It's Thursday, the weather is gorgeous, and I'm stuck indoors writing up the latest issue of The Filtrate, because I care about you, reader. I assume there's at least one of you, right? If there isn't, don't tell me.

In a few months we'll all be stuck indoors in this part of the world, because winter will set in. Like many species, jumping mice (Zapus hudsonius) have evolved an elegant way to avoid the whole mess of snow, ice, and driveway shoveling: hibernation. Now some researchers have developed a new tool for studying this fascinating adaptation. Using a cheap single-board Raspberry Pi computer and some off-the-shelf sensors, they're able to log the animals' behavior, body temperature, and other parameters non-invasively all winter. It's just like what Amazon and Google do with those smart speakers, right?

Speaking of careful monitoring, it seems we need to keep closer track of where our gas is going. A new study found that major US cities are emitting twice as much methane as scientists had thought. The vast majority of the emissions seem to be coming from leaks in natural gas lines and devices, or "fugitive natural gas losses," as the researchers say in their paper. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, so fixing those leaks should probably be a high priority. There. I made it through that whole summary without making a fart joke.

Of course I know plenty of fart jokes, but they all stink. If this was an audio production and I had a laugh track, you'd have thought that was funny. At least, that's what this important new study suggests. The investigators told bad one-liners to subjects, with or without a laugh track, and found that the latter group found the jokes funnier. The effect persisted with autistic subjects, which is interesting because they tend to process social cues differently. Be sure to check the supplemental data for a complete list of the experimental jokes. No kidding.

In slightly less funny news, the CDC published another in their irregular series of reviews of eating establishments. This time they rated an event center in Nebraska, which hosted a series of memorable weddings in autumn of 2017. It seems a late October event there included "a public vomiting episode." No word on whether the videographer caught it, but the carpet certainly did, and the anonymous hurler's norovirus was probably aerosolized by a vacuum cleaner shortly thereafter. It then sickened over 150 people at subsequent events, until a specialized decontamination company sanitized the place. I guess it follows the old formula: something old, something new, something borrowed, someone spewed.

The next item caught my attention for its unintentionally humorous abstract, which has copyediting comments left intact, but then the topic drew me in. We've all heard the old recommendation to drink at least eight glasses of water a day. From the billions of plastic water bottles piling up in landfills, people seem to have taken that to heart even though the evidence behind it is weak. That's why it was good to see a thorough analysis of the complexity of the issue, and data-driven recommendations that take the nuances into account. 20 milliliters of plain water per kilogram of body weight per day seems to be a good general guide, though "drink when you're thirsty" is easier to calculate and probably works about as well for most people.

We'll close this week's issue with a policy question that isn't asked often enough: what is it worth to prevent a disease outbreak? It varies a lot, and people seldom do the calculation, but if we're talking about the chikungunya virus outbreak that hit the US Virgin Islands in 2014-15, the answer is between $14.8 million and $33.4 million. That figure only includes direct medical expenses and missed work days due to illness, so it doesn't account for indirect costs such as lost revenue from tourists avoiding the area. Still, it's about 1% of the islands' gross domestic product. That would've bought a lot of bug spray.

That's it for this week. As always, if you want to comment on a story covered here, you can reach me through Twitter.

Previous Post