Nature and Sodomy
Gay animals on exhibit.
(For the latest Human Nature columns on Mark Foley, penis transplants, and the war over contraception, click here.)
Psychiatrists are debating whether to classify compulsive buying as a disorder akin to alcoholism. Doing so would help "shopaholics" get treated but might also let them escape legal responsibility for their debts. A study says more than 10 million Americans may qualify for the diagnosis. Liberal view A: Some people are particularly prone to getting hooked on overspending, so we should regulate marketing to prevent retailers and credit-card companies from exploiting them and ruining their lives. Liberal view B: Many compulsive shoppers are driven by anxiety, mood disorders, addictions, or ADHD, so we should treat them with drugs for those ills. Conservative view: When you experts figure out whether to blame biology or blame society, let us know. (For Human Nature's previous update on compulsive buying, click here.)
Norway is funding the world's first museum exhibit on gay animals. Examples: beetles, parrots, penguins, and swans. "One photograph shows two giant erect penises flailing above the water as two male right whales rub together. Another shows a male giraffe mounting another for sex." Previously, a zoo in Holland featured gay animal couples. Exhibit organizers' view: "Homosexuality is found throughout the animal kingdom, it is not against nature." Right-wing Christian view: The organizers should "burn in hell." Cynical view: Maybe homophobia is natural, too. (For Human Nature's take on homosexuality, polygamy, and nature, click here. For gay covenant marriage, click here.)
The first pet-cloning company is going belly up. Genetic Savings & Clone says it was "unable to develop the technology to the point that cloning pets is commercially viable." It produced five cloned cats but sold only two of them. Animal rights spin: The company flopped because good people would rather adopt homeless animals than produce defective, suffering clones. Company's spin: Our new business plan is to freeze your pet's DNA till we've refined the technology. We'll be baaaack. (For Human Nature's previous updates on dog cloning, click here and here. For cloned pigs, click here. For cloned cattle, click here. For cloned horses, click here and here. For regulation of pet cloning, click here and here.)
Women dress more attractively when they're ovulating. Thirty college students were photographed and urine-tested twice during a month. Without their knowledge, the tests were used to determine on which days they were ovulating, and the photos, with faces hidden, were used by 42 male and female judges to decide, "In what photo is the person trying to look more attractive?" Without knowing which was which, the judges picked outfits worn on ovulating days over those worn on non-ovulating days 60 percent of the time. In previous studies, women flirted more often while ovulating. Researchers' spin: Your clothes say you can tell when women are ovulating. Skeptics' view: Two-and-a-half million unintended U.S. pregnancies a year say you can't. (For Human Nature's take on preventing ovulation after sex, click here.)
A U.S. nonprofit is selling cheap laptops for school children to five countries. Argentina, Brazil, Nigeria, and Thailand have signed deals; now Libya will provide laptops to all its students. The machines cost less than $150 and are geared for the developing world, with Wi-Fi and a battery-recharging hand crank. Nonprofit's spin: Libya will beat the United States at connecting all its kids to the Internet. Anti-Microsoft spin: The company refused to sell Windows cheaply enough to put in the machines, so instead, kids will learn to love Linux and Google. Bill Gates' spin: Cell phones are a better device for spreading digital technology to the world. (For Human Nature's previous update on cell phones and school kids in New York, click here. For cell phones and driving, click here and here.)
China is cracking down on leg-lengthening surgery. The operation "involves breaking the patients' legs and stretching them on a rack." Recovery takes two years. The surgery was originally designed to repair accident damage or remedy dwarfism, but it "has become popular among young professionals desperate to climb up the ladder in [China's] height-conscious society." Purveyors advertise "height surgery with no pain," but the operation disfigured at least 10 patients at one hospital last year. Government's plea: "Leg-lengthening surgery is a clinical orthopedic treatment, not cosmetic surgery," and it may be done only "for strict medical reasons." (For Human Nature's previous updates on why tall people get more education and make more money, click here and here. For American use of drugs to make short kids taller, click here. For Australia's crackdown on cosmetic surgery, click here.)
A child's head growth by age 1 significantly determines adult IQ. At all ages, bigger heads correlate with better cognitive test scores. Head growth in the womb correlates with IQ at age 4, but by age 8, the only factor that still correlates with IQ is head growth between birth and age 1. To rule out parental factors that might cause both head growth and later IQ (instead of head growth causing later IQ), the study included "adjustment for parental characteristics." Upbeat spin: You can influence your baby's intelligence. Depressing spin: After a year, you're screwed. (For Human Nature's previous update on why taller people are smarter, click here.)
Women become sexually aroused almost as quickly as men. Thermal cameras indicate that while watching sex films, women took 12 minutes to reach "peak arousal," just a minute longer than men. Previous studies suggesting that women took longer than men were done "with instruments that require genital contact and manipulation." Implication: The contact hastened male arousal. Old hypothesis: Men are suckers for dirty movies. New hypothesis: Men are suckers for genital contact. (For Human Nature's update on female arousal during anticipation of electric shocks, click here. For an update on female arousal drugs, click here. For arousal studies of bisexual men, click here.)
France will ban public smoking. The ban covers schools, airports, offices, restaurants, and bars. Britain, Ireland, Italy, and Spain have enacted similar laws. The government says smoking kills too many people, including many who inhale other people's fumes. Restaurants say the ban is paternalistic and will drive them out of business. Bar owner's lament: "What's going to be banned next? Sex?" Cultural critique of the ban: What's more French than doing what gives you pleasure? Cultural defense of the ban: What's more French than telling other people what to do? (For Human Nature's take on the war on smoking and the war on fat, click here. For an update on the debate over converting smokers to snuff, click here.)
Will Saletan covers science, technology, and politics for Slate and says a lot of things that get him in trouble.