Saturday, February 20, 2016


            Researchers Say Spinach and Blueberries Improve the Mental Abilities of Rats! 

Naturally, this headline caught my attention.  I've always been interested in rats, and most particularly in their mental abilities!  It’s apparent to me that these rodents aren't nearly as smart as they ought to be -- and I have first-hand knowledge of that fact.  I recall one rat from my childhood who, if his mental facilities had been up to snuff, would have turned tail and run when presented with the grim visage of my mother staring squint-eyed down the barrel of a twelve-gauge shotgun.  Instead, this pest returned the stare and met its demise on our cellar steps. 

The stairway didn't fare much better than the rat -- but that's beside the point.
             It's obvious to me that our tax dollars are well spent in performing experiments on rats.  Don't they deserve to have improved mental abilities?  If rats were smarter, maybe they'd know enough to ring the doorbell when they wanted entrance to a house, instead of fighting their way through the less-than-sanitary conditions of a home's sewer pipes.  Surely they would prefer to make their appearance on the front porch, instead of poking up through the water in the toilet bowl, especially when they can't be sure whether or not said throne is in use at the time.  I wonder, too, how many times they have almost reached their goal, only to hear a thunderous WHOOSH that signaled a speedy trip back down the pipe to the rodent's point of origin. 
             What really interested me in the article was how scientists go about testing the mental abilities of rats.  I have always associated rat tests with mazes, but not a single mention was made of that time-honored puzzle.  Instead, the scientific conclusions were arrived at by another test.  I quote the article in question.

"Rats fed with a normal diet that contained 2% freeze-dried spinach learned to associate the sound of a tone with an oncoming puff of air faster than those fed regular rat chow.... The test measured the interval between the sound of the tone and when the rats blinked."
            Several questions come to mind.  The first is, well…is there truly such a thing as rat chow? Is that something you can pick up at the Farmers' Union or at Agway?  What is the size of the market for such a chow?   

            I confess to calling rat chow by another name: De-con.
            Then, I wondered how these scientists induced their subjects to eat spinach.  I know of only three people who actually like the stuff, besides Popeye.  But then I remembered that these subjects were rats... rats that crawl through sewers...and I realized that spinach was probably a real treat.

             As far as tones and puffs and blinking -- well, this seems like a bit of wishful thinking on the scientists' part.  How can they be sure that the rats' blinking wasn't just an involuntary action?  Maybe rats are prone to dry eyes, especially if they are confined to cages that are constantly being buffeted by blasts of air from well-meaning researchers? 

Perhaps rats were already smart and they figured out that if they blinked properly like any respectable rat should, they would continue to be fed that delicious spinach instead of ordinary, humdrum rat chow.     
            Reading on, I learned that the antioxidants in spinach blocked the effects of free radicals.  I'm assuming that free radicals are people like the members of PETA, who no doubt became enraged upon discovering that rats were being puffed at with air, and began campaigning for their release.  Apparently, as long as the scientists can continue to supply their rats with spinach, these free radicals will stay blocked and the rodents will remain status quo in their exalted position as scientific subjects.

           It seems that blueberries fight the decline in rats’ memories.  Another valiant effort!  What a joy to realize that part of the money that we send to the government each year supports this heroic endeavor.  I can imagine the benefits now....

"Hey, Ralph! Do you remember that puff of air we got on December 12, 1996?" 

"Sure do, Rudy!  We flared our nostrils and blinked three times, just to mess with their heads!  What a riot!  We set them back six months, that time!" 

"Yeah, Ralph, but at least it got us off that diet of freeze-dried spinach we'd been on for nine months, and into blueberries, instead!"
              And this, my friends, is how our government allocates those tax monies we faithfully send to them each year on April fifteenth.

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