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OpenLearn Live: 22nd November 2016

Updated Monday 21st November 2016

Should you just let fallen leave lie - and why do trains have problems with them? Learning and research from across the day.

OpenLearn Live is the bit where we can still just about pick things that interest us in the hope they'll interest you, too. Though a robot could probably do this, too. This page will be updated across the day.

Yesterday we poured a lot of champagne, discovered a new weather satelitte and dug into patent boxes

See the complete collection of OpenLearn Live


Today's posts


Remembering crime without making it sound great

In an archive piece from History Today, Nell Darby visited a collection of crime-related items and worried about whether displaying such artefacts might favour the horror over the victims:

Much was made of the objects relating to the Great Train Robbery – a relatively recent crime that is still remembered by many today. How can the desire to recognise the plight of victims be reconciled with the inclusion of a bottle of Champagne owned by Ronnie Biggs, when this glamorises the lifestyle of such offenders and inevitably focuses on the perpetrators rather than Jack Mills, a victim of the offence? 

The argument the curators of the exhibition, and the Met, use is that this bottle, with other everyday items taken from the hideout used by the robbers, had not been wiped by the criminals, and that evidence such as fingerprints could be used to identify them. But the inclusion of this fact in any explanatory panel will not stop visitors noting the 'celebrity' of Biggs and his ilk; his was, at least for a while, a Champagne lifestyle, and he garnered many more column inches than Mills. 

Read the full article at History Today: Mythologising Criminal History

Explore some modern crime myths


Can yoghurt help your mood?

You'll be familiar with probiotic yoghurts, and the claims that are made for how they will improve your health if only you swap a bacon barm breakfast for their milky charms each morning. But can they also have an effect on your mind as well as your gut? It's possible, as Paul Whiteley explains at Questioning Answers:

The review/re-analysis by Jennifer McKean and colleagues found 7 studies on this topic in the peer-reviewed research literature, that overall "showed that supplementation with probiotics resulted in a statistically significant improvement in psychological symptoms... compared with placebo." Personally, I wasn't surprised at these findings having covered a few bits of science on probiotics and psychology before on this blog. Some recent discussions on how probiotics might be a possible 'stress-reliever' also add to this area.

Read the full article at Questioning Answers: Probiotics and 'subclincial' psychological symptoms: meta-analysed

Does 'eating for health' always make sense?

Prefer to try poetry to give you a boost? Take our poetry prescription


The brain gives clues to coping with fear

Looking at how brains behave when we're scared could hold out the prospect of new treatments for phobias - and people with PTSD:

Although the sample size in this initial study was relatively small, the team hopes the technique can be developed into a clinical treatment for patients with PTSD or phobias.

"To apply this to patients, we need to build a library of the brain information codes for the various things that people might have a pathological fear of, say, spiders” adds Dr Seymour.”Then, in principle, patients could have regular sessions of Decoded Neurofeedback to gradually remove the fear response these memories trigger".

Such a treatment could have major benefits over traditional drug based approaches. Patients could also avoid the stress associated with exposure therapies, and any side-effects resulting from those drugs.

Read What happens to our brains when we're afraid - and can that help us overcome fear?


Autumn statements: leaves

This week, we're exploring autumn and the things the season brings. Yesterday, we started off by wading into the 'fall or autumn' debate. Today, no less controversially, we're looking at leaves.

Autumn leaves Copyright free image Icon Copyright free: Frankieboy

Why do leaves fall from trees anyway?

Sure, they fall because the wind blows them. But... for a leaf to be blown from a tree, the tree has to want to lose the leaf in the first place:

So... should you let leaves stay where they fall?

This isn't as simple as you might think. Some gardeners will tell you that letting leaves sit on your lawn will bring about a terrible punishment come spring - a soggy, slithery brown mess will have spent the winter slowly killing your lawn.

But hang on, you might think - trees have been shedding leaves for longer than there have been rakes, and certainly for a lot longer than there have been leaf blowers. Can't I just leave leaves be? The American National Wildlife Federation think you should:

Just let leaves stay where they fall. A leaf layer several inches deep is a natural thing in any area where trees naturally grow. The leaf layer is its own mini ecosystem!  Many wildlife species live in or rely on the leaf layer to find food and other habitat, including salamanders, chipmunks, box turtles, toads, shrews, earthworms, many insects species.

Many butterfly and moth species overwinter as pupae in leaf litter. If you rake up and throw away all of your leaves this fall, you’ll be getting rid of these beneficial and often beautiful insects too. Remember, butterfly and moth caterpillars are a critically important food source for birds in the spring when they are feeding their babies. If you remove of all the pupae with your leaves in the fall, there will be fewer of these insects in and around your yard in in spring.

From a gardening perspective, fallen leaves offer a double benefit. Leaves form a natural mulch that helps suppress weeds and at the same time fertilize the soil as they break down. Why spend money on mulch and fertilizer when you can make your own?

If you can't stand letting your leaf fall settle - either because your neighbours will tut, or because you don't spend all September cutting your lawn just to see it disappear - the recommendation is to take the leaves somewhere to turn into mulch to use next year.

There is one place, though, that nobody likes leaves:

Why are leaves on railway lines such a problem?

This was a question investigated by the BBC/OU co-production Bang Goes The Theory a while back. Liz, over to you:

What happens when you bring open data to trees?

 

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