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December 28, 2006

What the BBC News learned this year
Posted by Teresa at 09:33 AM * 32 comments

This is another year-end roundup. The BBC News magazine has a regular feature called “10 Things We Didn’t Know Last Week,” which are factoids gleaned from news stories. They’re currently running their hundred favorite of these factoids from the past year. Some of my favorites of their favorites:

Just 20 words make up a third of teenagers’ everyday speech. :: Technology analysts estimate that there are 200 million blogs which are no longer being updated. :: Urban birds have developed a shorter, faster style of singing. :: The lion costume in The Wizard of Oz was made from real lions. :: Halloween spending has risen tenfold in the UK over the last five years. :: Up to 25% of hospital keyboards harbor the MRSA “superbug” staph infection. :: More than one in eight adults in the US are being classified as internet addicts. (Hmmmmmmf.) :: Over 90% of airplane crashes have some survivors. :: Eating a packet of potato chips a day is the equivalent of drinking five litres of cooking oil a year. :: Scientists at Kew Gardens have been getting 200-year-old seeds to germinate. :: The full name of Barbie (as in the doll) is Barbie Millicent Roberts. :: The part of the brain associated with teenage sulking is called the superior temporal sulcus. :: There’s only one cheddar cheese manufacturer left in Cheddar. :: Mount Everest averages one death per ten successful ascents. :: While 53% of UK households have garages, only 24% use them for parking cars. :: Cows have regional accents. :: “Time” is the most common noun in English. :: A determined housecat can tree a bear. :: The egg came first. :: Humans were first infected with the HIV virus in the 1930s. :: Teenagers are behaving better than their counterparts did twenty years ago. :: According to George Bush, his personal high point while in office has so far consisted of catching a large perch. :: Britain is still paying off pre-Napoleonic War debts because it’s cheaper to do so than buy back the bonds on which they’re based. :: The Labour Party spent £299.63 on Star Trek outfits for the last election, while the Tories shelled out £1,269 to import groundhog costumes from the US. :: Back in the 1960s, the CIA used to watch Mission Impossible to get ideas about spying.
Comments on What the BBC News learned this year:
#1 ::: Tom S. ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2006, 11:22 AM:

Fun list. But the main link isn't permanent (it goes to the letters section now). Try this one instead:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/magazinemonitor/2006/12/100_things_we_didnt_know_last_2.shtml

#2 ::: Joe J ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2006, 11:47 AM:

Internet addiction? Hmmm. Maybe I should get back to work (if I can, that is).

#3 ::: Chryss ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2006, 11:55 AM:

Let's keep that info about determined cats treeing bears away from my little guy Myrddin, OK? He's already walking around like a bad-ass, I don't need him deciding to take on a bear.

#4 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2006, 12:03 PM:

Thanks, Tom. All fixed now.

#5 ::: DaveL ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2006, 12:15 PM:

The "20 words = 1/3 of speech" thing seems to be more or less true of English in general. Teenagers may have an impoverished vocabulary, but that statistic doesn't prove it.

The frequency of words appearing tails off really rapidly. What the BBC really wanted to look at was the size of their "use" vocabularies.

See Language Log for more on this than you can imagine.

#6 ::: David Wald ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2006, 12:26 PM:

In addition to Language Log, I recommend Ben Goldacre's Guardian column Bad Science. He often targets sponsored "studies" like the 20-words bit, most recently on the 16th.

Following the money: "Tesco, which commissioned the report, said it was responding by launching a scheme which allows all UK comprehensive schools to interact and communicate with other schools around the country using its internet phone technology."

#7 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2006, 12:49 PM:

Now I'm wondering when a rapper is going to call himself 'Tom Tit'.

#8 ::: racy li ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2006, 03:31 PM:

Ha! I love the note about the pre-Napoleonic war debts.

#9 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2006, 03:31 PM:

"A geneticist, a philosopher and a chicken farmer" really, really ought to be the subject of a joke. But the best I can think of is the old "is this some kind of joke?" joke.

#10 ::: Chris Clarke ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2006, 03:42 PM:

Um, the BBC seems to be a bit slow on the uptake. Biologists have known of antegallinic eggs for more than a century. Not that saying so in this venue is anything but playing Captain Obvious.

#11 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2006, 03:48 PM:

Chryss @ 3 - The cat in question is from New Jersey, and is a known associate of the Genovese crime family. Unless little Myrddin has been hanging out with an unsavory crowd, you don't have much to worry about.

#12 ::: Chryss ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2006, 04:27 PM:

Larry, #11: Well we're pretty convinced Myrddin has clandestine poker parties when we're gone, and has some debts he's not telling us about, but I don't think he's actually involved with any Mafia family. On the other hand, I'm not willing to discount anything...the wee beastie's not well.

Handsome, yes; vain, most definitely; but really quite disturbed.

#13 ::: murgatroyd ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2006, 04:28 PM:

"A determined housecat can tree a bear."

After today, this doesn't surprise me -- one of my cats went to the vet for a quick visit, no needles, no thermometers, nothing invasive, just a once-over and a prescription. Easy, until some odor in the examining room (no doubt from a previous patient) got him agitated.

