The Water Cooler: Meaningless Sarah Palin Poll

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

Updated 11:05 p.m. ET

VITAL SIGNS:  Dow Watch * Aspirin a Day? Not!

YIKES!: "Either the Chinese knew that their Shenzhou would close to a fair distance of the ISS, and their picosat would get even closer, or they did not. Neither should be reassuring." — Dean Cheng, Senior Asia Analyst with CNA on a controversial close pass of a Chinese satellite to the International Space Station

OVER AND OUT: Major Newspapers to Drop AP Feed

:( Last Titanic Survivor Sells Mementos To Pay Bills

Palin Poll Hijacked

Polls are often flawed. But the most skewed are those taken online by sites that have left- or right-leaning audiences. In a twist to the meaninglessness, an online poll being taken by PBS asks if Sarah Palin is ready to become vice president. Rumor is conservatives got wind of the poll and are flooding it with their views, and now people on both sides of the aisle are sending emails to friends encouraging them to vote. As of today, 52 million votes have been cast, but many involved individuals voting multiple times. Now the real kicker: The poll is old, having been posted Sept. 5 and since decommissioned, sort of. "It's no longer a page that the online user can navigate to using menus, but hundreds of thousands of unique visitors are still accessing the poll and voting," says PBS Now's Executive Producer John Siceloff. For the record, right now it's a 49-49 split.

TODAY'S TALKER: Negative Ads Don't Work This Time

In one of many acrimonious moments in last night's debate, Barack Obama and John McCain both accused each other, rather ironically, of negative campaigning. You're the worst! No, you're the worst! The only question that matters: Does it work? The short answer: Yes, at least at arousing fear and anxiety. Meanwhile, a majority of Americans (55 percent) now say that the campaign is too negative, according to a Pew Research Center poll released today. A month ago just 43 percent said so. FULL STORY >>>

DUH! DEPT.: > Recession Might Hurt

FINAL FRONTIER: Out-of-this-world Coffee Maker

Concrete Idea for the Moon

Plans for putting astronauts back on the moon may be nebulous, but Houssam Toutanji, a professor at The University of Alabama, has a concrete idea for building structures if we ever do go. On Earth, concrete is a key construction material, but it requires water, of which there is probably very little on the moon. So Toutanji has worked out a waterless concrete formula that uses lunar soil as the aggregate and sulfur as a binding agent. The idea is detailed this month in Civil Engineering magazine. Another formula for moon concrete that would use moon dust, carbon nanotubes and epoxies was announced earlier this year.

THREE WORDS: Gordon Brown, Gordon Brown, Gordon Brown. Remember them as you read:

*** DON'T GO THERE: What readers are saying about this American Knowledge (or lack thereof) story: Most Americans don't know anything about foreign countries, and don't care. ... Unfortunately, I think more people read the National Enquirer than the Atlantic or The New Yorker. ... Politics is so boring.

Whadda You Know? (Probably not as much as you think.)

A new study looked at 103 other studies on how much people know vs. what they think they know. "Overall, our results suggest that people are not overly knowledgeable regarding how knowledgeable they are," Jay P. Carlson of Union University and colleagues write in the February 2009 issue of the Journal of Consumer Research. They found people are very good at deceiving themselves about their own knowledge.

A similar study in 2005, in the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest, reached the same conclusion. In that case, researchers warned: "The work world is full of overconfidence and flawed self-knowledge as well. Employees underestimate how long they will take to complete tasks. And CEOs and entrepreneurs are famously (sometimes disastrously) overconfident in making business decisions." In fact, self-deception creeps into decision-making all the time, as we pretend we are right, no matter what.

Ben Franklin knew all this. "There are three things extremely hard: steel, a diamond, and to know one's self," he once wrote.

Interestingly, another study, published yesterday in Journal of Neuroscience, finds people with autism-related disorders are less likely to make irrational decisions and are less influenced by gut instincts. "People with autism tended to be more consistent in their pattern of choices, their greater attention to detail perhaps helping them avoid being swayed by their emotions," said researcher Neil Harrison with the Wellcome Trust.

So ... What do you think is the best way to make decisions? Our contradictory archives suggest:


FINAL WORD: Presidential Promises (or lack thereof)

If you think Barack Obama's political messages have been a little vague, you might be right, although last night's debate seemed to bring out the specifics in both candidates. Anyway, vagueness might have made sense up to now. Hakkyum Kim of Concordia University and colleagues did a series of studies and concluded that relatively uninformed voters respond more positively to abstract notions (hope, change, judgment) than the sorts of detailed proposals that came from John Edwards and Hillary Clinton during the Democratic primaries. The researchers liken the effect to blissful thoughts of sun and sand associated with a Cancun vacation planned for a few months out, as compared to the concrete ponderings of boarding passes and taxi cabs as departure time nears. Details to be published in the April 2009 issue of the Journal of Consumer Research (The Water Cooler likes to look ahead).

<<< YESTERDAY'S COOLER: A Religiosity Scorecard

The Water Cooler is updated throughout the day each weekday on LiveScience. Access each new version from the Home Page. See something we should be talking about? Email The Water Cooler or chime in below.

Robert Roy Britt

Robert is an independent health and science journalist and writer based in Phoenix, Arizona. He is a former editor-in-chief of Live Science with over 20 years of experience as a reporter and editor. He has worked on websites such as and Tom's Guide, and is a contributor on Medium, covering how we age and how to optimize the mind and body through time. He has a journalism degree from Humboldt State University in California.