Tag Archives: fact

Eating Insects as Food: A Practical Solution to World Hunger

Have you ever thought of eating little, crunchy, yummy insects such as grasshoppers and cockroaches? What will be your response when someone asks you to have  ‘cricketty-cricketty crickets’ or ‘buzzerry-buzzery buggies’ dinner? Hmm… Quite weird huh! But, if it becomes a solution for the world hunger after 50 years, what will your response be? Oh well, let us see what’s so good about insects and why it is considered as that.

Consumption of edible insects has been part of human history for many cultures. These insects played an important role as part of human nutrition in many regions worldwide like Africa, Latin America and Asia. Rural areas in these regions suffer from malnutrition, especially protein-energy malnutrition (PEM) (Siriamornpun and Thammapat, 2008).

Communities of Thailand for instance, have a long cultural history of eating insects. They have become well-known for their exotic food like cockroaches, beetles, grasshoppers and other insects; it is one of the countries which have the most registered species that make their way into man’s digestive system.

insects as food
Insects served as part of regular food in a restaurant (Photo by Richard Allaway@Flicker.com)

Over decades, edible insects are used for other products like canned goods or snacks on a commercial-scale. Its use as a sustainable and secure source for human diet has continued to increase (FAO, 2010; Shockley and Dossey, 2014).

Survival Strategy of Edible Insects

The unpredictable changes in the environment causes many organisms to develop adaptation strategies to survive. One of the strategies is to increase in number of offspring that need little energy investment. The underlying reason is that even if there are unpredictable forces of nature, still there will be some left to live, to reproduce, age and pass on future generation just by mere numbers. Many invertebrates follow this strategy – lots of eggs are produced and larvae are formed but only a few survive to maturity (FAO, 2013; Shockley and Dossey, 2014).

Insects place an emphasis on high growth rate which typically exploit less-crowded ecological niches and produce many offspring quickly. The exponential growth curve by Malthus applies in this selection where the population at the beginning is not very high but grows independently at a very fast rate. Nonetheless, these organisms have relatively low chance of surviving to adult stage. Creatures belong under this strategy are called r-strategists (Shockley and Dossey, 2014).

Most of the organisms classified as r-strategists are pests. They damage crops or bother human beings. However, the traditional use of insects as food continues to expand around the world and it gives significant socio-economic and environmental values for the communities (FAO, 2010).

Potential Source of Alternative Food – Solution to World Hunger

It was projected that by 2050, the world will be having 9 billion people. To support the food needs of this number, the present food production will need to almost double. Arable land, however, has become scarce due to rapid development. Oceans are over fished and climate change and other related shortages can have direct or indirect implications to food production. To meet these problems, production and consumption should be re-evaluated. New strategies of producing food are needed (FAO, 2013).

worm as food
Barbecue flavored worm crisps (Photo by Flavio Ensiki@Flicker.com)

There has been a growing realization that insects can meet the scarcity in food especially in the many protein challenged regions. The works of Raksakantong et al. (2010) as stated by Siriamornpun and Thammapat (2008) concluded that one of the cheapest sources of animal protein are insects.

Consumption of insects is continuously encouraged by many people due to financial issues. Many of the poorest populations in the world such as Africa and Asia eat insects as part of their diet (Shockley and Dossey, 2014). It has the potential of supporting many rural dwellers including also those street traders in urban areas, where some of these insects are popular among those who want to try alternative food (FAO, 2013; West Africa Trends Team, 2014).

The efficiency and biodiversity benefits provided by insects are potential for food supplies and sustainability of a region. Insects contain higher nutritional quality than animal protein as well as produced more sustainable and with much smaller ecological footprint than most livestock such as pigs and cows (FAO, 2013; Shockley and Dossey, 2014).

Furthermore, since insects are r-strategists, they tend to produce quickly compared to livestock, thus, have greater efficiency and biodiversity for they can contribute to human food ingredients even within a short period. There are more than 1 million species of edible insects described and still more than 4-30 million species are estimated to exist on earth, living in every niche inhabited by humans and beyond. For instance, house crickets can lay 1,200 – 1,500 eggs in just a matter of 3-4 weeks (Shockley and Dossey, 2014).

Gathering and farming of insects can also offer employment and more source of income. In developing countries like in Asia, demand for edible insects becomes common. It is relatively easy to bring insects to market. Gathering, rearing and processing into street foods, just like the sale of chicken or fish, are within the reach of small-scale enterprises (FAO, 2013).

