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Talking fish, squirrelly behaviour, scientist's surprise

Good news or no news

"The success of major college teams in the two weeks before an election can have a measurable impact on how well incumbent politicians do at the polls in the United States, researchers report in … Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences," Associated Press reports. " 'Events that government had nothing to do with, but that affect voters' sense of well-being, can affect the decisions that they make on election day,' the researchers said. That's why incumbent politicians try to score some good news just before elections, and their opponents try to block that effort."

Talking fish

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"Far from being a place of deep silence, the underwater world is abuzz with the sound of fish sweet-talking the opposite sex, warning others of danger, giving directions and general background chatter," Paul Chapman writes for The Daily Telegraph. "Predators may even hunt out prey by intercepting fish talk, researcher Shahriman Ghazali of Auckland University said. 'All fish can hear but not all can make sound - pops and other sounds made by vibrating their swim bladder, a muscle they can contract,' he said." Now the researchers want to find out what the sounds mean, he told the New Zealand Herald. Using an underwater microphone and other instruments to study fish in lab tanks, he reports:

- Gurnard are among the most talkative fish, making distinctive grunts and keeping up a pattern of chatter throughout the day.

- Cod stay mostly silent, except while spawning when they become very vocal.

- Fish known as bigeyes produce a popping sound, which appears to operate as a sort of Morse code.

- "Goldfish have excellent hearing but they don't make any sound whatsoever," he said.

Lot of 'splaining to do

"We have been inadvertently betraying our presence [to extraterrestrials]for 60 years with our television, radio and radar transmissions," New Scientist reports. "The earliest episodes of I Love Lucy have washed over 6,000 or so star systems, and are reaching new audiences at the rate of one solar system a day. If there are sentient beings out there, the signals will reach them. Detecting this leakage radiation won't be that difficult. Its intensity decreases with the square of the distance, but even if the nearest aliens were 1,000 light-years away, they would still be able to detect it as long as their antenna technology was a century or two ahead of ours."

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Squirrelly behaviour

"In the acuity of their visual system, the sensitivity and deftness with which they can manipulate objects, their sociability, chattiness and willingness to deceive, squirrels turn out to be surprisingly similar to primates," Natalie Angier writes for The New York Times. "They nest communally as multigenerational, matrilineal clans, and at the end of a hard day's forage, they greet each other with a mutual nuzzling of cheek and lip glands that looks decidedly like a kiss." Dr. John Koprowski, a squirrel expert and professor of wildlife conservation and management at the University of Arizona, told her: "When people call me squirrelly, I am flattered by the term."

Scientist's surprise

"The criminal brain has always held a fascination for James Fallon," Barbara Bradley Hagerty reports for National Public Radio in the U.S. "For nearly 20 years, the neuroscientist at the University of California-Irvine has studied the brains of psychopaths. He studies the biological basis for behaviour, and one of his specialties is to try to figure out how a killer's brain differs from yours and mine." His 88-year-old mother suggested he check his father's side of the family. The lineage has violent people and killers - and includes Lizzie Borden. "Conveniently, he had everything he needed: Previously, he had persuaded 10 of his close relatives to submit to a PET brain scan and give a blood sample as part of a project to see whether his family had a risk for developing Alzheimer's disease." He compared them to brains of psychopaths. Scan after scan looked normal - except one. "If you look at [my]PET scan," Mr. Fallon said, "I look just like one of those killers." Scientists who study this area say brain patterns and genetic makeup are not enough to make anyone a psychopath. There's a third ingredient: abuse or violence in one's childhood.

Bored this summer, kids?

"A Rubik's Cube expert has pulled off his most amazing feat yet - solving two of the puzzles inside a shark tank," Orange News U.K. reports. "David Calvo, 24, solved both cubes one-handed simultaneously while sharing the tank with six sharks. He completed the puzzles in just 76 seconds as he sat on the bottom of the tank at the Terra Natura Park in Benidorm, Spain. The former national Rubik's Cube champ for Spain managed to beat his own record set last April when he solved two cubes underwater, but without any sharks."

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Thought du jour

"Sometimes I think we're alone. Sometimes I think we're not. In either case, the thought is staggering."

- R. Buckminster Fuller

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