Old people are living longer. Uh oh.

Science, technology, and life.
March 10 2006 8:31 AM

Remind Me Why I Pay You?

Social Security recipients, healthier than ever.

New column 3/9. (For the latest Human Nature columns on abortion, morning-after pills, and athletic doping, click here.)

Boomer retirement won't be as big a burden as we feared, because old people will stay healthy longer. A census study shows a big decline in the percentage of people over 65 who are disabled. Data suggest the decline will continue. Cranky rebuttals: 1) How will we persuade these healthy old farts with nest eggs and Social Security to keep working? 2) Great, now they're living so long that you have to divorce your husband instead of waiting for him to die, so the taxpayers end up taking care of him. 3) If the old people don't bankrupt us, the fat people will. (For Human Nature's take, click here.)

William Saletan William Saletan

Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right.

We may have found water on a moon of Saturn. Not the one where we recently landed a probe, but a tiny one (just 300 miles wide) that we thought wasn't big enough to stay warm. Its south pole is 100 degrees warmer than expected, possibly due to friction from nearby gravitational pulls, and scientists suspect the water may have been around long enough to create life. Theories: 1) Life may exist on worlds we thought were too cold or small. 2) This is why we need to explore new worlds instead of cutting the space budget. 3) Isn't it funny how scientists start finding water and clamoring for more exploration after you cut their budget? (For Human Nature's take on the Saturn moon landing, click here.)

Europe's top court ruled that a woman has no human right to implant IVF embryos if the father refuses. After the couple froze their embryos, 1) the woman's ovaries were removed due to cancer treatment, 2) the couple broke up, and 3) the man withdrew his consent to implant the embryos. Woman's argument: It's my only chance to have biological children, and he can't change his mind halfway through. Man's argument: I don't want to be financially or emotionally responsible for a child I can't raise, and I'm entitled "to decide when, and if, I would start a family." British courts' conclusions: 1) Either party can withdraw consent prior to implantation, and 2) if you want to avoid that, work out a prior agreement about the fate of your embryos in the event of separation. (For Human Nature's previous takes on implanting IVF embryos, click here and here.)

A company says it will be able to test semen for prostate cancer within one to two years. Current tests use blood. The company's pitch for the new test: 1) It'll be more accurate. 2) It'll be less invasive. 3) "Most men would willingly provide a semen specimen to potentially avoid a painful needle biopsy." Human Nature's take: Most? Who are these other men? (For David Plotz's first-person account of providing a semen specimen, click here. If that's not enough for you, click here.)

The new threat on the roads is pill-induced "sleep-driving." Americans are getting 26 million prescriptions each year for Ambien, which in some states is now among the 10 drugs most commonly detected in blood tests of impaired drivers. Some cops say it's worse than booze because drivers keep going after their first crash. Ambien's maker blames users who mix it with alcohol. Lawyers blame doctors who prescribe sleeping pills "like Pez." Drivers say they have no memory of driving or even getting into their cars after taking the pills. Skeptics dismiss these "Ambien alibis" but have trouble explaining why some of the affected people get in their cars in nightshirts in freezing weather and urinate while driving.

A human family in Turkey walks on all fours. The five siblings have a genetic brain impairment that causes retardation and impedes upright walking, so they use their palms as heels. Scientists alternate between 1) insisting that these people are just like us and 2) relishing the live opportunity to study how our ancestors behaved three million years ago.

Wal-Mart agreed to sell morning-after pills. It had been the only major pharmacy chain that refused to sell them; critics inferred that the company was ducking abortion politics, because some pro-lifers think the pills can block implantation of fertilized eggs. The reversal comes shortly after 1) Illinois ordered pharmacies to sell the pills, 2) Massachusetts ordered Wal-Mart to sell them, and 3) Connecticut threatened to stop covering Wal-Mart prescriptions for state employees. Wal-Mart's explanation: "We expect more states to require us to sell emergency contraceptives in the months ahead." Cynics' translation: Now that we're getting more pressure from pro-choice politicians than from pro-life activists, our cowardice points the other way. (For Human Nature's take on morning-after pills as a solution to the abortion stalemate, click here.)

A prominent scientist endorsed using animals to test the safety of human cosmetics. The United Kingdom bans such tests, and the whole European Union will ban them within three years. But neurosurgeon Tipu Aziz, who uses monkeys for research on Parkinson's, said cosmetics are also worth the use of animals because "beautifying oneself has been going on since we were cavemen." Reaction from other scientists: 1) We support using animals for necessary research, not for cosmetics. 2) Cosmetics companies aren't asking for it. 3) It's not even legal here, so why bring it up? 4) Thanks for helping the animal-rights zealots with their campaign against our new animal research lab. (For Human Nature's take on animal rights and racism, click here.)

Latest Human Nature columns: 1) Pro-choicers and  moral repression. 2) South Dakota's invitation to snuff your embryo. 3) Technology and the end of Roe. 4) The arrogance of the partial-birth abortion ban. 5) The nonsense of Olympic doping rules. 6) The temptation of remote-controlled killing. 7) Men, women, and the joy of punishment. 8) Teachers who have sex withboys. 9) Our creepy genetic experiment on dogs. 10) The mainstreaming of anal sex. (Click here to return to top of page.)

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