(For the latest Human Nature columns on intelligent design, dogs, and gay priests, click here.)
The biggest reported breakthrough in stem-cell research is a complete fraud, according to investigators. For months, media outlets reported that a South Korean scientist had cloned 11 patients to produce stem cells genetically matched to them. The research raised hopes that cloning could help cure hundreds of millions of people. Now investigators say none of the 11 stem-cell lines was cloned (i.e., genetically matched). Implications: 1) There's still no firm evidence that cloning can cure people. 2) Did the same scientist fake the reported cloning of a dog? (For Human Nature's previous update on the scandal, click here; for recent columns on stem cells, click here and here.)
American parents are debating whether it's OK to sleep with your kids. A survey indicates one of every five parents shares their bed with the baby till it's at least 8 months old. That's a threefold increase in a decade. Arguments against it: 1) It's sick. 2) It stunts the kid's independence. 3) You'll roll over on him and smother him. 4) You're too weak-willed to endure the crying. 5) You're really doing this so you don't have to be intimate with your husband, aren't you? Arguments for it: 1) You critics have an unhealthy obsession with independence. 2) You're sick to assume sleeping together is sexual. 3) It feels good. 4) It makes breastfeeding easier. (For a defense of the practice in Slate, click here.)
Adult circumcision is spreading as an AIDS-prevention measure in Africa. Hundreds of men in Swaziland have undergone the half-hour procedure this year; hospitals have two-month waiting lists. Critics' objections: 1) It's genital mutilation, like what Africans have done to their women. 2) South African men who've been circumcised feel so safe they've taken on more sex partners. 3) Ouch! Supporters' rebuttals: 1) Even with more sex partners, circumcision reduces AIDS. 2) If we don't supply and subsidize it, unmet demand will lead to unsanitary, back-alley circumcisions.
More evidence that alcohol can be good for you: In a study of middle-aged and older Swedish women, drinking at least one serving of alcohol each week correlated with a 38 percent lower risk of kidney cancer. Among women older than 55, the risk reduction associated with alcohol was 66 percent. Other studies have associated moderate drinking with lower chances of obesity, stroke, and mental decline. But evidence suggesting a lower risk of heart disease has been debunked, and all studies warn that heavy drinking is worse than not drinking at all.
A new implant can delay female puberty. American girls are hitting puberty earlier than ever: The average age of onset was 12.75 in the 1960s, 12.5 early in the 1990s, and 12.3 early in this decade. One reason: Girls are getting fatter, which triggers menstruation. But a new implant can suppress puberty-promoting hormones for at least a year. The implant was designed to thwart extremely early puberty (age 7 or 8) that threatens to halt a girl's growth. Whether it could or should be applied for other reasons hasn't been addressed.(For Human Nature's previous update on virginity restoration, click here.)
Doctors converted a man's toe and forefinger into thumbs. The man had lost both thumbs in a military accident. Surgeons amputated a toe, moved it to one of his hands, and turned the other hand's index finger into a thumb. Toe-thumb conversions have been done before, but usually on one hand at a time. (For Human Nature's previous update on the world's first face transplant, click here; for a recent report on hand reattachment, click here.)
Business is booming in designer dogs. Breeders are methodically mating certain breeds with others to create Puggles, Morkies, Labradoodles, Cockapoos, Doodleman Pinschers—whatever you want. Price: Hundreds to thousands of dollars. Payoff: Novelty and chic. Result: A eugenics war between 1) designer-dog breeders who say their inventions are less inbred than current breeds and 2) old-fashioned snobs who talk about breed-mixing the way bigots talk about race-mixing. Snobs' advantage: The designers want to be part of the club. Designers' advantage: People are willing to pay more for the inventions. (For Human Nature's take, click here.)
Scientists are identifying genes for long and healthy life. One version of the APOE gene wards off Alzheimer's disease and favors survival to age 90 without mental impairment; another version doesn't. Two "genetic regions" labeled DYS389 and DYS390 also correlate with health in old age. Experts' surmise: Healthy habits might get you to 80, but gene tests could better predict your prospects beyond that.
Intelligent design is becoming a hot issue in Pennsylvania's Senate race. Rick Santorum, the Senate's third-highest-ranking Republican, sits on the board of the Thomas More Law Center, which led the fight for ID in Dover, Pa. He also praised the Dover school district for trying to "teach the controversy of evolution." Now that the case has led to a court ruling that eviscerated ID, Santorum says the center "made a huge mistake in taking this case," and he's going to quit its board. Santorum 2002: "Intelligent design is a legitimate scientific theory that should be taught in science classes." Santorum 2005: "I'm not comfortable with intelligent design being taught in the science classroom." Reaction from Santorum's challenger: He's an ideologue or a weasel, take your pick. (For Human Nature's take on the ruling, click here.)