Stuff YOU Should Know

Posted by on Jan 24, 2016 in Stuff You Should Know

U.S. Soldiers Held in Iran

On the heels of the historic deal between the United States and Iran, the U.S. has found itself in the middle of a military mishap. On January 12, ten American members of the U.S. Navy illegally sailed into territorial waters. The boats were allegedly en route on a 300-mile journey, from Kuwait to Bahrain (in international waters). The boats were intercepted by Iranian military and the U.S. sailors were escorted at gunpoint to nearby Farsi Island, where they were detained for fifteen hours and released unharmed.

Conflicting details as to what caused the two 49-foot patrol boats to verve off their intended course have surfaced. Some reports suggest mechanical failure, while others have cited a navigational error. Secretary of State John Kerry negotiated the release with Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif. The crew members were reportedly young, junior enlisted soldiers. The lieutenant made a formal apology, which was likely intended to defuse a potentially hostile situation. One senior Defense official called the story, “frankly embarrassing.”

Dig Deeper A “Navy command investigation” was initiated on January 14. Check to see if any new details have been released. Also, find out if this incident has affected (positive of negative) the United States’ diplomatic relationship with Iran.

2015 Word of the Year: They

children's magnetic letters

Photo Credit: L. Mouton / PhotoAlto

The American Dialect Society (ADS) is a membership-based organization based around the study of the English language, most particularly in North America. Each year, the group choses a “word of the year,” based on nominations it receives from its members. For a word to be considered, it must meet certain criteria: it must be new or “newly popular” in the year in question, and be “indicative or reflective of the popular discourse.” Many types of written or spoken communication may be considered, including phrases, emojis and hashtags.

At its most recent annual conference, the ADS chose the gender-neutral singular pronoun, “they,” as its 2015 Word of the Year. While the term has become popular in the LGBT community as a gender-neutral pronoun, the singular use of the word “they” can be traced back to the works of Shakespeare and Jane Austen. The ADS also chooses highlights a number of other words under the categories: Most Useful, Most Creative, Most Unnecessary, and Most Likely to Succeed.

What Do You Think? Winners from previous years include: snail mail (1990), Y2K (1999), truthiness (2005) and #blacklivesmatter (2014). In 2000, the ADS chose “jazz” as its word of the 20th Century. Go to, browse their list of words and pick out a few that interest or amuse you. Explain your choices.

Does Prettier Equal “Smarter”?

Researchers at the Metropolitan State University of Denver conducted a study where they tried to predict the academic outcomes of students based on perceived attractiveness. Participants rated student ID photographs on a 1 to 10 scale (to allow for variations based on grooming and hair and clothing choices). These judgments were compared to the students’ grades as reflected on their student records.

In general, women who were rated as having “below average appearance” had significantly worse grade outcomes than those who weren’t. This was not true of the male participants, who saw little difference. There was also a variation in whether the instructor is male or female and if the class is small or large. The key finding of the study was the fact that the grades of classes taken online did not reflect this disparity. The researchers in interpret this data to mean that discrimination is more of a factor in why attractive people seem to perform better in college classes. This seems to indicate good news for those attempting to compete in academic environments where appearance is significantly less of a factor.

What Do You Think? Some may argue that good-looking students have more confidence and that confidence leads to better performance in the classroom. What do you think about this assertion? Provide details, either personal or based on your own research.

Do Brain Games Really Help Your Brain?

Perhaps you’ve seen the advertisements about “guaranteed ways” to increase your memory and ward off cognitive decline. They have become more popular among a growing aging population and those concerned with developing dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. One of the most visible companies has been Lumosity, a research company that provides online training games designed to improve attention span, enhance problem solving and improve memory. Studies regarding the effectiveness of company’s services, however, have had mixed results.

In response to consumer complaints against Lumosity, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) filed a lawsuit against Lumos Labs (the parent company). The suit alleged “unfair or deceptive acts or practices and false advertisements,” as defined by the FTC Act. Lumos Labs settled out of court, agreeing to stop making cognition and health claims. On the other hands, there is evidence to suggest that some types of training can be effective in improving cognitive function. Determining the types and for which demographic is likely to be a topic of debate for some time.

Dig Deeper This case was part of the FTC’s long term effort to, “crack down on cognitive products.” Do some research and find out other significant cases brought by the FTC and their effect on a particular industry.