Science briefs: At age 62, albatross produces a chick

  • Updated: February 16, 2013 - 5:58 PM
At age 62, albatross produces a chick

She is described as awesome. And maybe a little weird. She is the world's oldest known living wild bird at age 62, and she gave birth to a healthy chick.

It's pretty amazing that Wisdom, named by scientists who stuck a tag on her ankle years ago, has lived this long. The average Laysan albatross dies at less than half her age. Scientists thought that, like other birds, albatross females became infertile late in life and carried on without producing chicks.

But Wisdom, who hatched the chick at the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge in the Pacific Ocean, defies comparison. Wisdom has raised chicks five times since 2006 and as many as 35 in her lifetime. Just as astonishing, she has likely flown up to 3 million miles since she was first tagged in 1956, according to scientists who have tracked her at the U.S. Geological Survey.

Brain shape may play role in addiction

Why are some people able to use cocaine without becoming addicted? A study suggests the answer may lie in the shape of their brains.

Sporadic cocaine users tend to have a larger frontal lobe, a region associated with self-control, while cocaine addicts are more likely to have small frontal lobes, according to the study published in the journal Biological Psychiatry.

Scientists at the University of Cambridge collected brain scans and personality tests from people who had used cocaine over several years -- some addicted, some not. While the nonaddicts shared a penchant for risk-taking behavior, the increased gray matter seemed to help them resist addiction by exerting more self-control and making more advantageous decisions. "They could take it or leave it," said Karen Ersche, the lead author.

The researchers believe the differences in brain shape predated the drug use rather than occurring as a result of it.

Some intriguing new clues about girls

For years -- and especially since 2005, when Lawrence Summers, then president of Harvard, made his notorious comments about women's aptitude -- researchers have been searching for ways to explain why there are so many more men than women in the top ranks of science.

Now comes an intriguing clue, in the form of a test given in 65 developed countries by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). It finds that among a representative sample of 15-year-olds around the world, girls generally outperform boys in science -- but not in the United States.

What explains the gap? Andreas Schleicher, who oversees the tests for the OECD, says different countries offer different incentives for learning science and math. In the United States, he said, boys are more likely than girls to "see science as something that affects their life."

Then there is the "stereotype threat."

"We see that very early in childhood -- around age 4 -- gender roles in occupations appear to be formed," said Christianne Corbett, co-author of the 2010 report "Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math." "Women are less likely to go into science careers, although they are clearly capable of succeeding."

Researchers say these cultural forces are strong in the United States, Britain and Canada but far less pervasive in Russia, Asia and the Middle East, which have a much higher proportion of women in science and engineering.

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