Famous People Tend to Stay Famous

The Atlantic Wire

Discovered: Get used to Bieber and Kardashian; a human/Neanderthal love child; DNA tests could predict cancer risks; the intuition of rats.

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Famous people tend to stay famous. Pop artist Andy Warhol once declared that everyone, at some some point in the future, "would be world-famous for 15 minutes." But according to two professors — one at McGill, the other at Stony Brook — true fame is everlasting: "Contrary to popular belief, the people who become truly famous, stay famous for decades." The pair's paper shows that, despite our animosity toward the super-famous — think Justin Bieber or Kim Kardashian — they're pretty much here to stay. Why? The authors suggest fame is something of a self-fulfilling prophecy: "Both media and audiences are trapped in a self-reinforcing equilibrium where they must continue to devote attention, airtime, and newspaper space to the same old characters because everyone else does so as well." [American Sociological Review]

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Skeletal remains indicate a human/Neanderthal hybrid. We know all about Neanderthals — a human-like ape species that inhabited west-central Asia and Europe hundreds of thousands of years ago. But until now we didn't know if they ever successfully bred with ancient humans. A skeleton recently discovered in Italy, however, indicates that that at least one female Neanderthal was able to mate with a male human. Still, this doesn't that the populations converged: "Although the hybridization between the two hominid species likely took place, the Neanderthals continued to uphold their own cultural traditions [which] suggests that the two populations did not simply meet, mate and merge into a single group." [NBC Science]

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DNA markers portend risk of cancer. A simple test of one's genes could one day predict your risk of cancer. That's the takeaway from a study of 200,000 individuals which indicates that certain markers embedded in one's DNA are routinely associated with a pronounced risk of cancer. It's not so much each marker that's important — it's the number of them and pattern they form that could indicate a higher propensity to develop cancer. Even though the routine use of these markers is still far out in the future, the medical application is already obvious: "Under certain assumptions, a gene test using all known markers could reduce the number of mammograms and PSA tests by around 20 percent, with only a small cost in cancer cases missed." [Associated Press]

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You should trust your intuition. Is pondering useless? In rats, at least, it seems so. A group of researchers in Portugal found that the rodents performed equally well on a series of tasks when given a short time and a long time to decide. "When rats were challenged with a series of perceptual decision problems, their performance was just as good when they decided rapidly as when they took a much longer time to respond. Despite being encouraged to slow down and try harder, the subjects of this study achieved their maximum performance in less than 300 milliseconds." It's yet to be seen whether the results bear on the intuitive faculties of the human race. The researchers are optimistic, though: "Decision-making is not a well-understood process, but it appears to be surprisingly similar among species," one said. [Neuron]

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