New column 10/5. (For the latest Human Nature columns on Mark Foley, penis transplants, and the war over contraception, click here.)
A biotech company is breeding and selling allergy-free cats. They cost $4,000 apiece and must be ordered at least a year in advance. The company tried to engineer out the allergy-provoking gene, but it discovered that some cats already carry an alternative gene, so it just breeds those cats instead. Company's spin: 1) It's worth $4,000 because "you're not just buying a cat; it's a medical device." 2) We screen buyers carefully because "this is a living animal, so the well-being of our product comes before our customers. This is not some high-priced handbag that you put back on the shelf if it doesn't match." 3) We neuter the cats to prevent overpopulation. Skeptical reactions: 1) If the cats aren't commodities, why do you advertise them as "lifestyle pets"? 2) You neuter them so they can't be bred without you getting your $4,000. 3) You screen buyers for allergy problems to protect yourself from liability. (For Human Nature's previous update on cloned cats, click here. For microchip implants in cats, click here.)
A drug company told people to stop putting hemorrhoid cream on their faces. The cream, made by Schering, is called Scheringproct. According to a Norwegian TV report, "many photo models used the cream in the morning to get rid of puffy eyes." The report seems to have triggered a spike in sales. Official message from Schering: Please remember that the cream is "a pharmaceutical that is used on hemorrhoids and around the opening of the large intestine." (Hence the proct.) Unofficial message: Get your head out of the opening of your large intestine. (For Human Nature's take on the opening of the large intestine, click here.)
Six percent of Americans suffer from "compulsive buying," according to a survey. The authors define the alleged disorder as "uncontrolled urges to buy, withresulting significant adverse consequences." You get labeled with it if you do things such as buy to improve your mood, buy for buying's sake, or get into financial trouble. Authors' conclusion: We should consider declaring this an official disease, since it can lead to bankruptcy, divorce, or suicide. Skeptics' views: 1) There you shrinks go again, excusing bad behavior as illness. 2) Two of the authors have financial ties to drug companies, which could make big bucks from "treating" the newly minted disease. (For Human Nature's previous update on classifying bigotry as a mental illness, click here.)
Detainees at Guantanamo Bay are getting fat. On average, each has gained 20 pounds; most have become overweight or obese. Reasons: Rich food and little exercise. "Meals totaling a whopping 4,200 calories per day are brought to their cells, well above the 2,000 to 3,000 calories recommended for weight maintenance," and "some inmates are eating everything on the menu." Left-wing spin: We're depriving them of the right to exercise. Right-wing spin: We're feeding them better than we feed our own inmates, not to mention innocent children. (For Human Nature's take on global obesity, click here.)
Ex-Rep. Mark Foley checked into an alcohol treatment center. Three days after resigning from the House amid reports that he sent sexual messages to teenage boys, Foley declared, "Painfully, the events that led to my resignation have crystallized recognition of my long-standing significant alcohol and emotional difficulties. I strongly believe that I am an alcoholic and have accepted the need for immediate treatment for alcoholism and other behavioral problems." Recently, Mel Gibson checked into alcohol treatment after delivering an anti-Semitic tirade; Rep. Patrick Kennedy blamed an erratic driving incident on Ambien rather than alcohol. Foley's spin: Despite my alcohol problem, I "accept full responsibility for the harm I have caused." Cynical spin: After the hypocrisy about pedophilia comes the hypocrisy about blaming bottles. (For Human Nature's previous update on the Kennedy story, click here.)
California enacted new animal-protection laws. The measures 1) ban the unsupervised tethering of dogs beyond three hours; 2) prohibit leaving animals unsupervised in cars without sufficient heat, cooling, ventilation, or water; 3) increase penalties for staging animal fights; and 4) instruct the government to plan for animal evacuation and shelter in the event of natural disasters. This comes as Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele poses with a puppy in his campaign ads for the Senate. Approved spin: Republicans such as Steele, Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger promote animal rights because swing voters love it. Unapproved spin: Or maybe they could do a better job of helping human beings. (For Human Nature's take on eating animals, click here. For comparisons between civil rights and animal rights, click here.)