Finally, the combined force of traditional knowledge and new technologies in gathering, rearing, processing or producing edible insects is a potential solution for world hunger problems.

Yummy, crunchy cockroach meal, anyone?

References:

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) (2010). Edible forest insect: humans bite back! Rome, Italy: Publishing Policy and Support Branch.

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) (2013). Edible insects: future prospects for food and feed security. Rome, Italy: Publishing Policy and Support Branch.

Shockley M. and A. T. Dossey (2014). Insects for Human Consumption. In Mass Production of Beneficial Organisms Invertebrates and Entomopathogens. J. A. Morales-Ramos, M. G. Rojas and D. I. Shapiro-Ilan (Eds.). Chapter 18. Pp/ 617-652.

Siriamornpun, S. and P. Thammapat (2008). Insects as a Delicacy and a Nutritious Food in Thailand.  Thailand: International Union of Food Science and Technology. p. 1-9.

West Africa Trends Team (2014). Bushmeat and the future of protein in West Africa. West Africa Trends Newsletter, Issue 9. African Center for Economic Transformation. p. 8-13.

©2014 November 27 Shellemai A. Roa

Facts About the Goliath Grouper

Have you ever encountered a Goliath grouper while snorkeling or SCUBA diving? How does it look like? How do these magnificent fishes reproduce? Are they really big as their name “Goliath” suggest? Are they aggressive? This article answers these questions. Read on and learn about the Goliath grouper.

During one of my SCUBA diving spree in Apulit Island, a popular tourist destination north of Palawan Island in the municipality of Taytay, I met the Goliath grouper. I learned about it from a buddy diver who excitedly told me to go diving with him upon a prompt from a classmate in high school who happened to be the mayor of that town. That day actually was our high school reunion day in that isolated, white-beach a few nautical miles from the town proper.

Probably, I am lucky that the Goliath grouper (Epinephelus quinquefasciatus) I encountered several minutes when I plunged into the water was still a juvenile.  But it’s already unusually bigger than the common reef fish I see.

Behavior of Goliath Grouper

I brought with me my automatic Nikon camera encased in a plastic casing to make it water-resistant as taking pictures is a pleasure for me each time I travel. I grabbed the camera hanging by a tough nylon string around my wrist, and took a video of the Goliath grouper following my buddy. Midway the video, a grouper swam by my side then approached me with another one. You can see it below:

How big can Goliath groupers get? The ones above are just juveniles or young ones that could grow to as long as six feet. And they could weigh more than 300 kilograms! The one I saw was about two feet long.

Despite the huge size of the Goliath grouper, they seem to be docile fishes although there are reports that they do attack humans. I saw one video that says so but analyzing the situation, I thought the reason was mainly to feed, not really to attack. Here’s the video of that alleged Goliath grouper attack:

Do you agree with my observation? The moving fins attracted the grouper thinking probably that it was its prey and snapped on it. The prey was the speared fish, not the SCUBA diver who is holding the spear with the fish. It is also possible that the Goliath grouper thought the man as its competitor thus snapped on the competitor’s “tail” and swam away with its booty.

What is the life cycle of the Goliath grouper?

Goliath groupers rely on the protection of the mangrove forests because after their eggs hatch, they settle in the mangrove litter and roots. Thus, the mangroves are crucial in their survival because mangroves serve as microhabitats that prevent predators from eating the very young juveniles. When the juveniles are older, they migrate to the coral reefs and stay there for more than 40 years. When they are old enough to reproduce, the Goliath groupers migrate and spawn into the deeper water column, fertilize the eggs which then are carried by the current, hatch then drift in the currents for 30 to 80 days (Fig. 1).

Goliath grouper
Fig. 1. Life cycle of the Goliath grouper (Illustration by Jane Hawkey, IAN Image Library (ian.umces.edu/imagelibrary/)

The cycle shows that everything is connected to everything else. If something disastrous like oil spill that kills the larvae of fish like the Goliath grouper or makes the mangroves unfit for habitat to fish, then there will be lesser fish available for people to see and enjoy (if they are SCUBA diving or snorkeling tourists) and consume. I wouldn’t have seen the Goliath grouper at all.

The nearshore environment is a fragile one that should be protected or conserved considering the highly complex life that intertwine in mangrove ecosystems. The Goliath grouper is only one of the rich diversity of life that support man.

