Spongebob in Trouble

SpongeBob SquarePants (character)
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From ABC. According to at least one study, Sprongebob Squarepants makes children dumber.

The cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants is in hot water from a study suggesting that watching just nine minutes of that program can cause short-term attention and learning problems in 4-year-olds.

The problems were seen in a study of 60 children randomly assigned to either watch “SpongeBob,” or the slower-paced PBS cartoon “Caillou” or assigned to draw pictures. Immediately after these nine-minute assignments, the kids took mental function tests; those who had watched “SpongeBob” did measurably worse than the others.

Previous research has linked TV-watching with long-term attention problems in children, but the new study suggests more immediate problems can occur after very little exposure — results that parents of young kids should be alert to, the study authors said.

Kids’ cartoon shows typically feature about 22 minutes of action, so watching a full program “could be more detrimental,” the researchers speculated, But they said more evidence is needed to confirm that.

It is just one study and not a very good one.

The results should be interpreted cautiously because of the study’s small size, but the data seem robust and bolster the idea that media exposure is a public health issue, said Dr. Dimitri Christakis. He is a child development specialist at Seattle Children’s Hospital who wrote an editorial accompanying the study published online Monday in the journal Pediatrics.

Christakis said parents need to realize that fast-paced programming may not be appropriate for very young children. “What kids watch matters, it’s not just how much they watch,” he said.

This study used a small sample of children with similar background and they were not evaluated before the study.

Most kids were white and from middle-class or wealthy families. They were given common mental function tests after watching cartoons or drawing. The SpongeBob kids scored on average 12 points lower than the other two groups, whose scores were nearly identical.

In another test, measuring self-control and impulsiveness, kids were rated on how long they could wait before eating snacks presented when the researcher left the room. “SpongeBob” kids waited about 2 1/2 minutes on average, versus at least four minutes for the other two groups.

The study has several limitations. For one thing, the kids weren’t tested before they watched TV. But Lillard said none of the children had diagnosed attention problems and all got similar scores on parent evaluations of their behavior.

Well, I don’t care what that study says. I like Spongebob and I have watched the show for years. I don’t think it has affected my mental  functioning at all. O look, shiny object.

Where was I? Seriously though, Spongebob is not educational programming, just a silly show. Parents probably shouldn’t let their young children watch too much of any show on television, but I am sure that an occasional episode of a silly cartoon won’t scar a four year old for life.

Super Earth Found

HD 189733 has a Jupiter-class planet in a tigh...
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I’ve always been a science fiction fan so the idea of planets orbiting other stars seemed perfectly natural to me. I never imagined, though, that astronomers would be able to detect these planets within my life time. I thought we would have to wait centuries until warp drive or something was invented. It turns out,  though that in recent years astronomers have been able to refine their techniques not only to detect such planets, but even to learn quite a bit about them. At first they could only detect massive Jupiter sized planets but now it seems that they can study even Earth sized worlds.

With that in mind, there is this item from Yahoo News. It would seem that some 16 “super-earths” or rocky planets more massive than ours have been detected.

The newfound haul of alien planets includes 16 super-Earths, which are potentially rocky worlds that are more massive than our planet. One in particular – called HD 85512 b – has captured astronomers’ attention because it orbits at the edge of its star’s habitable zone, suggesting conditions could be ripe to support life.

The exoplanet findings came from observations from the High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher instrument, or HARPS. The HARPS spectrograph is part of ESO’s 11.8-foot (3.6-meter) telescope at the La Silla Observatory in Chile. [

“The harvest of discoveries from HARPS has exceeded all expectations and includes an exceptionally rich population of super-Earths and Neptune-type planets hosted by stars very similar to our sun,” HARPS team leader Michel Mayor of the University of Geneva in Switzerland said in a statement. “And even better — the new results show that the pace of discovery is accelerating.”

The potentially habitable super-Earth, officially called HD 85512 b, is estimated to be only 3.6 times more massive than Earth, and its parent star is located about 35 light-years away, making it relatively nearby. HD 85512 b was found to orbit at the edge of its star’s habitable zone, which is a narrow region in which the distance is just right that liquid water could exist given the right conditions.

“This is the lowest-mass confirmed planet discovered by the radial velocity method that potentially lies in the habitable zone of its star, and the second low-mass planet discovered by HARPS inside the habitable zone,” said exoplanet habitability expert Lisa Kaltenegger, of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Germany and Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Boston.

Further analysis of HD 85512 b and the other newfound exoplanets will be able to determine more about the potential existence of water on the surface.

“I think we’re in for an incredibly exciting time,” Kaltenegger told reporters in a briefing today (Sept. 12). “We’re not just going out there to discover new continents — we’re actually going out there to discover brand new worlds.”

 The HARPS spectrograph is designed to detect tiny radial velocity signals induced by planets as small as Earth if they orbit close to their star.

If you find water and if the planet is far enough away from its star for that water to be liquid, than you have a good chance of life. On the other hand a planet 3.6 times as massive as the Earth will have 3.6 times more gravitational pull which wouldn’t make it very pleasant to live on. As the team continues their search and develops better equipment and techniques, maybe they’ll be able to find smaller planets we could live on. We still need warp drive though.

The last one is fun. I miss seeing the Weekly World News in grocery stores, etc.