Butterflies and biodiversity: do something that counts

A couple of weeks ago I waxed happily sarcastic about the wartime National Census of Fruit, which happened in 1944. Beginning on Saturday there is another census, which everyone in the UK can join in on and which I shall not be sarcastic about at all. It is the National Census of Butterflies.envi
It is called the Big Butterfly Count. It was launched in 2010, when 10,000 people took part and counted 210,000 butterflies and day-flying moths across the nation. (A map of what sort of butterflies they found and where is here.) The organisers hope that many more people will join this year's big butterfly count, which runs all week, from 16th-31st July 2011.

PhDs couldn't tell an actor from a renowned scientist

Forty years ago, a singularly interesting lecture was held at the University of Southern California School of Medicine. The subject was 'Mathematical Game Theory as Applied to Physician Education.' The speaker was Dr. Myron L. Fox from Albert Einstein College of Medicine, a pupil of von Neumann and an authority on the application of mathematics to human behavior. The attendees were psychiatrists and psychologists (MDs and PhDs) who were gathered for a training conference. They listened to the lecturer with great interest, asked many questions and were satisfied with speaker's replies. They gave him flying grades in the satisfaction questionnaire. Nobody suspected anything wrong. In reality the speaker was an actor and knew nothing on the subject of his lecture.

Hypoxi Vacuum Therapy - Sucking at science?

With the summer finally here, now is the time you wish you'd kept up those arbitrary New Year's resolutions and joined the gym, maybe cut down on the booze, or perhaps even tried using some self restraint and not gorged yourself on that tub of Häagen-Dazs you found in the freezer.
It seems that wherever you turn, there's a barrage of quick-fix diets and "scientifically proven" methods in order to make us look our best, or at least attempt to emulate the figure of the latest celebrity to be placed on the cover of Elle.

Colombia, dripping with water

The topical image that comes into mind when thinking about tropical countries is that of palm trees in a hot sandy beach, and you wouldn’t expect a country dripping with water and green pastures. However, even if the size of Colombia (1.14 million km^2) is only about 1/8th of the United States, it is one of the countries in the world with a largest volume of available water, only surpassed by Russia, Canada and Brazil. Colombia’s annual average yield is 67 litres/s/km^2, almost seven times the world’s average (10 litres/s/km^2).

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May(un)fair? Your chances of winning at McDonald's Monopoly

McDonald's are once again running their Monopoly promotion, where along with your food you can collect stickers featuring properties from the famous board game. It's not just a matter of filling up a sticker book, of course - collecting properties can win you big prizes - but only if you manage to build up a full set of any particular colour. It's basically a lottery with a cunning twist - it's easy to feel you're closer to winning than you really are.
For example, to win the top prize of £500,000 you just have to find the two dark blue properties (Park Lane and Mayfair), but whilst there are plenty of the former going around, it seems, from reading the competition rules,that there is just one Mayfair sticker in the entire country.If this is true, it means that thousands of people will find themselves "just one sticker away" from winning a small fortune, when in reality their minuscule chance of winning has barely increased.