Drop the Crack Pipe, Grandpa
And other news from science and technology.
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The rate of fatal drug overdose among people 40 or older has doubled in California since 1990, while the rate among younger people has declined. Nationally, the percentage of drug abusers who are older than 35 has nearly tripled since 1979. Theories: 1) Boomers keep doing drugs till it kills them. 2) Boomers stop doing drugs, thus losing their tolerance, so when they start up again, it kills them. 3) Boomers learn the hard way that a 45-year-old body can't take the same abuse as a 25-year-old body. 4) Older abusers do their drugs alone, so when they overdose, nobody's around to call 911.
Scientists claim new dope tests can help distinguish natural from artificial steroids. The new technique improves carbon analysis. Rosy spin: High-tech cops are outwitting high-tech cheats. Cynical spin: The cops are bluffing.
Fossils indicate that a miniature near-human species may have shared the Earth with us until 12,000 years ago. Bones found on an island suggest the creatures were 3 feet tall with chimp-sized brains. Theories: 1) They're a separate genus of primates. 2) They're deformed humans. 3) They're humans who evolved to be smaller because they were isolated on the island.
IBM pledged not to weed out job applicants who have bad genes. Companies could use genetic information to avoid hiring people with expensive future health needs; IBM is the first big company to say it won't do that. Congress is considering similar genetic-privacy legislation. Proponents say people won't accept the spread of genetic testing unless they're protected from discrimination as a result.
A birth mother defeated a genetic father for custody of their children. The unmarried couple had IVF triplets using his sperm and anonymously donated eggs. The Tennessee Supreme Court declared her the legal mother, in part because the couple had originally agreed she would have that role. The case is viewed as a landmark because it affirms parenthood without genetic connection, marriage, or legal adoption.
Five robot cars finished a 130-mile course through desert, tunnels, and mountain passes. They used cameras, lasers, sensors, radar, and GPS. It's a huge improvement over last year, when no cars finished the course. The military sponsored the contest to develop war vehicles that don't expose human drivers to danger, but the contest winner says he did it to make civilian cars safer.
Researchers are figuring out how partial sleep deprivation kills people. It generates stress hormones, raises blood pressure, causes chronic inflammation, and disrupts coordination of bodily functions. It correlates with obesity, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and death.
Most European smokers who have heart attacks keep smoking. Health advocates wonder how to get the message across that smoking is bad for you. Cynics figure if the heart attack doesn't get it across, nothing will.
Vaccines can prevent some cancers. The first successful vaccine, possibly available next year, generates immunity to virusesthat cause cervical cancer, which kills nearly 300,000 women a year.
Will Saletan covers science, technology, and politics for Slate and says a lot of things that get him in trouble.