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Bizarre obsessions of oddball scientists

Infertility is likely in women with children, concluded highly-paid researchers this week after wading through data released by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday.

columns Updated: Aug 17, 2013 22:52 IST
Sanchita Sharma
Sanchita Sharma
Hindustan Times

Infertility is likely in women with children, concluded highly-paid researchers this week after wading through data released by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday. More than the study findings, what impressed me was their ability to raise funds for a project did nothing more than state the obvious.

It’s a bit like spending millions to conclude you’ll be a year older next year or will want food when you’re hungry. But going by the gaggle of studies that find generous backing from donors, there are more than a few rich and gullible funders around.

There’s a study of American football fans from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, which found that being a committed sports fan raises your risk of being dangerously obese.

The study found that the more fanatic the supporter, the more likely he is to eat fast-food, eat fewer vegetables, and drink a lot on match days. Just watching American football fans guzzle beer and chew on hotdogs (and not carrots) on TV would have saved them a lot of work.

Hefty calves with reduced chances of having a stroke, concluded experts at Inserm, the French national institute for health research, after painstacking measuring 12.

4000 calves in the French towns of Dijon, Bordeaux and Montpellier. Their effort, not quite unlike Cinderella’s Prince Charming’s foot fetish, showed the greater the size of a person’s calves, the lower their risk of developing clots in the inside wall of neck arteries (called carotid plaques).

The French are not the only ones obsessing about body shape. A Bristol University survey of 3,600 women sin the UK some years ago reported those with short legs have a higher risk of liver disease.

And scientists from the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore reported in the journal Neurology that leggy women have the added advantage of lower risk of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. They put in several extra hours to conclude that every extra inch of leg reduced risk by 16%.

There’s more on legs. Harvard Medical School in Boston reported that people with restless legs syndrome (RLS) — an irresistible urge to move the legs; with the symptoms worse when sitting still — have double risk of stroke and heart disease compared to people without RLS.

And there seems to be no crunch on funds for research on animal behaviour either. Scientists in the University of Minnesota studied gray tree frogs (Hyla chrysoscelis) to discover females frogs prefer males whose calls reflect the ability to multitask effectively, they reported this week in the journal Animal Behaviour.

The study, they said, supports the multitasking hypothesis that suggests women prefer men who can do two or more hard-to-do things at the same time, which makes men who can earn a good income, cook dinner, manage the finances and get the kids to school on time the most sought after.

A quick ‘show of hands’ poll among the women at the university would have saved them a lot of trouble.

This week, male wild turkeys helped geneticists understand how the looks and sexual attractiveness of people who are genetically similar be so wildly different.

Among turkeys that are brothers (and therefore share most of their genes), they found the dominant males had higher expression of genes predominantly found in males, and a lower expression of genes predominantly found in females, than their more subservient brothers.

This made them in the journal PLoS Genetics that a man’s attractiveness is a function of how they express their genes, rather than the genes themselves, which is pointless information in a world where Daniel Craig, and not Danny DeVito, plays James Bond.

Then there’s the study of bonobo apes in the Salonga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo that conclusively shows sexually-attractive females are more likely to win conflicts against males.

Perhaps the scientists who studied human ankles and legs got it right after all.

First Published: Aug 17, 2013 22:50 IST