Newsworthy: Science quiz

Our panel of experts are tested on how well they know recent science news stories we've covered.
13 April 2022

Interview with 

Mary-Frances O’Connor, University of Arizona & Kit Chapman, Falmouth University & Matt Bothwell, University of Cambridge & Fiona Fox, Science Media Centre


image of a newspaper and a globe


Julia Ravey puts our scientists to the test in a game called 'Newsworthy'. Fiona Fox and Matt Bothwell are team 1, and Mary Francis O'Connor and Kit Chapman are team 2. They'll have 3 quick questions to answer on a category based on a recent science news story and the team which answers the most questions correctly, will be crowned the champions! The 4 categories are Pigs, Wrecks, Tics, and Resurrect...

Julia - The team going first will get to pick one of those categories and to do a little coin toss, it's going to be whichever team gets the closest to the number of estimated electric cars on the roads in the UK, as of January 2022. As a team, you give me a number, whoever gets the closest gets to go first.

Kit - I should know this.

Fiona - You should know this. Yes. I think that you've got an advantage there.

Kit - Should I go first then? Because I don't know it. Electric cars on the road in the UK, I'm going say 90,000. Does that sound right? Mary-Frances, something like that?

Mary-Frances - I'm at a bit of a disadvantage, but it sounds absolutely right.

Matt - Can we do the 'Price is Right' strategy and say 90,001? That feels obnoxious. I was going to say higher - a couple of hundred thousand or something. What are your thoughts Fiona?

Fiona - Yeah, go for it. Let's go for 200,000 and shame Kit.

Julia - Well the answer is, as of January 2022, there are thought to be 400,000 electric cars on the road in the UK, which is good!

Mary-Frances - That's fantastic.

Kit - Yeah. That's much better than I thought we were doing.

Julia - And it was 720,000 hybrids, I think as well. So very, very good. That's just purely electric cars. That means Fiona and Matt, you get to go first. Your choice of topic is Pigs, Wrecks, Ticks or Resurrect. What would you like to go for first?

Matt - I drove home from school and I was admiring a field of pigs as I was driving, so that one's calling to me.

Fiona - Well I think pigs, because it's more likely to be a controversial story, like genetically modified pigs or using pigs' hearts in transplants. Yeah. Let's do pigs.

News story - [

Julia - Using machine learning, and over 7,000 pig sounds, a recent research study found that they could indicate if a pig was in a positive or a negative environment using their grunts alone with up to 90% accuracy. Essentially, they've designed a pig translator. In this study, short grunts with the sounds associated with pigs feeling happy, but what is a physical sign that pig are content? Is it a) when they grind their teeth, b) when they wiggle their snout, or c) when they start to sweat?

Matt - I was really hoping you were going to give us that machine learning stuff and then just say, "Is that true or false?"

Julia - It's true.

Matt - Do you have any thoughts Fiona?

Fiona - I don't. I want it to be wiggle their snouts now because that's the funniest.

Matt - I think it might be tooth grinding because I don't think sweat is under that much emotional control. I think wiggle snout is a bit too cute. I think that one's trying to bait us. Okay. Do you wanna go for teeth grinding then?

Julia - Yes, that's correct. You got one point there. It is when they grind their teeth. The next question is pigs are intelligent and sociable animals, meaning they enjoy playing with others. Pigs normally hang around in groups. What are these groups called? Is it a) a shrewdness, b) a sedge, or c) a sounder?

Fiona - I mean literally no idea.

Matt - A sounder sounds vaguely marine to me. I'm not feeling that one. Maybe sedge? I feel like a group of pigs would have an old sort of Anglo Saxon word that people have been using for a long time because people have been farming pigs. I don't think people 200 years ago would've been talking about a shrewdness of pigs, right? Sedge feels right.

Fiona - Yeah. I'm fully supportive of sedge.

Julia - The answer is c) a sounder. It is a sounder of pigs. Shrewdness is apes. Sedge, I now can't remember off the top of my head what sedge was. But yes, sounder is a group of pigs. You've got 1 point there still. The aim of this research was to improve the emotional wellbeing of pigs that live on farms. Roughly how many pigs are on farms in the UK? Is it a) 3.5 million, b) 4.7 million, or c) 5.9 million?