A hissing, yowling, 15-pound cat with all his claws and teeth is a fearsome thing (and not at all kind to eardrums in a confined space).

A tree to climb would have been a blessing. Maybe I'll suggest it the next time I'm there ...

#14 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2006, 05:18 PM:

A determined housecat can tree a bear.

In the spirit of Xopher's noble effort in another thread to hold in the "But I have a boyfriend for that!" comment, I have--until now--refrained from mentioning what that could do for Kitten Poker.

#15 ::: Jen Roth ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2006, 07:57 PM:

Language Log weighs in on several of these news items.

#16 ::: Silverfox ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2006, 04:25 AM:

I thought it was old news that teenage girls tend to develop faster than teenage boys and therefore start dating sooner. So yes, it's the logical conclusion that they'd be dating older boys, but I don't see how that's news.

#17 ::: Virge ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2006, 04:50 AM:

"90. The Himalayas cover one-tenth of the Earth's surface."
What? By my estimates it's more like a tenth of a percent. The whole of Asia only covers 8.6% of the Earth's total surface. (I couldn't check their reference since the bbc site won't stream to non-UK locations.)

#18 ::: Andrew Brown ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2006, 05:18 AM:

The BBC web science coverage is notorious for tabloid bullshit. We should all be ashamed of it in this country, and certainly not take seriously anything it reports.

#19 ::: Grant Barrett ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2006, 07:41 AM:

LanguageLog has more or less debunked all of the langauge-related factoids on the BBC's list.

#20 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2006, 08:40 AM:

Well, next time the chicken/egg debate comes up, now I'll know the answer.

#21 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2006, 10:00 AM:

Well, next time the chicken/egg debate comes up, now I'll know the answer.

You didn't already?

The chicken and the egg are in bed, and the egg rolls over and lights a cigarette. The chicken says, "Well, I guess that answers that question."

#22 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2006, 10:17 AM:

The full name of Barbie (as in the doll) is Barbie Millicent Roberts.

Then Millicent (?!) meets the cat who can tree a bear and I find myself thinking of Quentin Tarantino making a movie out of that.

#23 ::: Georgiana ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2006, 10:18 AM:

Mount Everest averages one death per ten successful ascents.

They're saying it's safer than it used to be? In the early 90's I read that you only had a one in eight chance of getting through the Khumbu ice falls. I actually had an Everest video game back in the day and my son's character got squashed by a serac 20 times in a row, at which point he gave up in disgust...

#24 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2006, 10:54 AM:

Virge: as I read the language, the Himalayas cover 1/10 off the land, not 1/10 of the surface -- hardly surprising, since the surface is ~70% water.

Georgianna: are the Khumbu ice falls on all of the multiple approaches to the summit? Note also that a video game is hardly a good metric; if they were easy, they'd be used up too quickly. Cf the Steve Jackson (text) version of MCFI's con-running game, in which your chance of winning a worldcon bid is \much/ less than in real life.

#25 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2006, 12:16 PM:

The BBC web science coverage is notorious for tabloid bullshit. We should all be ashamed of it in this country, and certainly not take seriously anything it reports.

Did Rupert Murdoch buy it, too?

#26 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2006, 03:42 PM:

Paula #25: no, it's just that these days they just see themselves as being in competition with Murdoch, rather than setting standards.

Which makes things so much more convenient for the government ...

#27 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2006, 03:50 PM:

#21 the egg rolls over and lights a cigarette

Oh, I forgot that one. Yep. that's a good one too.

#28 ::: Avedon ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2006, 07:25 PM:

I saw on the news tonight that Britain just paid off it's WWII debt. Still haven't paid off WWI, but no one seems to be collecting.

#29 ::: Virge ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2006, 07:41 PM:

CHip #24: "as I read the language, the Himalayas cover 1/10 off the land, not 1/10 of the surface -- hardly surprising, since the surface is ~70% water."

Accounting for land versus total surface only makes a difference of a factor of ~3. They're out by a factor of ~100. Has anyone seen the bbc nature show from which they supposedly extracted their factoid?

#30 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2006, 10:25 PM:

Georgiana@23: Are you sure that wasn't a one in eight chance of dying in the Khumbu, and a 7/8 chance of getting through?

I've just recently read Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air, and he has a harrowing description of passing through them...but not that harrowing. (The Discovery Channel miniseries Everest: Beyond the Limit, by contrast, pretty much glosses right over them.)

(I also watched the movie based on Krakauer's book. After experiencing all this stuff about climbing Everest, I've made a resolution: I'm never doing that.)

#31 ::: rams ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2006, 11:09 AM:

And Krakauer made the point that while the debacle he was part of was horrific, given the increased number of people allowed to climb Everest annually, it was statictically right on the money. More climbers, more deaths.

#32 ::: Spherical Time ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2007, 05:26 AM:

The only one that got me to click was Barbie's full name, but my favorite of these is Bush's fishing fortitude.

Thanks for bringing this to my attention.

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