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August 13, 2007
Volume 85, Number 33
p. 80

Simpsons Science

"Pi is exactly three!": Stephen Hawking and his appearance on "The Simpsons."

Homer Simpson may work at a nuclear power plant, but you sure can't call him a science nerd, or mathematically inclined for that matter. Even so, Fox's long-running sitcom, "The Simpsons," is highly science-savvy. Much of that lies in the hands of Al Jean, the show's executive producer, head writer, and Harvard mathematics graduate.

Jean is interviewed in the July 26 issue of Nature (448, 404), where he discusses his favorite science-centric Simpsons episodes, as well as working with scientific guest stars Stephen Hawking and Stephen Jay Gould.

The article also features a list of the top 10 science moments as chosen by the magazine's editorial staff. Highlights include the episode titled "The Monkey Suit," where Lisa is seen reading Charles Darwin's "The Origin of Species" and creationism versus evolution is debated, and "Treehouse of Horror XIV," which featured the voice of chemistry Nobel Laureate Dudley R. Herschbach.

Hospice Cat

Anyone who has had cats knows they can be peculiar animals; aloof, independent, and moody, many cats are perfectly fine with being alone.

Oscar, a gray-and-white cat that lives in the dementia unit at the Steere House Nursing & Rehabilitation Center in Providence, R.I., is no different. He mainly keeps to himself, not going out of his way to be social except on one very specific occasion-when a patient is about to die.

"Freaky feline: Oscar provides comfort for those nearing death.

It's only then that Oscar comes around, crawls up on the occupant's bed, purrs, and says hello, writes David Dosa, in the July 26 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine (357, 328). Dosa is a geriatrician for the center, as well as an assistant professor of medicine at Brown University.

Oscar's predictions are so accurate that the nursing home staff relies on Oscar's SIXTH SENSE, calling family members of whomever he cuddles with. In the past year alone, Oscar has predicted 25 deaths, missing only one.

But how is this possible? Could Oscar be equipped with some sort of death detector? Not exactly. Animal experts suggest that, because cats have a much better sense of smell than people do, Oscar may be picking up a chemical change in the body that precedes death.

It wouldn't be the first time an animal has detected something amiss in the air. Dogs have been known to sniff out ailments in their owners such as different kinds of cancers and even seizures.

The nursing home staff will probably never understand how Oscar predicts the unpredictable, but it's a minor detail. When it matters most, the patients at Steere House have a purring animal by their side. Could there be anything more comforting?

Woman's Intuition

Albert Einstein once said, "The only real valuable thing is intuition." Women are known to possess this ability, but is it real? A Missouri board game creator seems to think so. Ron Hutchison spent more than a year developing questions for his psychological board game Sixth Sense and found that women were beating men 71% of the time.

At first, Hutchison chalked it up to chance. But after going through three months of test games, he noticed that men had a tendency to overanalyze the questions while women went with their first instinct, which was usually correct.

The game focuses on players' attitudes about social and psychological topics such as friendship, marriage, and religion. There are no right or wrong answers, and players score points by correctly predicting how the answering player will respond to the question asked.

To try it out for yourself, visit

This week's column was written by Faith Hayden. Please send comments and suggestions to