(For the latest Human Nature columns on human eggs, dogs, and gay priests, click here.)
New York City is urging Jewish parents to stop letting mohels suck blood from circumcision wounds. The sucking, which is supposed to clean the wound, reportedly happens 2,000 to 4,000 times a year in the city. The city acted after several sucked boys got herpes infections, one of which led to brain damage. Some Orthodox Jews hold the practice sacred and accuse the city of violating religious freedom. Others say it's about time the city did something to protect kids from zealots. The city says a ban would be unenforceable and beyond government's authority, and education is the next best thing. (For Human Nature's previous update on bloodsucking circumcision, click here; for Christopher Hitchens' take, click here.)
Pat Robertson implied that God caused Ariel Sharon's stroke. While experts debated biological causes and prognoses, Robertson proposed a theory of intelligent revenge: "The prophet Joel makes it very clear that God has enmity against those who, quote, 'divide my land.' God considers this land to be his. You read the Bible, he says, 'This is my land.' And for any prime minister of Israel who decides he going carve it up and give it away, God says, 'No. This is mine.' … [Sharon] was dividing God's land, and I would say woe unto any prime minister of Israel who takes a similar course." (For Human Nature's previous take on Robertson, revenge, and intelligent design, click here.)
You can now buy an instant male fertility test kit over the counter. Within an hour, a man and woman can get estimates (supposedly 95 percent accurate) of their respective abilities to conceive that night. A developer of the test says, "All the man has to do is produce a sample, push a button and twist a switch and he will be able to assess that he has enough sperm that can swim to fertilize an egg." Unexplained: How a man old enough to worry about his fertility produces both a "sample" and a performance. (For David Plotz's first-person account of donating sperm, click here.)
Good is bad and bad is good, continued: 1) "Heart conditions became worse in male mice carrying a genetic mutation for heart disease when they were fed a soy diet." 2) "A new study of older men and women shows that … the risk of fatal heart failure decreases with higher LDL cholesterol levels." 3) "The use of nicotine substitutes (nicotine gum, patches or inhalers) during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy appears to slightly increase the risk of birth defects" compared to smoking. 4) Moderate alcohol consumption "appears to protect older women from developing type 2 or non-insulin-dependent diabetes." 5) "Giving homeless alcoholics a regular supply of booze may improve their health and their behavior."
The Dover, Pa., school board repealed its policy of promoting "intelligent design." The board members who had approved the policy were swept out in elections two months ago, and last month, a federal judge struck down the policy as unconstitutional. The new board, elected on a platform to get rid of the policy, has now done so. The next court fight over creationism is in Georgia; the next election fight is in Kansas. (For Human Nature's columns on the battle in Dover, click here, here, and here.)
The scientist who faked a breakthrough in stem-cell research coerced his subordinates to donate human eggs for the experiment, according to a colleague. The colleague said at least one researcher ended up experimenting on her own eggs after her boss, Hwang Woo Suk, challenged her refusal to turn them over. (For Human Nature's take, click here.)
The government proposed minimal regulation of space tourism. Highlights of the Federal Aviation Administration's proposed rules: 1) Space tourism is taking off. 2) For now, it's for thrill seekers, like skydiving and mountain climbing. 3) But Congress loves it and doesn't want us to strangle it with regulations. 4) Therefore, we'll make rules to protect people on the ground, but "space flight participants should … have no expectations that the FAA is imposing individualized or tailored requirements designed to achieve their protection." (For Human Nature's previous update on space tourism, click here. For an update on Richard Branson's company, click here. For an update on Jeff Bezos' company, click here.)
Doctors are debating surgeries and implants to reduce weight. Options: 1) basic gastric bypass, in which they staple your stomach and reroute food around your intestines; 2) biliopancreatic diversion, in which they cut out three-quarters of your stomach and bypass even more of your intestines; 3) wrapping an inflatable ring around your stomach and pumping it full of saline to restrict how much food can go in or out; 4) inserting a balloon through your mouth into your stomach and inflating it with fluid to keep you feeling full so you won't eat; 5) stimulating your vagus nerve to control your food urges; and 6) drugging your brain so it gets less pleasure from eating. (For comparisons of the various methods, click here and 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.