And other news from science and technology.
(For the latest Human Nature columns on stem cells, mandatory pregnancy, and more, click here.)
Scientists are asking the pope to clarify the Catholic position on evolution.They're disturbed by a senior cardinal's recent suggestion that Catholics can't accept Darwinian randomness.
Republicans are preparing to flood the Senate with "alternative" stem-cell bills to lure senators away from a stem-cell research bill that the president would have to veto. The alternatives avoid killing embryos, but it would take time to make them work. (For Human Nature's take, click here.)
Some drugs for Parkinson's can cause compulsive gambling. Some people taking the drugs also showed "abnormally increased appetites for food, alcohol and sex." These results are rare. Evidently the drugs "affect parts of the brain that are crucial for regulating behavior."
Cell phones make driving four times more dangerous even with hands-free devices. The devices cause no significant difference, confirming that the distraction is the conversation, not holding the phone.
A prominent Catholic cardinal is challenging evolution. The cardinal, widely seen as a potential future pope, says Catholicism could accept that species have common ancestors but not "an unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection." He thinks evolution should be taught as only one of many theories. Some critics worry that a fight will hurt the teaching of evolution; others worry that it will hurt Catholicism.
The Senate might reject an embryonic stem-cell research bill and spend the money instead to try to get embryonic stem cells without destroying embryos. ESCR backers aren't sure whether to support the alternatives or to fight them because they'll take money from ESCR. Opponents aren't sure whether to support the alternatives or to fight them because they create creepy, embryolike things. (For Human Nature's take, click here.)
A study outlines ways to grow meat in labs. We could engineer it to be healthier, and it would help the environment, since by one estimate 21 percent of human-generated carbon dioxide is produced by animals we use for food. Unmentioned benefit: We would kill fewer animals.
More people are abusing prescription drugs than cocaine, heroin, inhalants, and hallucinogens put together. The academic center that put out this report says doctors write too many prescriptions.
Twenty states have blocked lawsuits blaming restaurants for obesity. Eleven more states are considering bills; Congress may pass a similar "cheeseburger bill." A consumer advocate complains, "If someone is saying that a 64-ounce soda at 7-Eleven contributed to obesity, that person should have his day in court."
A judge gave prosecutors some of Rush Limbaugh's medical records so they can investigate whether he bought painkillers illegally. He has admitted he was addicted. Courts rejected his claims that seizure of his records violated his privacy.
Supporters of embryonic stem-cell research are trying to round up enough senators to override a Bush veto. They claim to have nearly 60 votes, enough to end a filibuster. Some pro-life senators, cross-pressured by home-state business interests, remain undecided.
A study found that circumcision cuts the risk of getting HIV by 70 percent in men who have sex with infected women. Researchers stopped the study "on the grounds that it would be immoral to proceed without offering the uncircumcised control group the opportunity to undergo the procedure." (Link requires subscription.)
Scientists are learning how your environment changes your genes. The longer identical twins live apart, the more their "epigenomes" (chemicals that activate or suppress genes) differ.
A study suggests bisexuals are really gay or straight. Researchers "measured genital arousal patterns" among self-described bisexual men as they watched erotic images of women and men. "About three-quarters of the group had arousal patterns identical to those of gay men; the rest were indistinguishable from heterosexuals."
Fire ants clone themselves. Queens produce some eggs that become never-fertilized female ants. Other eggs are fertilized by males, but the paternal DNA in the embryos wipes out the maternal DNA, making them clones of their fathers. All other ants (those that have both maternal and paternal DNA) are sterile, so only the clones propagate.
NASA hit a comet with a rocket. The crash took place 83 million miles away at 23,000 miles per hour. The immediate goal was to knock some stuff out of the comet so we can learn what comets are made of. The speculative goal was to figure out how to blow up a comet if it's heading toward Earth. We achieved the first goal but not (as expected) the second.
Latest Human Nature columns: 1) The forced marriage of stem-cell opponents. 2) The lesson of the Schiavo autopsy. 3) Mandatory pregnancy: A true story. 4) Abortion and responsibility. 5) The coming war over IVF. 6) Bush's hypocrisy on stem cells and the death penalty. 7) The evolution of creationism. 8) Why GPS tracking is good for felons. 9) If steroids are cheating, why isn't LASIK?
Will Saletan covers science, technology, and politics for Slate and says a lot of things that get him in trouble.