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June 23 2005 9:48 AM

Stop Me Before I Tan Again

And other news from science and technology.

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Prosthetic limbs are becoming robotic. Sensors, chips, and hydraulics are improving them to such a degree that some amputees now flaunt them, and the military is exploring ways to put robotic attachments on non-amputees.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist revised his medical assessment of Terri Schiavo. He previously said on the Senate floor, speaking "as a physician," that she was not in a persistent vegetative state. Now that she's been autopsied, he says, "I never, never, on the floor of the Senate, made a diagnosis." (For Human Nature's takes, click here  and here.)

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Doctors are keeping a brain-dead woman alive so her fetus can develop. This is the 12th such case reported in the U.S. in three decades. The average survival time for such women is 10 weeks, which would get this baby to 25 weeks gestation.

Terri Schiavo's autopsy vindicated her husband. Examiners concluded that 1) her brain was irreversibly damaged and had shrunk to half the appropriate size; 2) her bone damage was the result of immobility, not violence; 3) there was no evidence of strangulation; and 4) an MRI, which critics faulted her husband for not authorizing, might have harmed her because she had an implanted stimulator in her brain.

A religious right leader conceded that "nature" makes some people gay. Rev. Rob Schenk says he'll tell fellow evangelicals that gay sex is Biblically forbidden but that homosexuality is "deeply rooted."

Conservatives challenged a study that suggested virginity pledges fail to reduce sexually transmitted diseases. The Heritage Foundation applied different methods to the same data and concluded that the pledges worked. The original study's authors say Heritage is wrong to rely on self-reporting of STDs.

Italy's IVF law survived a referendum. The law bans sperm donation and surrogate motherhood and requires women to implant simultaneously all the embryos they create. (For Human Nature's take, click here.)

Astronomers found the smallest planet so far detected outside our solar system. It has seven times the Earth's mass, is made of the same stuff, and might have an atmosphere. This is as small a planet as we can detect with present technology, so there's no evidence that Earth-sized planets won't be found as our instruments improve.

New evidence suggests that fat makes you age faster. Obesity adds about nine years to your biological age, as measured by cellular deterioration.

Psychiatrists are debating whether too many people are being classified as mentally ill. Some say over-diagnosis is diverting resources from seriously ill people to those with mild problems. Others say it's better to catch the mild cases before they become serious.

IVF kids are taller and have more good cholesterol than naturally conceived kids. The height difference seems related to more growth hormones, not parental size. The study's author thinks the difference is caused by IVF-induced genetic change, not by eugenics.

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