Fiona - I'm going to say there's loads of pigs. Should we do 5.9 million?

Matt - Yeah. Do the highest one.

Fiona - Yeah. 5.9 million. We were good on cars by going high weren't we? So yes. 5.9 million. Final answer.

Julia - The answer is 4.7 million. It was in the middle of the road. But at the end of that round, you've got 1 point. Kit and Mary-Frances, we're coming to you now. The categories we've got left are Wrecks, Tics, and Resurrect.

Kit - What do you fancy Mary-Frances?

Mary-Frances - Tic sounds the most concrete of those, I suppose. So should we say tics?

Kit - Sure. Let's 'tic' that box.

Julia - Let's tick that box. I like that a lot.

News story - [

Julia - In a recent small scale study, there was found to be a link between social media usage and an increase in the severity of tic-like behaviours in individuals. This coincides with observations that there appear to be more teenagers, particularly teenage girls, who are developing tic-like behaviors. Which of these conditions is a tic disorder? a) dravet syndrome, b) gerstmann syndrome, or c) tourette syndrome?

Mary-Frances - I know this one. Tourettes.

Julia - The answer is c) tourette syndrome. Spot on. Straight in there as well with that answer. On the social media platform TikTok, users can add hashtags to their videos to indicate what their content is about. How many videos have the hashtag "tourettes"? Is it a) 500,000, b) 5.5 million, or c) 5.5 billion?

Kit - I think it's in the millions. There aren't billions of videos on TikTok yet. So I would say just the 5 million. That sounds right to me.

Mary-Frances - That sounds right.

Julia - I've got 5.5 billion here. Now you're making me question it, but I've got c) 5.5 billion.

Kit - 5.5 billion videos!?

Julia - I'm gonna have to just look that up really quickly.

Mary-Frances - It is very popular.

Kit - It is popular, but there are only 8 billion people in the world.

Julia - Oh, sorry. 5.6 billion views. Sorry, I got the question wrong. It's how many video views has it had! That was my bad. I got the question wrong. I feel like I should give you a point for that. 5.6 billion views is still a lot. Functional conditions, those where the causes is known, have spread through populations before, including a phenomenal known as mass psychogenic illness or mass hysteria. The earliest documented cases of mass hysteria were in the middle ages. What was the main symptom of these outbreaks? Was it a) headaches, b) dancing, or c) fainting?

Kit - I know there was a series of dancing manias in Germany, in the middle ages and you do have fainting with witch trials and things like that. But I think the dancing one is quite famous. Isn't it?

Mary - Yeah. I say fainting is a close second, but I would go dancing as well.

Julia - And you are spot on. It is b) dancing. That was a full house. 3/3 Well done.

Julia - Back to Fiona and Matt now. Your choice is Wrecks or Resurrect.

Matt - I chose the last one. This one's your choice.

Fiona - Okay. Let's go for Resurrect.

News Story - [

Julia - A study published in current biology explored if it is possible to resurrect extinct species using molecular biology techniques in a process known as de-extinction. This includes taking DNA from a closely related relative, and altering the sequence to match the extinct animal. One molecular biology technique allows the specific editing of a DNA sequence. Is it a) electrophoresis, b) CRISPR, or c) PCR?

Fiona - CRISPR.

Matt - Yeah. CRISPR.

Julia - Spot on. Straight in there. No discussion b) CRISPR.

Fiona - That's because it's controversial. If it's controversial, I know it.

Julia - Well there you go. CRISPR is correct. That's 1 point there. In this study, the researchers were trying to recreate the Christmas Island rat, which went extinct in the early 20th century. What is the reported maximum size these rats could grow to? Is it a) half a foot, b) 1 foot, or c) 1.5 feet?

Matt - I just want to go big now.

Julia - Go big or go home?

Matt - Big rats. Half a foot is nothing, that's pitiful. I think it's gonna be either a foot or 1.5 feet.

Fiona - I agree. I'm sure I've seen, in one of the tabloids, a very, very, very large rat. The tabloids love pictures of absolutely huge things. I think go for 1.5 feet.

Matt - Okay. 1.5 feet.