©2014 November 26 Patrick Regoniel

A Rare Swarm of Bees

Why do bees swarm in one place, usually a plant? Here is my little bee story of a recent experience and some facts about bee stings.

One morning, I noticed something unusual is happening in our garden. There seems to be a clump of insects flying about in one of the breast high potted plants in the lawn just beneath  a stunted coconut tree. I cautiously approached what I suspected to be a swarm of wild bees … and indeed, it is.

Instinctively, I hurried up back inside the house to get my camera. A few seconds later, I’m back ready to take shots of a rare event.

Thinking I am at a safe distance away from the wild bees and mindful that I might disturb them and get bitten, I gradually approached the swarm and held my breath.  This approach seemed to work in my past encounters with wild bees. Besides, I am confident that they will not sting unless they are threatened or harmed. My bee culture experience for the past several years also helped.

I aimed my camera and got the picture below showing bees clumped together on the leaves of a fern next to the plant where the other bees alighted.

bees swarm
A swarm of bees on the leaves of a potted plant.

I wondered why these bees stayed on the leaves when no flower is in sight where they could gather their usual supply of nectar to be stored in their honeycombs. What could be the reason for their stay there?

I searched the internet and found out that these gathering of bees must be transient in nature. I’ve read an article that says these honeybees are on the move to find their new home. And this could be true because after the day I saw the swarm of bees, they are gone the next day.

bee on skin
A curious bee landed on my skin.

At left is a picture of a bee that curiously landed on my skin. It didn’t prick me with its rear end sting but just stayed there. I held my breath once again and took a close-up shot. Had I swatted this bee, I might be inviting other bees to come because of its alarm pheromone. Crushing the bee will alarm the other bees and invite disaster.

According to Dylan Voeller and James Nieh of the University of California San Diego, honeybees are stimulated to attack once the alarm pheromone is released. This can be made worse if the victim wears dark clothes, releases carbon dioxide and moves jerkily. If this is assumed to be an evolutionary behavior, the response increases the survival of the colony as predators are warded off the hive. However, honeybees die once they let go of their sting. Once their sting got stuck on the skin of their victim, they are emboweled once they fly away. Further, the bee distracts the victim by flying about (as if intending to sting) for awhile until it finally dies.

So holding my breath and wearing light clothes would have worked. No bee from the swarm stung me at all. If they did, I will hose them out with water to drive them away.

Any interesting bee story you can share?

© 2014 August 11 P. A. Regoniel

How Slow Can a Heartbeat Get?

Is it possible to have such a slow heart beat than what is usually accepted as the norm? A literature search combined with personal observation can be empowering tools to educate oneself. Indeed, heart rate deviants, called outliers in statistics, exist.

It really pays to educate yourself to keep yourself abreast with what has been discovered so far and help you make decisions. Knowledge is something that we need not only learn in school but by self-study and passionate interest in discovering more than what is made available to you.

I mention these things as I recall the conversations I have had with my doctor when I consulted him the other day. I noticed I had a very low blood pressure and a slow heartbeat at that. As of the latest monitoring using an electronic wrist blood pressure monitor by Omron, my BP went down to just 116/60 at night before retiring to sleep. It seems normal, but my heartbeat was only 47!

I’m a bit disturbed because my doctor noted the other day that normal heartbeats should be 60 or higher; but, according to him, these are the heartbeats of the Marines. Is it possible that I could have such a very slow heartbeat? Should this be a cause for worry?

The doctor’s comments became a concern at the outset. But then, I remembered that Dr. Cooper, a medical doctor who pioneered the aerobics point system, wrote in his book that athletes could have slower than normal heart beats. I flipped to page 103 of his aerobics book, and read that he did note that conditioned athletes can have a resting rate of 32 beats per minute. Further, he checked a marathoner who is in his 60s and recorded a heart rate of 36.[1]  I browsed the internet and learned that Michael Indurain, a five-time winner of Tour de France, had a resting rate of 28 beats per minute. Furthermore, Guinness World Record holder Michael Brady had a heart rate of 27 (!).heart

I am no athlete of these caliber, but knowing these facts and having my record to consult allayed fears of possible abnormality in my condition. It may be a welcome development as I regularly exercise every other day to keep in shape; running a 4 mile distance in 44 minutes or less. If I would translate that to Dr. Kenneth Cooper’s point system, that’s equal to 11 points. And I need to meet at least 30 points per week. I run three times a week, so that’s a total of 33 points per week.

