News from the technological frontier.

Science, technology, and life.
Feb. 7 2005 11:25 AM

Too Dumb to Fail

And other news from the technological frontier.

Latest Human Nature columns: 1) The pseudo-feminist show trial of Larry Summers. 2) Life arrives on a moon of Saturn. 3) The creature genetic engineers fear most. 4) The creepy solution to the stem-cell debate.

Virginia may execute a killer because he's no longer retarded. Years ago, he scored 59 on an I.Q. test, qualifying as too retarded to be constitutionally executed. (The cutoff in Virginia is 70.) He recently took another I.Q. test and scored 76. His lawyer blames the improvement on the inmate's participation in litigating his appeals--"a forced march towards increased mental stimulation," according to the psychologist who tested him. Law-and-order spin: Low test scores are a joke. Anybody smart enough to plan a crime like this one is competent to be executed. Civil rights spin: I.Q. increases with age, so the state can retest an inmate for years until he scores too high. Cynical spin: The test nails exactly the wrong people, because anybody too dumb to figure out how to score below 70 when his life is at stake really is too retarded to be executed.

William Saletan William Saletan

Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right.

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Cops are being investigated for using or selling steroids in nine states. They reportedly use the drugs to get strong enough to handle or intimidate suspects. Problem: Steroids can fuel rage and aggression. Two cops convicted of unwarranted shootings have blamed the drugs. Debate: 1) If steroids are criminal, only criminals will have steroids. 2) If steroids are legal, more cops will be criminals. ... 8:30 a.m. PT

Sunday, Feb. 6, 2005

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A  NASA study indicates greenhouse gases could revive Mars. Using ingredients already on the planet, astronauts could start a greenhouse effect and turn Mars into "a living and breathing world that could support future human colonies." Caveat: It "could take centuries or millenniums." Implication: It might be easier to make a nearby planet habitable than to reach a habitable planet far away.

A judge ruled that you can sue for the "wrongful death" of an embryo. The plaintiffs sued a fertility clinic for accidentally throwing out embryos it froze and stored for them. The judge cited 1) Illinois' Wrongful Death Act, which says "the state of gestation or development of a human being" doesn't disqualify a claim, and 2) another Illinois law that says an "unborn child is a human being from the time of conception and is, therefore, a legal person." A different judge previously tossed the case without explanation. Pro-choice spin: This ruling for embryonic personhood will be overturned because it defies other legal precedents. Pro-life spin: Other legal precedents will be overturned because they defy embryonic personhood. Political spin: Never mind abortion—the ruling will be axed because it defies stem-cell research. ... 6:00 p.m. PT

Friday, Feb. 4, 2005

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The Food and Drug Administration may approve an electronic implant for depression. The implant, which was made to treat epilepsy, sends pulses to the brain. One expert calls it "a pacemaker for the brain." Similar implants already treat chronic pain. Patients would have to try drugs and other therapies before getting it. Implication: We're increasingly treating the mind as part of the body.

Cops are fingerprinting speeders in Phoenix, Ariz. Sheriff's deputies are asking for a thumbprint when they ticket a driver. Critics say drivers don't know they can refuse. Sheriff's spin: We're doing it to protect the innocent. Cynics' translation: They're doing it to catch the guilty. Implication: Government is finding new ways to collect evidence from ordinary people. ... 3:00 p.m. PT

Thursday, Feb. 3, 2005