A study out of Newcastle University’s faculty of medical science, “Water-induced finger wrinkles improve handling of wet objects,” was just published in the journal Biology Letters.
Here’s the abstract for the study: “Upon continued submersion in water, the glabrous skin on human hands and feet forms wrinkles.
The formation of these wrinkles is known to be an active process, controlled by the autonomic nervous system. Such an active control suggests that these wrinkles may have an important function, but this function has not been clear.
“In this study, we show that submerged objects are handled more quickly with wrinkled fingers than with unwrinkled fingers, whereas wrinkles make no difference to manipulating dry objects. These findings support the hypothesis that water-induced finger wrinkles improve handling submerged objects and suggest that they may be an adaptation for handling objects in wet conditions.”
Researchers had subjects pick up submerged or dry marbles, as well as small lead weights, pass them through a hole in a container and then drop them in another container.
One group had dry fingers while the other had wet hands with wrinkled fingertips.
To cut right to the chase, the wrinkly fingertips work a little bit like tire treads, allowing water to move away quickly under pressure, and improving grip.
And while that’s interesting enough, what’s more interesting is how you can look at that sort of study. To me, and to the study’s authors, it appeared to be some sort of evolutionary advantage, something along the lines of “survival of the grippiest.”
You can easily imagine that dexterity at picking up wet or submerged objects could confer a significant advantage.
But when I mentioned the study to another editor here, his immediate response was that it was proof of intelligent design.
And I guess that’s true.
You look for what you want to see — or, more to the point, you interpret things through your own particular lens.
The hardest part of an objective examination is looking clearly and honestly at the things you don’t want to see.
And while it may be flogging a dead horse after December’s sanction of the Muskrat Falls project, I think it’s worthwhile looking back and seeing just exactly how two simple questions ended up being the core of a flawed debate.
The first question was, will we need the power? The second was, if you look at only two options, which one is cheaper?
Will we need the power?
The government has always argued that the answer to that question is implicitly yes — that, regardless of whether the pulp and paper industry is crumbling worldwide, potentially freeing up power supply from the Corner Brook mill, regardless of power opportunities from the Upper Churchill in 2041, and regardless of energy-saving and conservation measures, demand will necessarily rise and outstrip our current supply.
That critical question has never been objectively answered outside the confines of Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro’s own power forecasts, but the government has always taken as a given that the forecasts are right. That’s interesting, because such forecasts don’t have a great history of accuracy in this province.
Then, to the second question: which option is cheaper?
The two options were: maintaining an isolated island system
with Holyrood providing increased amounts of electricity, or building Muskrat Falls.
Both options are predicated on the island actually needing substantial amounts of increased power. (Which, hopefully for all our sakes, it will. If it doesn’t, we’ll end up paying for it anyway.)
The financial difference between the two plans was massive — billions of dollars.
Billions based, of course, on a 50-year forecast for the price of oil (we haven’t been able to successfully forecast the price of oil for even one year ahead, let alone 50) among other things.
So, why did the government refuse to put the whole project up for a fully objective review?
Perhaps because it had, to its own satisfaction, already answered the one truly critical question and decided that we would need the power, whether we’ll be able to pay for it or not.
Once that question was answered, the rest flowed simply: if you accept that there’s evolution, you’ll examine your wet fingertips with evolution in mind.
If you need the divine intervention of intelligent design, your wet fingertips can be proof of that, as well.
The decision on Muskrat Falls, for better or worse, was made the moment the government accepted the premise that electrical consumption in this province would rise — and that there was nothing that could be done to slow that rate of increase.
After that, everything is interpreted by the lens you decide to look through.
History, though, is likely to have a different look at this particular wrinkle.
Russell Wangersky is The Telegram’s
editorial page editor. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.