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The Water Cooler: Good and Bad News for Religion

What people are talking about in the world of science and beyond. [Water Cooler Archive]

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Americans Stumped by 3 Simple Questions: Do you know a) which party controls the House of Reps; b) who is Secretary of State; c) who is Prime minister of Great Britain? Only 18 percent got all three correct. People who read The New Yorker fared better than watchers of Hannity & Colmes, who beat fans of the Colbert Report and the Daily Show. Yes, you must read the full Pew survey results.

TODAY'S TALKER No. 1: A Religiosity Scorecard

GOOD: (RELIGIOUS HIGH): Religious involvement makes teens half as likely to use marijuana, according to a new study in the Journal of Drug Issues. Curbs smoking and heavy drinking, too. The findings were based on two separate previous studies of more than 13,534 students nationwide and 4,983 in Utah."The protective effect of church and spirituality supplements the influence of parents," the researchers figure. It's also about reducing peer pressure. "The power of peers is less among youths who are religious," said Brigham Young University sociology professor Stephen Bahr. "Meaning if you are religious, the pressure from peers to use drugs will not have as much effect."

BAD: (HOLY COW!) In a study of 293 Christian church members who approached their church for help with a personal or family member's diagnosed mental illness, Baylor University researchers found that more than 32 percent were told by their pastor that they or their loved one did not really have a mental illness, but that the problem was solely spiritual in nature. [STORY]

THE UPSHOT: Several studies have revealed the benefits of religiosity. In a nutshell, going to church makes people breathe easier and live longer, boosts student grades, and makes kids happier and sometimes more well behaved. Researchers typically site the social benefits of religion as a main reason, in that a person finds friends and others to rely on. On the downside, faith in prayer has been known to cause the death of children; extreme spirituality sometimes leads to cults, and one study found that non-voters have it in their minds that it's all in God's hands.

*** DON'T GO THERE: What readers are saying about the pastor story: Wow, this really is an unsettling report. *** Amazing the short-sightedness of the Clergy. *** As someone who grew up in an ultra conservative church environment, this sounds all too familiar, and isn't really news to me. ***

End of Capitalism?

AFP reports: "Iranian leaders say the world financial crisis indicates the end of capitalism, the failure of liberal democracy and divine punishment -- marking the superiority of the Islamic republic's political model." We report: Rhetoric aside, America may indeed emerge from the current crisis with a reduced capacity to lead, part of what many analysts envision as an emerging multi-polar world financial system that could, coupled with reduced investment in science & tech, put U.S. superpower status in jeopardy. Meanwhile, President Bush promised that the government's outright investment (which means ownership) in U.S. bank stocks is "not intended to take over the free market but to preserve it." The Independent put it this way: "Almost without any thought, the actions usher in a new and unpredictable era in American capitalism." (How'd we get into this mess, anyway?) UPDATE: Prime Minister Gordon Brown of Great Britain said today he wants dozens of world leaders to meet and rewrite the rules of international capitalism.

Light's Out, Thomas Edison

European officials have banned regular light bulbs starting in 2010. The old incandescent bulbs consume up to five times more energy than newfangled compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs). Some have sought a similar ban in the United States. One nagging issue: The greener lamps pack toxic mercury. Ciao, Edison!

*** SPOTTED: Blogger Ashley Cox generated a list of the World's Maddest Scientists with compelling criteria including "the pursuit of science without assessing its destructive or ethical implications." We've got our own Top 10 list here for anyone screwing off at work enough to read both. ***

TODAY'S TALKER No. 2: Time for a 4-day Work Week?

Whatever happened to the four-day work week? A few companies have tried it out over the past 30 years or so, but most of us are still clocking in five or more. Wouldn't now, with the economy supposedly in the tank anyway, be a good time to make the switch (notwithstanding the fact that everyone is screwing off at work too much)?

"If a company decides to run on a four-day schedule, partner organizations and/or customers operating on the traditional five-day work week may be inconvenienced," Eric Patton, Ph.D., an assistant professor of management at Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia, said yesterday. Workers get exhausted by the long days and productivity often drops, he said. "The four-day work week should not be a knee-jerk reaction based on desire to reduce costs in the short term."

The five-day work week stems from the 1938 passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act, which legislated against child labor and sets overtime rates for workers clocking more than 40 hours (which came on the heels of Industrialization, whereby repetitive tasks and machines came to mean long hours in the factory; in 1870, there were also 750,000 workers under age 15). After World War II, it became the norm, Patton explained. (Other countries have different schedules.) Anyway, your future: work, work, work.

Dead Zones Come Alive

Common wisdom is that oceanic dead zones, caused largely by agricultural runoff are, well, dead. But Brown University researcher Andrew Altieri has found that the commercially valuable quahog clam thrives in a dead zone (where oxygen is severely depleted by algae blooms) in Narragansett Bay, one of the largest estuaries on the U.S. East Coast. Why? partly because the clam’s predators flee the low-oxygen areas.

OUT THERE ...

WAY BACK: "I'd like to live to see a black manager. I'd like to live to see the day when there's a black man coaching at third base." That was Jackie Robinson in a pregame interview on this date in 1972, when he threw out the ceremonial first pitch at the second game of the World Series, to commemorate the 25th anniversary of his becoming the first African-American to play in modern Major League Baseball. He did get his wish. Nine days later, on Oct. 24, 1972, Robinson died of a heart attack at his home in Stamford, Connecticut. He was 53. The first black baseball manager, Frank Robinson, was hired in 1975 by the Cleveland Indians.

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