As the holiday of Halloween arrives in the United States, media outlets far and wide do their best to find spookily related stories, from creepy costumes to the chemistry of mummies. I'm not criticizing. I've written myself about the myths and realities of poisoned Halloween candy.
And this year offers some great examples of smart writers taking on science of Halloween. And some bad ones. But let's start with the good stuff.
At Scientific American, physics blogger and author Jennifer Oullette writes a wonderfully smart (and fun) post called Bad Moon Rising about the science of werewolves, which includes history, mythology and genetics. She credits, by the way, a terrific post on the "culture of lycanthropy" by scicurious at Neurotic Physiology.
There's a lovely post by Rebecca Boyle at Popular Science on bats - that long-time symbol of this particular holiday - and their real-life importance in nature and environmental systems.
At The Guardian, Chris French tells the story of a Halloween challenge to psychics to do blind readings in a carefully controlled experiment. I won't give away the results but, let's say, that they probably won't revolutionize paranormal research anytime soon.
I kind of love the story posted by The Telegraph about a study suggesting that watching a horror movie burns more than 100 calories, thereby canceling out a mini-Milky Way or words to that effect. True, as the Mayo Clinic indicates, you can burn twice as many calories in less time by, um, walking. But can you do that while watching Jack Nicholson flourishing an axe in The Shining?
And I definitely love Christine Herman's "What are You for Halloween...um, a chemist" at Chemical Engineering and News which includes recipes for fake blood and fake flesh.
AND I definitely hate the post by Eric Limer at Gizmodo on chemical-based Halloween pranks in which he seems to suggest that we rush out and play with either poisonous or explosive substances. You'd think that fear of lawsuit would have prevented this, as a sense of responsibility seems to have failed the editors here.
Limer's post has been called out by chemical bloggers everywhere, including David Kroll at Terra Sigillata. Kroll's post includes an excellent storify of Twitter outrage regarding this post but so far Gizmodo has neither responded or taken it down. They should though or they may well find themselves featured in the kind of Halloween story that we all hate to read.
--- Deborah Blum