Doing this exercise routine consistently for 36 weeks, my achievement is at par with my earlier running performance way back in the early 1990s. My previous notes, written 20 years ago, indicated that I did have a very low heartbeat on record. My heartbeat on October 20, 1993 was 48 beats per minute. And I did not use an electronic means but counted it using a regular watch and feeling my pulse. So there’s nothing queer about my heart rate at all.

So this is the conclusion of this account on heart rate: that equipping yourself with information from both literature and observation can help you adopt a better view of things. Don’t rely on just a single source of information. Knowledge through a little research and own self-observation recorded on paper can be empowering.

Ones heartbeat can be slower than the expected standard. And…, I have a personal experience to back it up; because I appeared to be one of the deviants, a seeming outlier. Am I a super athlete undiscovered? 🙂

1. Cooper, K. H. (1968). Aerobics. New York: Bantam Books, Inc.

© 2013 October 4 P. A. Regoniel

Facts About Small Animals in the Intertidal Zone

Have you been to an intertidal zone? If you look closely in pools of water that remained as the tide ebbs, there are interesting organisms living there. What organisms do you expect to find? Here is a list of some interesting ones – the baby animals of the intertidal zone.

the intertidal zone
The intertidal zone bounded by mangroves and the open sea.

Which part of the coast is the intertidal zone? As the name connotes, it is that part bounded by the highest tide and the lowest tide. This area can vary between places as the coasts have different configuration and slope. Those with steep inclines tend to have smaller intertidal zone. It is here where people of the coastal communities derive sustenance when fishing in the deeper waters does not give them enough food for the day.

The intertidal zone is an interesting part of the coastal ecosystem. A rich diversity of life exists here, among which are the young stages of marine organisms.

Let me tour you through the intertidal zone by showing some of the common animals found in this important part of coastal ecosystem. A walk through the sandy and rocky shores can be an entertaining activity as you will find a lot of interesting animals if you are keen enough in spotting them.

Babies of the Intertidal Zone

Here are the animals I’ve found in my short walk along the beach at low tide in a coastal area with an extensive intertidal zone. In one of my articles, I call them babies of the intertidal zone as many of the marine organisms here are the early life stages of the mature ones.

A certain degree of caution must be exercised to avoid stepping on the following organisms which play important roles in the maintenance of a healthy coastal ecosystem.

brittle star
A baby brittle star.

1. Baby Brittle Star

Brittle stars feed on almost anything its mouth and tentacles can handle. It is basically omnivorous, meaning, feeding on both small plants and animals. Along with the starfishes, the brittle stars prevent the excessive growth of algae in the coral reefs. Too much algae can suffocate corals and kill them.

The feeding habit of brittle stars prevents the build up of organic materials in the benthic zone or the bottom part of the sea that includes everything solid such as sediments, rocks, coral fragments, mud, among others.

Brittle stars are also known to feed on other animals without necessarily killing them. This type of interaction is referred to as mutualism – both organisms benefit from each other. The brittle star scavenges materials from the host organism, and in turn, the host is cleaned up of excessive organic matter that can be harmful to its health.

The picture of the baby brittle star shown here shows its approximate actual size. When handled, they easily disintegrate because the tentacles are very fragile. Brittle stars, however, are able to regenerate their tentacles easily.

2. Baby Eel

baby eel
A baby eel.

The baby eel is almost indiscernible behind an outcrop of dead coral and sand as the sun reflects light on the surface of the water. Its spotted skin renders it almost unrecognizable as it lies motionless and ready to escape once disturbed.

Eels form part of the intertidal zone food chain. Being predators, they control the population of their prey thus achieve balance in the ecosystem. The specific food eaten by eels can be determined through a study of their stomach contents.

Eels are an important food source to man. These are also used traditionally as food, in fact, a very important part of the diet and social interaction in some coastal communities when shared as part of tradition.[1]

3. Baby Lobster

baby lobster
A baby lobster.

Just like the eel, this baby lobster referred to by locals as “pitik” finds refuge at the junction of a dead coral and sand. It does not really look like the mature one but it does grow into a lobster according to the local guide.

Lobsters are essentially scavengers, meaning, they feed on particles of organic matter. Thus, it serves as a nutrient recycler in the coastal ecosystem. Other marine organisms feed on it as well humans who find the lobster’s meat tasty.

