keep the platform free is, of course, up to you.
THOUSANDS OF MISSING CHILDREN IN INDIA IDENTIFIED THROUGH FACIAL RECOGNITION PILOT EXPERIMENT
by Aliyah Kovner
ACCORDING TO THE INDIAN NEWS OUTLET NDTV, NEARLY 3,000 missing children were located in New Delhi within four days of the city police department adopting an experimental facial recognition system (FRS) software program. That’s a significant improvement over the milk carton approach (where notices of missing children are printed on the sides of milk cartons).
Tracking the thousands of children who disappear each year in the 1.3-billion-person nation is an enormous undertaking. According to India’s Ministry of Women and Child Development, more than 240,000 children were reported missing between 2012 and 2017, although the real number is probably higher. Some organizations estimate that the true number of missing children is close to 500,000 per year.
To aid recovery efforts, the ministry established a nationwide online database called TrackChild, where photographs of missing and found children can be posted and viewed, and police information can be shared between agencies and with citizens.
And yet, although this digital resource has become a helpful tool, the backlog of photographs is still too much for officials to handle.
So, a child welfare organization called Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA) developed the FRS software to automate TrackChild’s photo comparison process. Details of the particular facial recognition algorithm that this program uses are not available, but there are two main approaches—geometric and photometric.
- On Sale
- Oct 8, 2019
- Page Count
- 256 pages
- Running Press