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7 Downsides to Being Left-Handed

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The world has been out to get lefties for thousands of years. And while we no longer force 10% of the population to learn to write with their right hand or burn them at the stake as witches, the odds still aren’t stacked in their favor.

1. They Are Left Out of Studies

As Northwestern University psychology professor Robin Nusslock told the Wall Street Journal, many studies about how the brain works specifically prohibit lefties from participating. Researchers do this because they know that left-handed people’s brains are wired differently than righties. Since researchers want their results to accurately reflect the vast majority of the population, including left-handed people would throw off the results. That means when you read an article about some new breakthrough in understanding how our brains function, it most likely isn’t something that directly applies to 10% of people. The same exclusion used to apply to women, until President Clinton signed an act requiring that women be included in clinical trials. Since President Obama is left-handed, perhaps he should insist lefties get equal treatment themselves.

2. They May Get Paid Less

Full disclosure: this one is contentious. Some studies have found there is no difference between handedness and how much a person makes. However, a seminal study by Harvard University found that lefties make 10% less on average than their right-handed counterparts. This may be due partly to the fact that lefties are less likely to complete college. The same researcher found that despite the oft repeated claim that lefties have higher IQs on average than righties, left-handed people actually score slightly lower on math and reading comprehension tests.

Another study published in The Journal of Human Resources found that while left-handed men’s salaries were comparable to righties, left-handed women made significantly less.

3. They're Easier to Scare

In one study at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh, right- and left-handed people watched clips from Silence of the Lambs. Afterwards, the researchers asked the subjects to talk about some of the scarier scenes from the film. The lefties overwhelmingly gave more fragmented, inaccurate accounts with more repetition. Researchers already knew that lefties are almost twice as likely to suffer from PTSD as righties, and it doesn’t take a majorly disturbing event before differences in our fear levels start to show. Scientists think this may be because the right side of a lefty’s brain is dominant, and that is the side that controls our fear response.

4. They Get Angrier Faster

Various studies have found that lefties are quicker to anger than righties, but until recently no one knew why. In 2010, a paper in The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease posited that it was because left-handed and ambidextrous people’s brain hemispheres interact more than right-handed people’s. While this might sound like a good thing, it means that logic (mostly left brain) and emotion (mostly right brain) get mixed together more often than is “normal.” As a result, things that 90% of the population could deal with calmly are more likely to anger lefties.

5. They're Linked to Schizophrenia

Scientists know that being left-handed is at least partly down to genetics. A person has a much greater chance (26%) of being a lefty if both parents are southpaws. And research has even isolated the gene that may contribute to handedness. The bad news? The gene, LRRTM1, also appears to have something to do with people developing schizophrenia. Only 1 in 100 people have the disorder, but an inordinate 20% of suffers are left-handed.

6. They Drink More

Back in the 1970s, a paper called “Left-Handedness and Alcoholism” raised the possibility that left-handed people were more likely to be alcoholics than right-handed people. The study was purely observational, however. Until recently, no hard evidence existed that linked handedness to drinking habits. It turns out that lefties aren’t more likely to be genetically disposed to addiction, but on average they do drink more often, and in greater quantities than righties. Since excessive alcohol consumption alters your brain chemistry and can eventually lead to physical dependence, this may be one possible explanation for why the previous study noticed a prevalence of left-handed alcoholics.

7. The World Is Trying to Kill Them

The world isn’t just driving lefties to drink, though. It’s also killing them. Left-handed people seem to expire anywhere from a few months to a few years before righties, all other things being equal. One of the deadliest problems is simply that the world isn’t laid out best for lefties. This leads to left-handed people being five times more likely to die in accidents than right-handed people.

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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
A Chinese Museum Is Offering Cash to Whoever Can Decipher These 3000-Year-Old Inscriptions

During the 19th century, farmers in China’s Henan Province began discovering oracle bones—engraved ox scapulae and tortoise shells used by Shang Dynasty leaders for record-keeping and divination purposes—while plowing their fields. More bones were excavated in subsequent years, and their inscriptions were revealed to be the earliest known form of systematic writing in East Asia. But over the decades, scholars still haven’t come close to cracking half of the mysterious script’s roughly 5000 characters—which is why one Chinese museum is asking member of the public for help, in exchange for a generous cash reward.

As Atlas Obscura reports, the National Museum of Chinese Writing in Anyang, Henan Province has offered to pay citizen researchers about $15,000 for each unknown character translated, and $7500 if they provide a disputed character’s definitive meaning. Submissions must be supported with evidence, and reviewed by at least two language specialists.

The museum began farming out their oracle bone translation efforts in Fall 2016. The costly ongoing project has hit a stalemate, and scholars hope that the public’s collective smarts—combined with new advances in technology, including cloud computing and big data—will yield new information and save them research money.

As of today, more than 200,000 oracle bones have been discovered—around 50,000 of which bear text—so scholars still have a lot to learn about the Shang Dynasty. Many of the ancient script's characters are difficult to verify, as they represent places and people from long ago. However, decoding even just one character could lead to a substantial breakthrough, experts say: "If we interpret a noun or a verb, it can bring many scripts on oracle bones to life, and we can understand ancient history better,” Chinese history professor Zhu Yanmin told the South China Morning Post.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

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6 Eponyms Named After the Wrong Person
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Salmonella species growing on agar.

