Rats starting to outsmart scientists

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Aubrey de Gray, a 42-year-old British biogerontologist, has announced that there's no reason we can't live 1,000 years or more.

Other scientists, however, downplayed the report, pointing out that a longer life wouldn't be a benefit "unless there were substantial improvements in cable TV offerings."

Good point. We can't seriously be expected to watch Sopranos episodes for more than a couple of hundred years.

And who knows what we'll be paying 500 years from now -- a couple of billion dollars a month to watch sitcoms from the 1960s?

On the positive side, we might live long enough to see many extraordinary and exciting developments, such as women driving in Saudi Arabia.

It's true. It could be coming any century now.

In an actual interview with Barbara Walters, Saudi King Abdullah said, "I believe the day will come when women drive."

Imagine!

Driving licenses for women "will require patience," the king continued. "In time, I believe it will be possible."

Wow, you'd think this was the People's Republic of California.

But on to this week's topic, and yes, there is one: Rats.

No, I'm not going Charlie Brown on you. Rats are in the news again, as they've started outsmarting the scientists who are studying them, just as I predicted they would.

(Editor's note: He predicted no such thing.)

According to an actual CNN.com report, scientists were unable to find a rat released on a small island, despite traps, sniffing dogs and -- get this! -- a radio collar on the poor creature.

These scientists spent four months on a deserted island looking for a rat fitted with a radio collar.

How do I get this job and, yes, I'm willing to spring for the beer.

Even more amazing, the rat finally left, swimming 400 meters to a neighboring island, where it promptly set up a maze to test scientists' intelligence.

The results, to appear in next month's "Scientific Rat" magazine, are said to reflect poorly on the scientists' navigational skills and willingness to ask for directions. Fortunately, they had been fitted with radio collars and were led out of the maze before starving to death.

Also on the small-rodent news front are reports that male mice sing in the presence of female mice.

Getting to hear the mice, which rarely perform at karaoke bars, was not easy. According to the actual CNN.com story, the scientists "developed a way to hear the sounds by recording them on tape and reconstructing them four octaves lower."

The result? A passable -- though not professional quality -- rendition of "Pretty Woman."

"Frankly, we were disappointed," said one scientist who admitted to being a fan of "American Idol's" Simon Cowell. "At first it seemed pretty cool listening to a singing mouse, but when he got to the chorus, he just didn't deliver the goods.

"If he expects to make it past the first round of "American Rodent Idol," he's got to have his game on."

At press time, there was no word on what would come first, Saudi women drivers or a singing rodent reality show.

Write to Don Flood in care of King Features Weekly Service, P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475, or send e-mails to dflood287@comcast.net.