Weird Science: Fracking Oil Spills; Honor Students Love Weed; Your Spinal Cord Determines Handedness

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Weird Science: Fracking Oil Spills; Honor Students Love Weed; Your Spinal Cord Determines Handedness

This Week in Weird Science: We learn that honor roll students say no to tobacco, but yes to weed and alcohol. In a surprising study that your congressman probably doesn’t want you to read, it’s revealed that fracking causes significantly more oil spills than previously imagined. We’re talking, like, 6,000 more spills, and that’s only in four states. And, finally, science answers why you’re left or right-handed.


Honor roll students don’t smoke cigarettes, but they like weed and boozing.

That’s right, a British study has found that the smartest teenagers tend not to smoke, but they are boozehounds and use cannabis.

The study examined 6,000 children, whose behavior was then tracked from ages 11 to 19. To accomplish this, they evaluated the participants’ “academic intelligence” using national test scores for English, math and science, and then they cross these numbers with a series of questionnaires that monitored the children’s consumption of cigarettes, alcohol and weed. FYI: Getting drunk more than 52 times a year was what the researchers considered “hazardous.”

The smartest pupils, aged 13 to 17, were more likely to say they used cannabis, with the brightest pupils being 50 percent more likely to partake occasionally and twice as likely to use the substance on the reg.

Between the ages of 18 and 20, the smarties were more than twice as likely to drink regularly, compared to those with lower academic abilities, though high-level drinking was linked to a lower risk of “hazardous” drinking—it’s all about moderation, people, eight’s enough.

On the down side, though, the team also noticed a link between these patterns and their persistence into adulthood. That said, this could also be caused by external factors like, say, using your intelligence to see the failures of the world, which then drives you to pounding nine Dirty Shirley Temples at a divey karaoke bar.


Shocker, there’s a fucking correlation between fracking and oil spills.

Here’s something your congressman may not want you to hear: Fracking causes a fuck-ton of oil spills. A massive study out of the SNAP Partnership uncovered 6,648 spills, in just four states over a ten-year period, from hydraulically fractured oil and gas—the drilling process also known as “fracking.”

Up to 16 percent of fracking wells spill liquids every year, according to the new research, with the most problems reported in oil-rich North Dakota where 67 percent of the study’s spills were reported.

“This study provides important insights into the frequency, volume, and cause of spills,” said Lauren Patterson, policy associate at Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions and the study’s lead author. “State spill data holds great promise for risk identification and mitigation. However, reporting requirements differ across states, requiring considerable effort to make the data usable for analysis.”

North Dakota reported 4,453 incidents, followed by Pennsylvania at 1,293, Colorado at 476 and New Mexico at 426. Part of this massive inconsistency reflects the reporting requirements set by each state. For example, North Dakota required reporting even the smallest of spills (42 gallons or more) where as Colorado and New Mexico give a little more leeway (210 gallons or more).

“As this form of energy production increases, state efforts to reduce spill risk could benefit from making data more uniform and accessible to better provide stakeholders with important information on where to target efforts for locating and preventing future spills,” Patterson added.

Perhaps the most alarming statistic is that the study exceeds—by more than 6,000—the 457 spills calculated by the EPA for eight states (double!) between 2006 and 2012. Their analysis only considered the actual “fracking” stage, rather than the life cycle of the production.

“Understanding spills at all stages of well development is important because preparing for hydraulic fracturing requires the transport of more materials to and from well sites and storage of these materials on site,” Patterson said. “Investigating all stages helps to shed further light on the spills that can occur at all types of wells—not just unconventional ones.”


Your spinal cord, not your brain, may determine if you’re left or right handed.

The human brain controls virtually everything we do, from breathing to walking to devouring Taco Bell at 4:00 a.m. So you’d assume the brain would control your dominant hand. Wrong. New research out of Ruhr-Universität Bochum in Germany suggests that left or right-handedness is determined in the spinal cord, not in the brain.

So how the Hell can the brain control everything we do, but it can’t control with which hand I prefer devouring Cheetos? The team of biopsychologists noticed that gene activity in the spinal cord is asymmetrical already in the womb, and they think that this preference for left or right hand might be traced back to that asymmetry.

“These results fundamentally change our understanding of the cause of hemispheric asymmetries,” conclude the authors.

To date, it had long-been assumed that differences in gene activity of the right and left hemisphere of the brain might be responsible for a person’s handedness. A 1980s study had already concluded that this preference develops in the womb from the eighth week of pregnancy, and, by the thirteenth week, babies already have a “thumb of choice” when it comes to sucking.

The researchers analyzed the gene expression in the spinal cord during these decisive weeks of pregnancy. During this period, they detected marked left-right differences—specifically in the same spinal cord segments that control movement of the arms and legs. The team thinks that epigenetic factors are at the crux of the decision—simply a reflection of environmental influences. Still, if epigenetic factors are at the root of the cause, then does that Satan has already infiltrated the bodies future-lefties well-before birth?

Top photo by Johan Viirok CC BY 2.0

Tommy Burson is a travel writer, part-time hitchhiker, and he’s currently trying to imitate Where in the World is Carmen San Diego but with more sunscreen and jorts.