Due to the high demand for lobster, its population has seen a decline in many tropical countries. Recently, lobsters served in restaurants are smaller. This indicates an overfished marine resource. Most of the mature ones have been harvested.

4. Baby Sea Urchin

baby sea urchin
A baby sea urchin.

This baby sea urchin appears rather cute. It looks like a white tennis ball that floats about.

sea urchin
Another baby sea urchin with spines.

Some species of sea urchins are edible and can be consumed directly right after they are gathered. Some species are spiked and can cause discomfort when accidentally stepped upon (see right photo).

Just like the other marine organisms, sea urchins help maintain balance in the coastal ecosystem as part of the food chain. When left unchecked by predators such as starfishes, too many sea urchins can wipe out seaweeds and erode reefs.[2] This will change the productivity of the coastal zone thereby reducing the capacity of the ecosystem to provide services such as provision of food and livelihood to resource dependent communities.

5. Baby Spider Conch

spider conch

Spider conch, locally called “ranga-ranga,” are a favorite among gleaners.  They are marine mollusks that graze on fine red algae [3] thus are also help achieve ecosystem balance.

Aside from consuming this mollusk as food, the shells are used in making shellcraft. As a result, their population continue to decline through the years. If this situation persists for a long time due to unregulated harvesting, cascading effects to the coastal ecosystem will be sustained. Nobody knows what that will be, and research will be able to provide the answers.

The above featured marine organisms are just selections from the diverse array of life in the intertidal zone. When unfortunate events like oil spill occurs, these animals are certainly affected. Based on the ecological roles and economic importance of these organisms, you will be able to appreciate how such events can prove to be disastrous to resource dependent communities in the coastal areas.

References

1. Kavanagh, S. (2011, May 30). “Eels were life to our people”: traditional ecological knowledge of eels as food, medicine, community and life among participants in the Mi’kmaq food and ceremonial fishery in Cape Breton, NS. Retrieved September 23, 2013, from http://www.integrativescience.ca/uploads/articles/2011May-Kavanagh-Integrative-Science-eels-Mikmaq-fisheries-aboriginal-ESAC.pdf

2. Dunlap, H. and T. Monaghan. (2008). Sea urchin. Retrieved September 23, 2013, from http://tolweb.org/treehouses/?treehouse_id=4881

3. Tan, R. (2008, September 12). Spider conch. Retrieved September 23, 2013, from http://www.wildsingapore.com/wildfacts/mollusca/gastropoda/strombidae/lambis.htm

© 2013 September 23 P. A. Regoniel

Things You Don’t Know About the Black Wasp

Reading this article will help you understand why we should treat the black wasp with respect and appreciation. Black wasps play an important ecological role.

Chances are, when a black wasp enters your home and buzzes its way around, you will try to swat it with anything you can lay your hands on. They are known for their painful sting. In fact, a worker at home once unwittingly disturbed a black wasp’s nest attached to a mango leaf. She sustained three to five stings on her face and had to be hospitalized.

However, after reading this personal discovery about the black wasp’s nest, your behavior towards it will change. Black wasps have important ecological role.

The Mud Nest and Its Contents

Yesterday, when I glanced at the sill of the small screened bathroom window, I noticed a solitary black wasp circling around its nest of mud. I watched it while it makes its way inside the small opening on top of the nest. A few moments later, it flew away.

inside black wasp nest
Fig. 1. The mud nest of black wasp and its contents.

Anticipating that the mud nest will grow in time, I decided to remove it but not after finding out what’s inside that small mound. I carefully removed the nest, starting from the bottom and placed it on a folder to take a picture of its contents.

I was surprised to see that the small mound was full of living creatures. See Figure 1 at right.

There are at least three species of living organisms in the picture. From the left, are two black wasp larvae (the smaller one is yellow-green and the bigger one, light chocolate-brown), a pale red colored caterpillar of an unknown species, and three orange-spotted caterpillars of another species. There’s another one not included in this picture because its life juice was sucked out by the black wasp’s larva; but that one is visible in the video below.

Relationship Between Organisms in the Mud Nest

How do these organism’s interact inside that cramped space of mud? Initially, I thought all of them were developing larvae of the black wasp. But then a question came up in my mind, “how can the larva survive without food in that closed chamber of mud?” Then it dawned to me that the longer ones are actually caterpillars that serve as food for the two plump black wasp larvae.

