Thursday, November 15, 2018

A Little Perspective

That's us, as seen from orbit

Chris Hadfield, the retired commander of the International Space Station who famously performed David Bowie's Space Oddity while in orbit, has collected 192 of his favorite photos in a whimsical new book, You Are Here: Around the World in 92 Minutes (Little, Brown; $26). It follows last year's bestselling An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth. "Who'd have thought that five months away from the planet would make you feel closer to people," mused the Canadian astronaut a few days before his return trip back to Earth in May 2013. Hadfield's mastery of the camera — and Twitter, with his son's help back on Earth — catapulted him to fame. He took about 45,000 photos in all. His fully wired son, Evan, suggested via email-to-orbit that his astronaut father ask people on Earth what they wanted him to take pictures of. "The resounding answer was, 'I want a picture of my hometown, of where I'm from,' " Hadfield told the website Quartz. "To me that was delightful. At first I thought how narcissistic. But then when I thought about it, it struck me for two different reasons: People are proud of where they are from. And they have an ache and a desire to see how they fit in with everything else. It's a dawning self-awareness, like seeing yourself in a mirror for the very first time, but on a global scale." With that in mind, here are two views Hadfield took of the Sunshine State.

Lizard evolution in just 15 years

Faced with competition from an invading species, a type of lizard in Florida took just 20 generations — about 15 years — to evolve feet better suited to climbing trees, a new study says.

Biologists have long believed that evolution could occur rapidly among some species facing sudden, intense competition. In 1995, as part of an unrelated study, researchers introduced a foreign species of brown anole lizards to three islands off the coast of Florida that were already home to green anole lizards. The green lizards are known to move to higher perches after an invasion of brown ones.

To test the rapid-evolution theory, researchers returned to the islands 15 years later and examined the feet of the green lizards (which had, as predicted, relocated to higher perches). They found that the lizards had developed larger and stickier toe pads, a characteristic not shared by green lizards on nearby islands that had not been populated with brown lizards.

The ability to evolve rapidly could be a boon to species threatened with climate change, suggested the researchers, who published their study in the journal Science. Other species that have shown an ability to do so include Darwin's finches in the Galápagos Islands, which evolved smaller beaks just 22 years after the arrival of a competitive species, according to a Princeton study from 2006.

Douglas Quenqua, New York Times

Sweden has a font of its own

The Swedish government has commissioned a national font — Sweden Sans — designed by Swedish agency Soderhavet in collaboration with Swedish font expert Stefan Hattenbach as part of a new branding effort.

"One purpose of the new brand identity for Sweden was to replace the many fragmented organizational identities of Swedish ministries, agencies and corporations with one integrated visual brand identity system, to unambiguously represent Sweden in the world," Soderhavet's Erik Lidsheim told me in an email, noting that the font is only used for the country's international promotions. "In that sense (it's) more or less doing the same job as any corporate brand identity."

Should America has its own font, too? Typographer Tobias Frere-Jones told me in an email: "I've always been a little suspicious of anything 'nationalistic,' whether it's politics or typography or anything else. It carries the implication that there is exactly one way to express the identity of a nation. I think an 'American' typeface would have an even harder time justifying itself — the whole idea behind (a) united group of states is that there isn't a single (excluding) identity."

"Politically, I don't see how the whole U.S. could ever agree on one typeface," typographer Christian Schwartz told me in an email. "Some subset of states will inevitably feel unrepresented by the typeface and will opt out."

Kristin Hohenadel, Slate

Prescribe rest for doctors

The phenomenon of "decision fatigue" has been found in judges, who are more likely to deny bail at the end of the day than at the beginning. Now researchers have found a parallel effect in physicians: As the day wears on, doctors become increasingly more likely to prescribe antibiotics even when they are not indicated.

For the study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, scientists analyzed diagnoses of acute respiratory infections in 21,867 cases over 18 months in primary care practices in and near Boston.

In two-thirds of the cases, antibiotics were prescribed even though they were not indicated. But whether they were indicated or not, the number of prescriptions increased with time. Overall, compared with the first hour, the probability of a prescription for antibiotics increased 1 percent in the second hour, 14 percent in the third hour and 26 percent in the fourth.

"The radical notion here is that doctors are people, too," said the lead author, Dr. Jeffrey A. Linder, an associate physician at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, "and we may be fatigued and make worse decisions toward the end of our clinic sessions."

But, he added, the patient can help. "If you want the best care, you should say that you are there to be evaluated and only want an antibiotic if it's really needed," he said.

Nicholas Bakalar, New York Times