Top Story: October 15, 2010

Gambling Pigeons and Baseball

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Gambling pigeons, baseball and Gliese 581g: Here are some science news stories we didn’t want you to miss this week.

Published Wednesday in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, an interesting finding—turns out that pigeons like to gamble. The pigeons in the study were given two choices—they could peck at a key that always would give them three food pellets or at a key that would give them ten food pellets 20% of the time and zero the rest of the time.  All pigeons chose the gambling key over the reliable three-pellet key every time.

An article in LiveScience reported that:

The reason could be that pigeons are motivated by a surprising change from their expectations, according to study author Thomas Zentall, a psychologist at the University of Kentucky. The same phenomenon could explain why human gamblers ignore their losses and focus on their rarer, but more surprising, wins.

Similar behaviors have been found in monkeys.

And just in time for the Giant’s play-offs, PLoS ONE published research on the “breaking ball” this week. The authors behind the study say that curveballs can’t break nor can fastballs rise—it’s all an optical illusion. ScienceNow has a great description of the experiment that led the scientists to their findings. Given the pitchers’ duel between Lincecum and Halladay for tomorrow’s opening game, it should be required reading for Giants and Phillies hitters.

Also in baseball science news this week, new UC Berkeley research on birth order and baseball success. It turns out that younger siblings make better ball players. The research will be published next month in Personality and Social Psychology Review.

More Gulf of Mexico oil spill news this week. Nature had an article about how reduced funding means fewer vessels in the gulf to research the effects of the spill. And in Discover, could the oil be killing thousands of fish where the Mississippi meets the gulf in Louisiana? When the image was first published, the oil was the cause, then the blame switched to agriculture run-off. Now it may be the oil after all.  More definitive testing will be done.

Finally, does Gliese 581g even exist? Two weeks ago, it was the exoplanet named most potentially habitable, but this week, Swiss scientists could neither confirm nor deny the existence of the planet. Francesco Pepe of the Swiss Team told New Scientist, "We easily recover the four previously announced planets, ‘b’, ‘c’, ‘d’, and ‘e’. However, we do not see any evidence for a fifth planet in an orbit of 37 days." But he told Science via email that “we can't prove there is no fifth planet.” Hmmm…

What science news did you find controversial this week? Share with us!

Creative Commons image by Minesweeper

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