News and culture through the lens of Southern California.
Hosted by
Environment & Science

Lab notes: How failure can be good, what typing says about you and which animal might have super hearing

Two African elephants living in captivity ... could they hear everything we say about them?
Two African elephants living in captivity ... could they hear everything we say about them?
Photo by Simczuk / Kasia via Flickr Creative Commons

Listen to story

Download this story 2MB

Why admitting a scientific failure can be a good thing, can a computer sense your mood, and which animal might have super hearing? These are some of the questions we hope to answer in our new regular segment, Lab Notes. 

Sanden Totten, Southern California Public Radio's science reporter, joins A Martinez to talk about some fun new scientific studies.

In this Thursday's installment of Lab Notes we look at our diets, our sleep habits and our self esteem.

A scientific failure turns into a discussion about how studies are conducted

Researchers studying memory tried to replicate some of their earlier results for a new study, but it turns out that they couldn't do it. 

Instead of hiding their failure, they published the report - a move that's rarely done in scientific research. This study quickly became one of the most discussed papers of the week it came out.

The reason? Science is all about proving something once, then proving it to make sure the initial discovery wasn't a fluke, but there's a concern among researchers  that scientists are publishing something once - getting credit and then moving on.

No one wants to replicate an old study because it's hard to get funding for stuff that's not new - it's not as interesting to replicate and if it turns out you were wrong the first time - you can look bad. But if we don't replicate stuff and admit when there are failures, some pretty bad information can get out into the world and remain unchallenged for years.

What typing says about your personality 

A new study looked at whether or not how we type says something about our mental state.   Researchers had subjects type up a paragraph from "Alice In Wonderland." They also asked those subjects how they were feeling.

Using a program, they taught a computer to recognize certain typing patterns and associate it with those moods. Some of the goals of the study are to help create more responsive computers, maybe even have a computer that's able to sense if you are tired and suggest you go to bed. 

Elephants just got a lot cooler - they may have super hearing

A study from Nambia found some surprising things about elephants - like they might have super hearing. As many know, elephants are migratory but also have uncanny migratory patterns - sometimes shifting mid-way through a trek and going someone where else.

Researchers wanted to find out what this was about - so the GPS tagged a few elephants. It turns out they are really good at figuring out where it recently rained and heading there - sometimes seemingly sensing rain from 150 miles away. Maybe they can hear it with those big ears, the researchers suggest.​