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October 20, 2003
Volume 81, Number 42
CENEAR 81 42 p. 48
ISSN 0009-2347


Handedness does not change much

BY K. M. REESE
The fraction of people who are left-handed is the same as it was about 30,000 years ago, according to a study by Charlotte Faurie and Michel Raymond at the University of Montpelier II, in France (New Scientist, Oct. 4, page 21). The pair studied 507 handprints in 26 caves in France and Spain that date from between 10,000 and 30,000 years ago. They were basically studying the artistic skills of Paleolithic painters and comparing them with those of modern students.

The results, the authors say, add to the evidence that the evolutionary factors that cause left- and right-handedness are independent of culture. Faurie and Raymond deduced the cave painters' handedness by spraying paint against cave walls to see which hand they pressed against the wall and therefore did not use to draw. Of the handprints thus revealed, 23% were right-handed, which indicates that they were made by left-handed artists. The authors used the same method to check the handprints of 179 French students and found that 22.9% were left-handed.

Handedness apparently has a genetic element. Faurie wonders, among other things, why the proportion of left-handers has remained so constant. One possibility, she thinks, is that being left-handed is relatively uncommon, so it gives people an advantage in activities such as fighting.

The methods used by Faurie and Raymond do not seem to indicate the fraction of people who are left-handed in the ordinary sense--that is, who write or throw with the left hand. The 15th edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica covers laterality, which includes handedness in some detail but specifies no percentages for handedness. A quick Internet survey shows that about 12% of people are left-handed but that the range is 2–30%.

   
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Chemistry edges into knitting

Iris B. Ailin-Pyzik of Granville, Ohio, writes that "C&EN and chemistry really get around." She's a chemist turned computer systems analyst and tells the following story.

Ailin-Pyzik subscribes to a knitters' e-mail list. Another subscriber posted a reference to the bromine entry in the C&EN issue on the elements (C&EN, Sept. 8, page 96) because of its comments on dyestuffs. (A chemist in that subscriber's household gets C&EN.) Ailin-Pyzik's husband had shown her the same issue "and asked if the individual who wrote the magnesium article was the same person I had worked with while working on foundry binders in the early '80s. It was.

"We pulled up the Web-based version of the overall periodic table story, which is really a nifty little application, so I posted that link (http://pubs.acs.org/cen/80th/elements.html) back to the knitters' list. This has generated a lot of traffic about dyestuffs and chemistry--probably not what most males would expect on a nontechnical e-mail list populated by nonchemist females. This also resulted in a posting of a website to the knitters' e-mail list by another member, http://www.privatehand.com/flash/elements.html, which has an audiovisual presentation of Tom Lehrer's 'The Elements,' which ... my husband is passing along to his students, as he did the periodic table link. You never know where what appears in C&EN is going to end up."

   
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A musical reader

Jane Ganske writes from Malibu, Calif., to note that "at least one chemist in C&EN's readership ... is also an organist" and enjoys stories like the one about the ballpark organist who got tossed out of the game by the umpire for playing "Three Blind Mice." Many of her scientist friends, says Ganske, "are also musicians (as were Einstein and Planck, who evidently played violin duets together)."

  
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Toilets in Japan

James Sauvage of Albuquerque, N.M., takes exception to the remark that "Japan saw the arrival of flush toilets in the late 1980s" (C&EN, Oct. 6, page 56). He lived in Japan in the 1960s. Sauvage says: "My apartment building had Western-style flush toilets. So did the apartments/homes of my Western friends, and they were also in most office buildings, most hotels, etc. Even the Japanese-style toilets of those days were flush toilets."



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