Also, several months ago, I swatted a wasp and off fell a caterpillar from it. That gave me the idea that the black wasp brought these caterpillars into the mud chamber after laying its egg which then hatches into a larvae. The larva attaches itself to the paralyzed caterpillar and then sucks it dry. That’s a simple hypothesis, and I verified this by bringing the bigger larva close to the caterpillars and see if indeed it will attempt to feed on the caterpillar. The video below shows how it behaved.

[youtube=https://whttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bNyKBF84FHQ&rel=0]

The video verified my observation that the wasp larva feeds on the caterpillar until it has enough food ingested for the pupa stage. The proportion seems to be that for each larva in a chamber, two caterpillars were allocated by the mother wasp.

The Black Wasp’s Egg

I peered inside the hole of the unbroken chamber. It is difficult to take a picture through the small hole, so I cut it in half to show a cross-section. Inside is a small egg attached by an almost invisible thread onto the roof of the chamber, hanging there and moving to and fro as I positioned it for a close up picture (see Figure 2). In other descriptions of wasp species, the eggs are laid after food is made available. This species lays the egg first, then finds food in time for the newly hatched larva.

black wasp egg
Fig. 2. The black wasp egg inside a chamber made of mud.

Notice that there is only one egg inside the 1.5 mm thick chamber and there are no other holes anywhere inside it. The top part has a 5 mm opening, enough to squeeze in a caterpillar of specific size, and of course, the black wasp. This means that the wasp chooses a prey with a circumferential size small enough to fit through the hole. This indicates species specificity, meaning, the black wasp is choosy of its prey.

Once the food is deposited, the wasp covers the hole and builds another one to repeat the process until the nest becomes large enough to form a colony. The developing larva inside is safe from ant attack.

Implications of the Findings

This personal encounter draws out many questions that researchers in the biology of the black wasp can explore further:

  1. Which butterfly species do the caterpillar that serve as prey of the black wasp belong? Are they considered pests to farms (since caterpillars are voracious leaf eaters)?
  2. How long will it take for the black wasp’s egg to hatch?
  3. How does the pupa of the black wasp look like?
  4. How long does each stage of the life cycle take?
  5. Why is the black wasp’s egg suspended in the chamber instead of on the floor?
  6. What specific material is the mud nest made up of and how are the materials glued together?

Many more questions can be asked from the observation. These questions arose as gaps in knowledge because the information provided is a one-shot deal. It is akin to a case study. These are exploratory questions based on a single case.

From these questions, the following hypotheses may be tested:

  • The black wasp’s feeding habit can help regulate pest population in farms.
  • The black wasp suspends its egg to give it just the right temperature to allow hatching inside the chamber.
  • The black wasp uses wet mud to build the nest.
  • The life cycle of the black wasp coincides with the life cycle of the prey.

A review of literature will now be more meaningful as you learn things and compare what you have found. In so doing, you can design and carry out a more systematic and rigorous research.

It’s fun discovering and learning things through actual encounter. Using a little wit to deduce relationships between things can help you appreciate how intricate and wonderful life is in this world.

Are all these arrangements a matter of accident or evolution? There must be an Intelligent Being who is responsible for all these wonders.

© 2013 September 17 P. A. Regoniel

10 Tips on How to Discern Fact From Fiction

When presented with information, how do you assess its validity or reliability? Can you distinguish fact from fiction? Here are 10 tips to ponder.

I saw a film titled Primeval last week and I can’t help but get amused of the way the behavior of the large crocodile named Gustave is being portrayed. During the climax, Steven (played by Orlando Jones), cameraman of the news team that tried to capture Gustave, runs with all his might in his bid to outrun the literally galloping crocodile. Gustave, at the end of the film, was also trying to get inside the vehicle, ferociously snapping away at the passengers. So dramatic.

I had such a good laugh because I know crocodiles cannot sustain long runs on land. They are not designed to do so. Crocodiles suddenly lunge when opportunity comes to catch their prey. Thus, they are called opportunistic predators. The attack usually happens at the edge of the water.

Crocodiles cannot sustain long runs because lactic acid builds up easily in its muscles. I had readings and personal encounters on this fact as I once worked in a crocodile conservation facility as an ecologist. If the crocodile does not rest (just like the way you see lizards do it), it will most probably die due to too much strenuous activity[1]. This is characteristic of cold-blooded animals. According to a recent study from the University of Adelaide, if dinosaurs were cold-blooded, they would not have dominated the world for millions of years [2].

