Feedback is our weekly column of bizarre stories, implausible advertising claims, confusing instructions and more



Humans



3 November 2021

Josie Ford

Gone with the wind

How do natural disasters affect intimate relationships? Feedback maintains a long list of questions we had never thought of asking, a fact that will surprise no one who knows of our predilection for impossible logic. So we are pleased to see this query now comprehensively answered in the paper “Experiencing a natural disaster temporarily boosts relationship satisfaction in newlywed couples” by Hannah Williamson at the University of Texas at Austin and her colleagues.

The study involved 231 couples in Harris county, Texas, around the time of Hurricane Harvey in 2017, and is the “first to use longitudinal data collected before and after a natural disaster to examine its effect on relationship outcomes”. This rather raises the question in our mind of how long the researchers were waiting, patiently observing, for disaster to strike – or perhaps it is merely a case of when, rather than if, in that part of Texas. Or maybe they have a button they can press, in which case we think we and the ethics board should be told.

No matter: for anyone wondering whether a fortuitously timed tornado might put the whirlwind back into their romance, whether a wildfire can relight their fire or whether Earth moving makes the earth move, the answer is yes – but make hay while the sun’s not shining. Couples soon “revert to their prehurricane levels of functioning as the recovery period continues”. For a longer-term boost, you will just have to move to somewhere more dangerous.

Block head

Feedback is excited to learn that an article in New Scientist has been cited in the defence of Mike Graham, the presenter at talkRADIO – a UK radio station where the opinions can be as suddenly shouty as the name – who claimed while interviewing environmental activist Cameron Ford that you can grow concrete.

We fear the clues may be in the quotes in the headline, “Living ‘concrete’ made from bacteria used to create replicating bricks”, and in the first line of the article, “A type of living concrete made from bacteria could one day help to reduce the environmental impact of the construction industry”.

No, Mike and all: to the best of our knowledge, we cannot grow concrete. Mind you, with all the wonderful things we are learning you can do with cellulose, grasping at straws may prove to be a viable alternative.

Taking the low road

“They got you covered, either way”, is Quentin Macilray’s comment as he writes from Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic with a picture of a van advertising Camino Eterno, a combined ambulance and undertaking service. We can’t better Quentin’s description of it as a quantum business governed by the collapse – or not – of the customer’s wave function. We are left wondering about the quality of the driving.

Menage au fromage

This week’s prize for research that made us involuntarily choke on our cocoa is “Sex in cheese: evidence for sexuality in the fungus Penicillium roqueforti”.

Our late-night stilton eating may never be as innocent again with the revelation that, far from living a life of monastic asceticism and reproducing purely asexually, the little blue-cheese-making blighters are – we know of no way to put this delicately – at it all the time. “The screening of a large sample of strains isolated from diverse substrates throughout the world revealed the existence of individuals of both mating types, even in the very same cheese,” the researchers write, with what sounds like glee.

Investigating the sexual capabilities of cheese mould isn’t something we had considered as a calling before. The affiliation of the team involved – the National Museum of Natural History in Paris, France – causes us to narrow our eyes ever so slightly, while giving the faintest of wise nods.

Where’s my elephant?

Nick Parlow writes taking exception to a suggestion made in our thread on finding an elephant in the room (4 September and 2 October). “I’m sure that others have pointed out how ludicrous it is to paint an elephant’s toenails red and hide it in a cherry tree,” he writes. “That amount of red nail varnish would be prohibitively expensive. Happily there is a far more practical method: paint the soles of its feet yellow, and hide it upside down in the custard.”

We are pleased to make this plain, Nick, given also that you reference the source “Cunningham and Blake (1974), The Puffin Joke Book“, leaving us in no doubt that this is settled science and that the old ones are the best.

Elementary errors

While in the vein of nostra culpa, opprobrium – an alkaline earth metal, we believe – has rained down on the Feedback inbox following an ad for New Scientist subscriptions in our 23 October issue. With the tagline “That’s elementary”, it promised the gift of some rather surprising chemistry this Christmas. The non-metal selenium became a lanthanide, while both the transition metal rhenium and the excitingly short-lived halogen tennessine were Nobel gases.

No prizes there. Apologies to all who felt pH-imbalanced, and for all those asking what we intend to do with those responsible: barium.

Got a story for Feedback?
Send it to feedback@newscientist.com or New Scientist, Northcliffe House, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TT
Consideration of items sent in the post will be delayed

You can send stories to Feedback by email at feedback@newscientist.com. Please include your home address. This week’s and past Feedbacks can be seen on our website.

By admin

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *