STRANGEBUTTRUE- Elephant run: They don't, and yet they do

Q. What's the debate over whether elephants run? Asked another way, are you more apt to see an elephant run or fly? –Babar

A. Ironically, both may be equally unlikely, because it turns out that instead of running in the conventional sense, elephants adopt a unique gait at speed, with the fore limbs trotting and the hind limbs walking, says New Scientist magazine. To study this, Belgian researchers built an eight-meter-long (26-foot) platform and recorded the downward forces of elephants pounding over it; they then had 34 elephants either walk slowly across or "run" at speeds of up to five meters per second (11 mph). 

When most animals walk, their center of mass sways from side to side but bounces like a pogo stick on a run. However, this motion wastes energy. The research team found that an elephant traveling at speed keeps its center of mass at a constant height, even though its front legs pogo up and down in a trotting motion (The Journal of Experimental Biology). 

John Hutchinson of the Royal Veterinary College, UK, questions whether this counts as running, as, he notes, "By some definitions, all feet must be off the ground at the same time– something that does not happen with elephants."

Q. Million-dollar puzzle: It's been reported that members of the 2003 class of St. Vincent-St. Mary High School (Akron, Ohio) earned an average of more than $200,000 the year following graduation. So, you savvy statistical

types, take a shot at the reason: a) the school had a superior faculty; b) many of the students eschewed college and went straight into better-paying jobs; c) the students were bigger fibbers on earnings surveys; d) other. –W. Bennett

A. Check "other," by the name of LeBron James, the highly paid basketball superstar and St. Vincent-St. Mary alumnus. In 2003, James graduated and went directly to the pros, with salary, bonuses, and advertising contracts estimated at about $24 million that year. Since the graduating class numbered 116, the average annual income per student ($24 million divided by 116) exceeded $200,000!

People often confuse the terms "average" and "median" (as many numbers above this figure as below), which are totally different statistical animals. It takes only one phenomenal "outlier" to make a mockery of an average, as in the St. Vincent-St. Mary case. The median here would have been more defensible and a far lower figure.

Q. On a really bad day for a cow, what befalls it? –Bossie

A. First comes a high-powered shot to the head from a slaughterhouse gun with a captive bolt, as reported in The New Yorker.

Next what's left of the cow gets hoisted high off the ground for an aerial attack by blades at precisely chosen points. There follows the "disassembly line": skinning, decapitation, gutting, then halving along the backbone by a power saw.

We're not to hamburger yet.

Now comes an interlude of about 36 hours of prescribed cooling, down to maybe 45 degrees F, whereupon a veritable entourage of sawers and knife-wielders proceed to whack out steaks, ribs, offal and the rest.

Hamburger, here we are.

The rest of the story, as you know, involves lots of lettuce, tomatoes, pickles and the like, but also– as you may not have known– beef byproducts finding their way into candies, mayonnaise, margarine, ice cream, lipstick, soap, deodorant, detergent, linoleum, insecticide and shampoo. The cow lives on, only in forms you might not recognize.

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Send Strange questions to brothers Bill and Rich at Strangetrue@cs.com

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