For this reason, I thought of writing up the following tips, to help discern fact from fiction, although I would say this is a tall order. In reality, it is difficult to see the truth when bombarded with a lot of conflicting information. These tips, however, can prove handy when reading material from the web and sort out reliable information from trash in view of enhancing your literature review.

10 Tips to Discern Fact from Fiction

1. Educate yourself.

If you have a good background of the subject, nobody can fool you into believing something that is grossly absurd. Imagine the amount of time you spend to educate yourself in schools. It is a long process, but it will help relieve your ignorance about many things.

2.  If things are too exaggerated or too good to be true, dismiss it.

Have you ever seen a film where the human characters fly and jump high places whenever they fight ? If these people exist, then this world will be different. With training, some people will no longer need a ladder or a car for that matter. With just a few hops, they will be able to reach their destinations.

3. Always question what is being presented to you.

discernfactfromfiction

Don’t take things as they are. If there is doubt in your mind regarding things, ask. Through asking, you will verify the existence of an object, fact, or event.

Can you distinguish dreams from reality? Ask yourself while dreaming. Chances are, you will not be able to do so.

4. Verify the sources of information.

Find out where your information comes from. Is it coming from a verified source or is it just someone’s opinion? This is the very reason researchers have always to write their sources or references to enable the reader or critic of his paper to verify sources for reliability.

Science builds up its foundation on facts. If the foundation is weak, everything built upon it collapses once it gives way. A theory is built out of many tests of hypotheses.

Verifying sources of information becomes very important especially on those occasions where something really important crops up. Say, a total cure for cancer has been developed or discovered.

Nobody in his right mind will believe a tricky quack doctor’s recipe who has had a track record of 49/50 (49 died out of 50). Also, a scientist’s word is more believable than a politician’s when it comes to new discoveries.

5. Get rid of your biases.

If you have your prejudices, then your objective judgement is clouded. Take things with a grain of salt. Don’t incorporate your emotions and your personal biases. You can avoid this by applying the principle of triangulation.

6. Assess how well information is presented.

When reading information online, which one would you believe – one that is poorly written full of grammatical errors or one that is professionally written? Of course, you will go for the latter.

Presentation matters. If something is carefully done, chances are, there is more truth to it.

7. Vary your perspective.

Observe things using different perspectives. Delay your judgment when the facts are not adequate.

Remember the story of the six blind men and the elephant (see the video below if you are not familiar with this story)? Each one of them has a different view of what an elephant is because they relied on only one observation. The point is: don’t confine yourself to just one observation.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iBqgr5xZLz0&rel=0]

8. Think beyond the box.

Explore what other information you can find about things around you. Thinking beyond the box means that you are unconventional. Don’t take things as they are. Ponder them and take action to verify the truth based on your observation.

The newly discovered mammal named olinguito would have been overlooked had one scientist dismissed his observation. Read about this discovery here.

9. Don’t make decisions right away.

Many commit blunders as a result of wrong decisions. Blunder is a common term used in playing chess. Once you make the decision, you cannot retract it. The die is cast.

While too much procrastination may be bad for you, being impulsive is also destructive. University of San Diego professor Frank Partnoy says the key to success is waiting for the last possible moment to make a decision[3].

10. Watch out for opinionated statements. 

Don’t believe something without a basis. If you have 100 people, you are bound to have 100 opinions. Arguments should be substantiated by facts or evidences.

The whole point of the matter discussed here is that it pays if you follow certain guidelines in evaluating information presented to you. Remember Alexander Pope’s famous quotation “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.”

References

1. Queensland Government. (2013, April 24). Crocodiles. Retrieved from August 17, 2013, from http://www.qld.gov.au/environment/plants-animals/animals/crocodiles/

2. Outred, J. (2013, July 24). Cold-blooded dinos would have been ‘too weak’. Retrieved from August 17, 2013, from http://www.australiangeographic.com.au/journal/cold-blooded-dinosaurs-would-have-been-too-weak.htm

3. Gambino, M. (2012, July 13).  Why Procrastination is good for you. Retrieved August 17, 2013, from http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/Why-Procrastination-is-Good-for-You-162358476.html

© 2013 August 18 P. A. Regoniel