Having something named after you is the ultimate accomplishment for any inventor, mathematician, scientist, or researcher. Unfortunately, the credit for an invention or discovery does not always go to the correct person—senior colleagues sometimes snatch the glory, fakers pull the wool over people's eyes, or the fickle general public just latches onto the wrong name.

1. SALMONELLA (OR SMITHELLA?)

In 1885, while investigating common livestock diseases at the Bureau of Animal Industry in Washington, D.C., pathologist Theobald Smith first isolated the salmonella bacteria in pigs suffering from hog cholera. Smith’s research finally identified the bacteria responsible for one of the most common causes of food poisoning in humans. Unfortunately, Smith’s limelight-grabbing supervisor, Daniel E. Salmon, insisted on taking sole credit for the discovery. As a result, the bacteria was named after him. Don’t feel too sorry for Theobald Smith, though: He soon emerged from Salmon’s shadow, going on to make the important discovery that ticks could be a vector in the spread of disease, among other achievements.

2. AMERICA (OR COLUMBIANA?)

An etching of Amerigo Vespucci
Henry Guttmann/Getty Images

Florentine explorer Amerigo Vespucci (1451–1512) claimed to have made numerous voyages to the New World, the first in 1497, before Columbus. Textual evidence suggests Vespucci did take part in a number of expeditions across the Atlantic, but generally does not support the idea that he set eyes on the New World before Columbus. Nevertheless, Vespucci’s accounts of his voyages—which today read as far-fetched—were hugely popular and translated into many languages. As a result, when German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller was drawing his map of the Novus Mundi (or New World) in 1507 he marked it with the name "America" in Vespucci’s honor. He later regretted the choice, omitting the name from future maps, but it was too late, and the name stuck.

3. BLOOMERS (OR MILLERS?)

A black and white image of young women wearing bloomers
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Dress reform became a big issue in mid-19th century America, when women were restricted by long, heavy skirts that dragged in the mud and made any sort of physical activity difficult. Women’s rights activist Elizabeth Smith Miller was inspired by traditional Turkish dress to begin wearing loose trousers gathered at the ankle underneath a shorter skirt. Miller’s new outfit immediately caused a splash, with some decrying it as scandalous and others inspired to adopt the garb.

Amelia Jenks Bloomer was editor of the women’s temperance journal The Lily, and she took to copying Miller’s style of dress. She was so impressed with the new freedom it gave her that she began promoting the “reform dress” in her magazine, printing patterns so others might make their own. Bloomer sported the dress when she spoke at events and soon the press began to associate the outfit with her, dubbing it “Bloomer’s costume.” The name stuck.

4. GUILLOTINE (OR LOUISETTE?)

Execution machines had been known prior to the French Revolution, but they were refined after Paris physician and politician Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin suggested they might be a more humane form of execution than the usual methods (hanging, burning alive, etc.). The first guillotine was actually designed by Dr. Antoine Louis, Secretary of the Academy of Surgery, and was known as a louisette. The quick and efficient machine was quickly adopted as the main method of execution in revolutionary France, and as the bodies piled up the public began to refer to it as la guillotine, for the man who first suggested its use. Guillotin was very distressed at the association, and when he died in 1814 his family asked the French government to change the name of the hated machine. The government refused and so the family changed their name instead to escape the dreadful association.

5. BECHDEL TEST (OR WALLACE TEST?)

Alison Bechdel
Alison Bechdel
Steve Jennings/Getty Images

The Bechdel Test is a tool to highlight gender inequality in film, television, and fiction. The idea is that in order to pass the test, the movie, show, or book in question must include at least one scene in which two women have a conversation that isn’t about a man. The test was popularized by the cartoonist Alison Bechdel in 1985 in her comic strip “Dykes to Watch Out For,” and has since become known by her name. However, Bechdel asserts that the idea originated with her friend Lisa Wallace (and was also inspired by the writer Virginia Woolf), and she would prefer for it to be known as the Bechdel-Wallace test.

6. STIGLER’S LAW OF EPONYMY (OR MERTON’S LAW?)

Influential sociologist Robert K. Merton suggested the idea of the “Matthew Effect” in a 1968 paper noting that senior colleagues who are already famous tend to get the credit for their junior colleagues’ discoveries. (Merton named his phenomenon [PDF] after the parable of talents in the Gospel of Matthew, in which wise servants invest money their master has given them.)

Merton was a well-respected academic, and when he was due to retire in 1979, a book of essays celebrating his work was proposed. One person who contributed an essay was University of Chicago professor of statistics Stephen Stigler, who had corresponded with Merton about his ideas. Stigler decided to pen an essay that celebrated and proved Merton’s theory. As a result, he took Merton’s idea and created Stigler’s Law of Eponymy, which states that “No scientific discovery is named after its original discoverer”—the joke being that Stigler himself was taking Merton’s own theory and naming it after himself. To further prove the rule, the “new” law has been adopted by the academic community, and a number of papers and articles have since been written on "Stigler’s Law."

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