“Dinosaurs may have farted themselves to extinction,” we’re told by Fox News, “According to a new study from British scientists.” Alas, that isn’t what the scientists have proposed. They suggest that the trumping of Tyrannosaurus Rex and vapours of Velociraptors had a significant impact on the climate of the Earth but not that it provoked their downfall. Yet Fox’s claims are being echoed all across the Internet because, let’s face it, the idea is bloody funny. Speculative claims or misinterpretations of results that, if true, would be of great significance – “X causes cancer”/“Y cures cancer” – tend to be reported uncritically in outlets of the press, and amusing ones are also liable to be published. In a time of Facebook, Twitter, reddit and God knows what else such theories can spread like a rash across the public consciousness because they’re fanciful enough to appeal to our comic senses but not dramatic enough to alert our scepticism. If scientific findings make us laugh we should go back to check that they’re actually valid.
Now, having said that I can pass on claims that feeding yoghurt to male rodents gives them a certain “mouse swagger”…
First, the scientists noticed that the yogurt-eating mice were incredibly shiny. Using both traditional histology techniques and cosmetic rating scales, the researchers showed that these animals had 10 times the active follicle density of other mice, resulting in luxuriantly silky fur.
Then the researchers spotted something particular about the males: they projected their testes outward, which endowed them with a certain “mouse swagger,” Erdman says. On measuring the males, they found that the testicles of the yogurt consumers were about 5 percent heavier than those of mice fed typical diets alone and around 15 percent heavier than those of junk-eating males.
How in God’s name do you weigh a mouse’s testicles? And can your partner ever bear to hold your hand again?