Discovered: An autism myth based on a myth, debunked; a link between frackin and an earthquake; the key to more effective math classes; desert "fairy circles" explained.
Autism not caused by too many vaccinations. The notion that vaccinating infants causes autism — a belief based on a debunked scholarly article published in 1998 — remains fairly widespread. (About 25 percent of parents believe that vaccines place their children at risk of developing the neurological disorder.) One version of this myth, that obtaining too many vaccines at too early an age somehow compound into autism, has now been debunked by several Ohio doctors. "The possibility that immunological stimulation from vaccines during the first 1 or 2 years of life could be related to the development of ASD is not well-supported by what is known about the neurobiology of ASDs," the doctors wrote. [Journal of Pediatrics]
Oil production may have caused earthquake in Oklahoma. In a scene out of Jonathan Franzen's 1992 novel Strong Motion, scientists in Oklahoma report that the most significant earthquake in the Midwestern state's history "was likely triggered by the injection of wastewater from oil production into wells deep beneath the earth" — a practice associated with hydraulic fracturing, the controversial method of obtaining natural gas from sedimentary rock. "As pressure builds in these disposal wells, it pushes up against geological faults, sometimes causing them to rupture, setting off an earthquake," National Geographic writes. Even worse, such earthquakes can occur years after the fracturing begins. A 2011 earthquake "took place after wastewater injection had been occurring at the wells for more than 17 years." [National Geographic]
Gestures help students absorb math lessons. It sounds specious, but teachers who gesture during math lessons help their student absorb a lesson's key principles better than teachers who do not move their arms and hands around. A group of child psychologists had groups of children watch two videos of an instructor teaching a math problem, one in which the teacher gestured, and another in which the children heard only the teacher speaking. "The problem involved mathematical equivalence (i.e., 4+5+7=__+7), which is known to be critical to later algebraic learning. ... Students who learned from the gesture videos performed better on a test given immediately afterward than those who learned from the speech-only video." [Child Development]
'Fairy circles' are caused by termites. For decades, 'fairy rings' — round, bald patches appearing, without rhyme or reason, in grassy areas of southwestern Africa — have flummoxed scientists. But according to a German researcher named Norbert Juergens, the patches are caused by Psammotermes allocerus, a kind of sand termite, which consumes vegetation shortly after rainfalls, leaving the round patches behind. "Once generated, the circles collect water, which sustains the growth of perennial vegetation at the edges of the circles, allowing for long-term persistence of the termites," according to a précis of the study. That's a lot less exciting than other theories put forth throughout the years — including supernatural beings, mysterious gasses, and toxic plants. [Science]
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