Joe Lavin

March 20, 2007

Ant Angst and Other Lessons of Science

You can learn a lot from science. For example, last week, I learned that women are statistically safer drivers than men, that giraffes are the third gayest animal in the animal kingdom, and that sometimes spiders just like to snuggle. These stories came from the site that is a repository for some of the stranger stories about science, but you'll notice that scientific surveys and research studies are in the news just about every day.

For what it's worth, the same study showing that male drivers have higher death rates ("They do stupider things," the lead researcher explained.) also claimed that New England is the safest place to drive in the country. There's something to ponder the next time you're being cut off by a Boston driver while simultaneously being given the finger. This result mainly stems from the fact that Boston has some of the worst traffic in the country, and it's a lot tougher to get killed in a car when you can only go five miles-an-hour. New England also is safer because we tend to shut the roads down for viral marketing campaigns involving cartoon characters. I'm betting that's the day this survey was done.

For some reason, ants have been particularly in the news lately. One study revealed that "ants hate each other but work together." And there you just thought all those ants who attack your summer picnics were happily working together as a team, whereas it was a lot more like some reality show. (Next fall on Fox, it's Celebrity Ant Farm!) Apparently, ants just can't stand each other, and well, who can blame them? "Oh, look at him, showing off. He thinks he's so special, but he's just another ant, like the rest of us. I hate him -- oh, wait, that's not him."

In other news, scientists have found that urban ants can handle heat better than non-urban ants. Urban ants also have more street cred and are keeping it far more real than their suburban counterparts who may look all cool hanging out in the mall, but we all really know the truth, scientists say. Well, actually they didn't say that, but other scientists did find that ants are more aggressive when in gangs, which is getting to be a serious problem. And there I always thought the real worry were the loner ants that liked to keep to themselves.

As for the heat study, in case you were wondering it wasn't conducted by eight-year-olds with a magnifying glass, but by a researcher at Indiana State University. He found that urban ants in 107.6 degrees Fahrenheit lived 20% longer than non-urban ants in the same temperature. And you thought regular ants hated each other. At 107.6 degrees, these ants can get downright cranky.

There's also a lot of unhappiness beyond the ant world. Recent studies have found that the majority of students in high school are bored, the majority of American workers are unhappy with their jobs, and, according to one scientist at least, women are increasingly settling for mediocre sex. Oh, and your boss really is clueless. They've proved it with science! On the bright side, cities can make you skinny, so if you have a job in the city you might lose some weight, especially if you happen to be an ant!

Of course, some science is bunk. For example, Peter Austin, from the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences in Toronto, recently proved that Virgos are more likely to vomit during pregnancy. He was illustrating how it can be dangerous to base your conclusions on just one study. In truth, Virgos are no more likely to vomit than anyone else. "We did this study to prove a larger point, the more we look for patterns, the more likely we are to find them, particularly when we don't begin with a particular question," Austin explained. Studies have also shown that Virgos are more likely to step on an ant during a heat wave.

©2007 Joe Lavin

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