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The Highest-Rated Debates in History

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Big plans for Clinton-Obama III?

The two remaining Democratic candidates take the stage tonight for one final debate before the March 4th primaries. People everywhere are talking about this race "“ and by 'everywhere,' I mean my barbershop, selected friends' Facebook profiles and on MSNBC. But where will tonight's contest rank historically?

Last week's Austin debate drew roughly 7.7 million viewers, while last month's showdown in Hollywood was seen by 8.3 million. These numbers understandably pale in comparison to viewership for general election debates. According to Nielsen Media Research data provided to the Commission on Presidential Debates, the largest debate audience came in 1980, when 80.6 million people watched Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter. Here's the top ten:


1. Reagan-Carter, October 28, 1980 (80.6 million)
2. Clinton-Bush-Perot, October 15, 1992 (69.9 million)
3. Carter-Ford, September 23, 1976 (69.7 million)
4. Reagan-Mondale, October 21, 1984 (67.3 million)
(tie) Bush-Dukakis, October 13, 1988 (67.3 million)


6. Clinton-Bush-Perot, October 19, 1992 (66.9 million)
7. Kennedy-Nixon, September 26, 1960 (66.4 million*)
8. Reagan-Mondale, October 7, 1984 (65.1 million)
(tie) Bush-Dukakis, September 25, 1988 (65.1 million**)
10. Carter-Ford, October 6, 1976 (63.9 million)

* The four Kennedy-Nixon debates were seen on a larger percentage of televisions in 1960 than other debates on this list. But there were far fewer televisions.

** It's a little strange to me that the 1984 and 1988 debates had virtually identical ratings. A second source backs it up.

Previously on mental_floss...

"¢ The Projectionist: Memorable Moments from Past Debates
"¢ Take the quiz: The Debating Game

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Fisherman Catches Rare Blue Lobster, Donates It to Science
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Live lobsters caught off the New England coast are typically brown, olive-green, or gray—which is why one New Hampshire fisherman was stunned when he snagged a blue one in mid-July.

As The Independent reports, Greg Ward, from Rye, New Hampshire, discovered the unusual lobster while examining his catch near the New Hampshire-Maine border. Ward initially thought the pale crustacean was an albino lobster, which some experts estimate to be a one-in-100-million discovery. However, a closer inspection revealed that the lobster's hard shell was blue and cream.

"This one was not all the way white and not all the way blue," Ward told The Portsmouth Herald. "I've never seen anything like it."

While not as rare as an albino lobster, blue lobsters are still a famously elusive catch: It's said that the odds of their occurrence are an estimated one in two million, although nobody knows the exact numbers.

Instead of eating the blue lobster, Ward decided to donate it to the Seacoast Science Center in Rye. There, it will be studied and displayed in a lobster tank with other unusually colored critters, including a second blue lobster, a bright orange lobster, and a calico-spotted lobster.

[h/t The Telegraph]

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Courtesy Murdoch University
Australian Scientists Discover First New Species of Sunfish in 125 Years
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Courtesy Murdoch University

Scientists have pinpointed a whole new species of the largest bony fish in the world, the massive sunfish, as we learned from Smithsonian magazine. It's the first new species of sunfish proposed in more than 125 years.

As the researchers report in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, the genetic differences between the newly named hoodwinker sunfish (Mola tecta) and its other sunfish brethren was confirmed by data on 27 different samples of the species collected over the course of three years. Since sunfish are so massive—the biggest can weigh as much as 5000 pounds—they pose a challenge to preserve and store, even for museums with large research collections. Lead author Marianne Nyegaard of Murdoch University in Australia traveled thousands of miles to find and collected genetic data on sunfish stranded on beaches. At one point, she was asked if she would be bringing her own crane to collect one.

Nyegaard also went back through scientific literature dating back to the 1500s, sorting through descriptions of sea monsters and mermen to see if any of the documentation sounded like observations of the hoodwinker. "We retraced the steps of early naturalists and taxonomists to understand how such a large fish could have evaded discovery all this time," she said in a press statement. "Overall, we felt science had been repeatedly tricked by this cheeky species, which is why we named it the 'hoodwinker.'"

Japanese researchers first detected genetic differences between previously known sunfish and a new, unknown species 10 years ago, and this confirms the existence of a whole different type from species like the Mola mola or Mola ramsayi.

Mola tecta looks a little different from other sunfish, with a more slender body. As it grows, it doesn't develop the protruding snout or bumps that other sunfish exhibit. Similarly to the others, though, it can reach a length of 8 feet or more. 

Based on the stomach contents of some of the specimens studied, the hoodwinker likely feeds on salps, a jellyfish-like creature that it probably chomps on (yes, sunfish have teeth) during deep dives. The species has been found near New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, and southern Chile.

[h/t Smithsonian]


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