What’s the weirdest thing you learned this week? Well, whatever it is, we promise you’ll have an even weirder answer if you listen to PopSci’s hit podcast. The Weirdest Thing I Learned This Week hits Apple, Anchor, and everywhere else you listen to podcasts every-other Wednesday morning. It’s your new favorite source for the strangest science-adjacent facts, figures, and Wikipedia spirals the editors of Popular Science can muster. If you like the stories in this post, we guarantee you’ll love the show.
FACT: Coffee makes 30 percent of people poop
By Claire Maldarelli
I’m usually a coffee drinker, but as the news has gotten busier these days, I’ve steadily increased my intake. But annoyingly, that has kept me going in more ways than one. That made me wonder: Does intensifying your coffee consumption increase bowel movements in everyone, or just me?
It turns out that only about 30 percent of people experience lower gastrointestinal side effects from drinking coffee. And to make matters even weirder, scientists still don’t quite understand the mechanism through which coffee imposes its laxative effects.
In this episode of Weirdest Thing, I took a deep dive into our current understanding of how coffee gets us going. The answers will definitely surprise you.
FACT: Tumbleweeds are taking over the planet
By Sara Chodosh
Tumbleweeds are one of those things that I never really considered outside of movies. By the time I was born tumbleweeds were already so cliche that they were a visual gag in comedy films, not even a scene-setting piece of the backdrop.
I obviously knew that tumbleweeds were real, I just figured they were way more of a thing in movies than they were in real life. So it came as something of a shock to me to find out that not only are they a very real fixture in many people’s lives, but that they’ve been that way for more than a century.
All the credit for this extremely weird fact goes to CGP Grey, the YouTuber whose recent video prompted me to look more closely into this strange world of tumblin’ weeds. To those of us who haven’t been haunted by giant thorny brambles covering our houses, it’s a welcome look at just how strange this plant truly is. Enjoy.
FACT: Forceps were a family secret for more than a century
By Rachel Feltman
We see surgical instruments, improvised or otherwise, described as assisting in childbirth as far back as the 6th century BC. But for most of human history, using an instrument to help deliver a fetus was a last-ditch effort—and one that usually ended in death for the fetus, the mother, or both.
That started to change—for better and for worse—with the invention of the forceps. And as I explain on this week’s episode of Weirdest Thing, this life-saving device has a surprisingly secretive history. Far from shouting the success of their obstetrical invention from the rooftops of England, the 16th-century “man midwives” behind the design (a pair of brothers who were, perplexingly, both named Peter) did everything they could to keep forceps proprietary. Whenever either of the Peters or their offspring (at least one of whom was also named Peter, but try not to let it bother you) attended a birth, they would carry their tiny forceps in a giant case to disguise them. They’d also blindfold the laboring mother, kick everyone else out of the room, and deliver the baby under cover of a blanket just for good measure. Bystanders reported strange bells, shrieks, and other noises that led them to believe the physicians were using some kind of intricate machine.
Forceps eventually became part of the standard obstetrical toolkit, which undoubtedly saved the lives of many babies and their mothers. But many experts argue that doctors relied on forceps even when they were unnecessary—ushering in a new era of medicalized childbirth that hasn’t been without negative consequences.
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