Scientists are changing the sex of fish to make them meatier. The idea is to turn females into males so they'll grow faster and gain more weight. This has already been accomplished with synthetic steroids; now Israeli and Palestinian scientists are trying it with natural plant compounds, which presumably are less dangerous to eat. Official spin: The project is breaking down the walls between Israelis and Palestinians. Unofficial spin: It's breaking down the walls between male and female.
Chinese doctors are still selling the organs of executed prisoners despite protests and promises of reform. A BBC correspondent told one hospital he needed a liver; the chief surgeon said he could get one in three weeks from a prisoner for nearly $100,000. An official "said there was currently an organ surplus because of an increase in executions ahead of the 1 October National Day." Government spin: We don't kill prisoners for their organs; they volunteer the organs as a "present to society." (For Human Nature's previous update on organs from Chinese prisoners, click here.)
Old people in hospitals are starving because they can't reach their food. Sixty percent of older patients become malnourished in hospitals. An Australian study finds: 1) One of every five patients aged 65 or over "could not reach food brought to their hospital rooms." 2) Most "could not open food packaging." 3) "More than a third struggled with cutlery." 4) "Many struggled to pour beverages." 5) Busy nurses spent barely a minute with the average patient at mealtime. 6) "Nurses would walk past patients who clearly could not reach or open their food and they would just keep walking." (For happier trends in old people's health, click here and here.)
Female ring finger size correlates with athletic potential in a study of British twins. Previous studies suggested that male ring-finger size (compared to index-finger size) correlated with athletic success, musical talent, and sexual orientation. This study finds "women with ring fingers longer than their index fingers had performed better at running and associated running sports such as soccer and tennis." Old boast: We can predict your kid's athletic talent because ring-finger size reflects testosterone exposure in the womb. New boast: Actually, ring-finger size doesn't reflect testosterone exposure—so it's probably genetic, which means we can predict your kid's athletic talent, anyway. Skeptical takes: 1) You don't even know what the genes are. 2) All these studies have been done on adults, so you haven't successfully predicted anything. (For Human Nature's previous update on men with long ring fingers, click here.)
New York City is preparing to ban trans fats in restaurants beyond a token amount. Its board of health, which can implement the ban with no outside approval, voted unanimously to set a schedule for doing so, pending public comments. Chicago may follow; Starbucks, Subway, and Wendy's are moving in the same direction. Board's arguments: 1) We banned lead paint and smoking because they kill people. Trans fats do the same. 2) They're easy to replace with less harmful ingredients. 3) We asked restaurants to do this voluntarily, and they ignored us. 4) The rest of the country followed us on smoking and lead paint, so get ready for trans-fat bans everywhere. Restaurants' objections: 1) An appointed board has no business doing this on its own. 2) It's government intrusion. 3) It costs too much. 4) We can't control our suppliers. 5) We'll sue. (For Human Nature's take, click here.)
Excess testosterone can kill brain cells. A study shows it causes mass cell death akin to Alzheimer's. Bonus finding: Estrogen, the female hormone, appears to reduce cell death. Researchers' conclusions: 1) Don't take steroids. 2) Maybe you shouldn't take testosterone supplements either. 3) "Next time a muscle-bound guy in a sports car cuts you off on the highway, don't get mad, just take a deep breath and realize that it might not be his fault." Cynical view: Just what we need—another Twinkie defense. (For Human Nature's takes on steroids, click here, here, and here.)
Latest Human Nature columns: 1) Mark Foley's alcohol rehab. 2) Pro-lifers against contraception. 3) The first penis transplant. 4) Is eugenics better than sex? 5) Buried alive in your own skull. 6) The global explosion of fat. 7) The case for genital mutilation. 8) The delusion of air conditioning. 9) Stop killing meat and start growing it. 10) The war on tanning.