Julia - 1.5 feet is indeed correct. Imagine seeing a rat that was 1.5 feet. If I see a normal rat, I'm just on a chair somewhere so 1.5 feet, I just pass out. The research essentially found it was impossible to create many of the key genes needed to resurrect the Christmas Island rats because certain parts of the code have been lost over time. This includes some genes related to the rat's sense of smell. Why is a sense of smell important for resurrecting an animal? Is it a) smell guides behavioural impulses, like mating and fighting, b) the animals would eat poisonous food by accident, or c) rats are blind so they need smell to navigate?

Matt - c) is not true so it must be a). a) feels sensible to me.

Fiona - Yeah. I like a).

Matt - You'd always just raise them in a research environment and not feed them poison.

Julia - You would be spot on. The answer is a) smell is very important for animals behaviour in general, much more than it is for us. That's why it's very important that these animals, if they were resurrected, have the proper smell genes that they would've had in the wild. Amazing. We're now onto the very last topic and sorry Kit and Mary-Frances. You don't get a choice. You've got Wrecks.

News story - [

Julia - The wreck of Ernest Shackleton's Endurance was discovered after 107 years following its sinking on the sea floor of the Weddell Sea in Antarctica. The ship was found to be in relatively pristine condition, considering it's been sat there for a century. What conditions did not contribute to the endurance being found intact? Is it a) the cold water, b) a lack of wood eating worms, or c) weak currents?

Kit - I know that down there you can't get the worms because it's too cold and it's an anaerobic environment for them. There's nothing down there. But there are no weak currents around Antarctica. I've been in Cape Horn. That is not a weak current. I think that that's probably the red herring there. What do you think?

Mary-Frances - Well, that sounds convincing to me. I'll go with that.

Julia - Yes. Kit, you've used your lived experience to get yourself a point because yes c) weak currents. They thought it's the cold water and the lack of those worms being there. Have you seen the pictures? It looks incredible.

Kit - It looks pristine.

Julia - Endurance is one of many shipwrecks in the world's oceans and seas. How many shipwrecks are thought to be sitting on the beds of our waters? Is a) 300,000 b) 3 million or c) 13 million.

Kit - Worldwide?

Julia - Yep. Across the entire world.

Mary-Frances - It's got to be quite a lot. Think of the hundreds of years we've been sending ships around.

Kit - I would imagine there's probably 300,000 just around the UK to be perfectly honest. There's a lot of shipping. I'd probably be going for the millions. What do you think? 13 million. Should we go high?

Mary-Frances - I think 13 million.

Kit - Let's go 13 million.

Julia - The answer is b) 3 million. Not quite 13 million, but still millions worldwide. That's obviously an estimation because they think less than 1% have actually been found and explored. When a ship sinks, it becomes part of the ecosystem and sea creatures take up residence amongst the decks and that creates this artificial reef. What is one thing artificial reefs are designed to be used for? Is it a) to increase catch for commercial fishing, b) to give fish a more stimulating environment, or c) to move fish, to allow for altered water temperatures?

Mary-Frances - Ooh... I don't know. Maybe a)? I think that would be something people would like to be able to create environments for commercial fishing. But I don't know. What do you think Kit?

Kit - I don't think it's b). I don't think we just like to entertain fish. Unless it's Finding Nemo, that's probably not what we do. I'm tempted by c) because I'm thinking about things like The Great Barrier Reef where you're seeing a lot of bleaching of the corals and maybe they're trying to move it into other areas. That's something that I could see people doing.

Mary-Frances - Yeah. You're convincing me Kit. I think c). I like c).

Kit - Let's go for c).

Julia - The correct answer is c) to move fish to allow for altered water temperatures. They're making these artificial reefs and they said, it's really good that they can look at shipwrecks as an example, and then you can show that we can make these artificial reefs and move them. The fish will go where the reef goes, and that allows for us to get fish into the temperature of water that they should be in. I think we have a winner and the winners are Kit and Mary Francis. Well done. Good job. We did have a tiebreaker, but we didn't need it. I think it was only by 1 point?

Kit - 1 point. Yeah.

Mary-Frances - Well, that might have been a tie.


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