From Eye Contact To Water Bears: This Week's Curios

Every day of the year, CEO Justin Kitch writes a quirky fact, known as the Daily Curio, intended to tickle the brains of lifelong learners everywhere. This is a weekly digest.

Last week's Curios covered the importance of eye contact, Wikipedia in the courts, and a curious debate tactic.

Curio No. 1095 | How long can you look at me?
Look me in the eyes, please. We all know eye contact is a critical element of communication. Research has shown our eyes speak louder than our words when it comes to conveying personality, emotions, and intentions. One reason is that muscles around the eyes reveal the sincerity of smiling, frowning and other facial expressions. Another reason is that our bodies produce elevated levels of oxytocin when we gaze into somebody's eyes--the same hormone that induces labor and helps mothers bond with their babies during breastfeeding. (You may recall in Curio #690 we learned oxytocin is also produced when humans and pets stare into each other's eyes, and may explain how humans domesticated certain species.) Scientists studying infants now believe that our eye's capacity for communication develops before depth and color perception, possibly even at birth... keep reading.

Curio No. 1094 | Fuzzy space travel
Star Trek Beyond, the 13th movie in the franchise, debuts tonight. But if you want to join Spock and friends on the final frontier, be prepared to sacrifice your vision. 8 of 10 astronauts suffer from visual impairment intracranial pressure syndrome, or VIIP, after prolonged space travel. VIIP was first diagnosed in 2005 when a NASA astronaut discovered his vision had deteriorated from 20/20 to 20/100. Optical tests revealed the backs of his eyes had flattened, and his optic nerves were inflamed. It turns out many other astronauts were suffering silently with similar symptoms. The condition is of major concern to scientists, mostly because they aren't sure of the cause... keep reading.

Curio No. 1093 | Exhibit A: this Wikipedia article I just edited
Facts, schmacts. Wikipedia is giving new meaning to "the people's court." Since its founding in 2001, the online encyclopedia has been cited in over 400 court cases in the US alone. Even though Wikipedia's own article on "Researching with Wikipedia"--which was cited by a judge in a 2006 case--states that "everything on Wikipedia needs to be taken with a grain of salt." Editors, teachers, and librarians have long known that Wikipedia citations are dangerously inaccurate. Still, judges seem to be allowing Wikipedia articles as admissible evidence in a wide range of cases. To be fair, law experts say it's most often used where the court needs to reference "wisdom of the crowd" or "slang definitions." But still, the trend is disturbing... keep reading.

Curio No. 1092 | The toughest lil' animal on Earth
Meet the adorable water bear. Technically named tardigrades, these tiny creatures are .5 mm long, have eight puffy legs, and look sort of like a Pokémon balloon float under a microscope. They are also among the toughest organisms science has ever known. Tardigrades have been found in every habitat imaginable, from tropical rainforests to Antarctica. They can survive near-absolute zero (-458°F) and also inside your oven (350+°F). Extreme pressure isn't a problem, nor is extreme radiation. A European team launched tardigrades into the harsh extremes of outer space on the outside of a rocket, and they returned to Earth alive! That makes them the only (known) organism capable of surviving in space... keep reading.

Curio No. 1091 | An original Doig or Doige?
It looks like a pretty average painting to me. But $5 million hangs in the balance of whether Peter Doig or Peter Doige painted a 1976 surreal desert landscape. The owner, a former prison guard named Robert Fletcher, claims he bought the painting directly from the now super famous Scottish painter Peter Doig for $100--when Doig was an inmate at Thunder Bay Correctional Facility in Canada. But Doig says he has never been incarcerated and has never been to Thunder Bay. But he does admit to heavy LSD use in 1976, and can't account for his whereabouts then--just that he was "probably in Toronto, working on oil rigs in western Canada, or traveling outside the country." Doig and his lawyers claim the painting is by another artist with the amazingly similar name of Peter Doige... keep reading.

Curio No. 1090 | What's in a (hurricane) name?
Happy hurricane season (not really). This year people with the common names Alex, Julia, Karl, and Nicole are at risk of forever being associated with a deadly natural disaster. Why do we name hurricanes, anyway? According to the National Hurricane Center, it's about minimizing errors and facilitating communication. Otherwise, meteorologists and government officials would have to call it "Tropical Storm 6, 2016, North Atlantic." "Hurricane Alex" is much easier for communication between weather stations and naval ships; plus, research has shown people take threats more seriously from named storms. The practice of naming hurricanes began in the 19th century when Caribbean storms were named after the saint's day on which they occurred... keep reading.

Curio No. 1089 | Spreading the debate
It's election season in the US, which means it is also debate season. The often content-free and personally contentious political debates on TV are much more juvenile than competitions between high school debate teams. In fact, the two have almost nothing in common. That's because debate teams are judged on their use of actual facts. The most common high school debate competition is called a cross-examination or CX debate. It pits two teams of two people against each other, on opposing sides of a given topic. Judges are more concerned with content than delivery. And opponents must address each argument in a rebuttal. So the more you say--as long as it's factually accurate--the better your chances are of winning... keep reading.

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