Once upon a time to say “I heard it on the BBC” left no room for argument. Alas, no more.
Soon after the Haiti earthquake struck a picture of an aircraft in Port-au-Prince appeared on BBC News. Although the very large letters read: FUERZA AEREA MEXICANA we were told it was from the United States. It is a lot to ask of BBC news readers, or prompt writers, to know that FUERZA AEREA means Air Force, but the word MEXICANA could have been a clue.
A few days later we were told the Pope was to visit a synagogue in Rome, an event welcomed by most Jews although some objected because of his plan to canonize Pope Pius VIII (1829-1830), quickly corrected to Pope Pius VII (1800-1823), because he had not done enough for the Jews during World War II (1939-1945). They should have said Pope Pius XII.
Still, the BBC can entertain, not with their so-called comedy programmes where the comedy is to see how many times the “f…” word can be said in the shortest time, a word also much loved by BBC chefs. But always worth waiting for is seeing the fascinating items that appear on the crawl or script at the bottom of the news screen.
About a week ago among news about the World Bank and the recession, Angel Merkel’s coalition problems, Haiti, suicide bombers, China’s exports, etc., an item flashed by (why is it called the crawl when it goes so fast?) that so intrigued me I thought I must have seen just the tail end of it, so I waited for it come around again.
And there it was, in its entirety. “Mice that run improve their memories”, or “Mice that run have good memories”. I do not recall the exact words but they were no more than six. No indication of who did the research, why, or what possible effect running mice might have on people who don’t run. How did the researchers discover the mice’s memories had improved? Did they ask them whether they remembered what they had to eat the day before and they shook their heads? Then, after putting the poor things on a treadmill they repeated the question when it was stopped and this time the mice nodded?
I was, frankly, sceptical about the findings. I did my own empirical research and came to exactly the opposite conclusion.
Mice have been around for a very long time and will probably still be around when we have all disappeared. I have seen a few mice in my time but never one that stood still when I appeared. They always ran and very fast because a mouse, very early in its short life, learns to run when it sees mousetraps, people bearing broomsticks and, if the nursery rhyme has it right, farmers´ wives clutching carving knives, and everything else humans have used to try to get rid of them.
If researchers are to be believed, about which I have some doubts, we are told mice have a high degree of homology with humans and studies of their genome show they have more genes than homo sapiens. I think, therefore, it is safe to assume that the mice being researched are more intelligent than those doing the research. So they soon cottoned on and realized that if they again shook their heads it would be back to the treadmill while if they nodded they might be given a nice piece of cheese for being so smart. They were happy and so were the researchers who rushed to their computers to write their article for The Lancet.
The conclusions of the two studies were:
Researchers: mice they force to run after having kept them confined in a tiny cage for heaven knows how long, have good memories.
Linehan: mice run because they have very good memories about what will happen to them if they don’t run.
We will never know how much time the researchers took to come to their conclusion, or how much it cost.
My research took about half an hour and it only cost one glass of Jameson’s.