(For the latest Human Nature columns on gluttony, police shootings, and banning food, click here.)
British health officials approved weight-loss surgery for morbidly fat kids. The surgery reduces your functional stomach and in some cases bypasses your intestines. Rationales: 1) Obesity has become a crisis. 2) Some of these kids are in serious medical trouble if they don't lose weight fast. 3) Surgery is more effective than trying to change behavior. Objections: 1) Surgery is too radical for kids. 2) Let's promote better diets and regulate junk food ads before we reach for the scalpel. Government's caveats: 1) We recommend surgery only as a last resort. 2) We're restricting it to kids who are past puberty. 3) We'll work on junk food, exercise, and education at the same time. (For Human Nature's take on stomach and intestinal bypass surgery, click here.)
Sexual protection update: 1) Male birth control: According to a 24-week study, "daily application of a testosterone gel plus injections of a progesterone … every three months nearly completely suppresses sperm production in men." 2) Abolition of menstruation: A year-long study shows "continuous treatment with an oral contraceptive combination … can safely eliminate menstruation in most women." 3) Female HIV protection: Dependence on condoms for protection "might be coming to an end, as four different forms of microbicides—antiviral gels or creams that women can apply vaginally to prevent [HIV]—are in final testing phases." (For Human Nature's take on sex and eating without consequences, click here. For birth control and abortion, click here. For an update on spray-on condoms, click here. For the abolition of menstruation, click here. For male birth control pills, click here and here.)
Circumcision halves a man's risk of getting HIV from women, according to two new African studies. This backs up previous studies and has convinced leading AIDS groups to fund circumcisions. A third study is examining whether the procedure also lowers a man's risk of transmitting HIV to women. Criticisms: 1) Condoms and abstinence can prevent HIV and are cheaper than circumcision. 2) If circumcised men think they're impervious, "modest increases in the number of sexual partners could negate the protective effect." 3) Circumcision can harm or kill if performed by amateurs. Rebuttals: 1) Circumcision is more reliable than condoms or abstinence because it requires no sustained compliance. 2) We can promote circumcision and warn against promiscuity at the same time. 3) If we don't fund professional circumcisions, the amateurs will take over. (For Human Nature's take on circumcision and AIDS, click here. For bloodsucking circumcision, click here.)
Scientists found a genetic mutation that eliminates pain. It was discovered in a Pakistani boy and his young relatives. The good news: We can develop drugs that control pain by mimicking the mutation. The bad news: "Because the children felt no pain from biting themselves … Two had lost one-third of their tongues. Most had suffered fractures or bone infections that were diagnosed only later on," and "some also had been … burned from sitting on radiators." The first boy "died after jumping off the roof of a house to impress his friends." So let's be careful about eliminating pain. (The discovery was made possible by human inbreeding: "The boy's mother had one defective copy of the gene, as presumably did his father, [her] first cousin.") (For Human Nature's take on fetal pain, click here. For tongue piercing and pain, click here. For pain and spousal touch, click here. For pain in preemies, click here.)
Texas is considering legislation to let blind people hunt with laser sights. The lasers show where your bullet will hit, but critics say they "make the animals freeze in place, which diminishes the sport of the kill," so Texas bans them. If you're blind, your hunting partner can tell from the laser whether you're going to hit the target. Sponsor's arguments: 1) "Science and technology have advanced so much; a blind person can hunt right now. But they need someone to tell them, 'The duck is at 28 degrees, aim a little to the left." 2) "It gets more people in the outdoors, and gives them more pride in hunting, because it gives them a better chance of harvesting an animal." Bloggers' quip: OK, start with Dick Cheney. (For previous updates on "computer-assisted remote hunting," click here and here.)
A UNICEF report suggestsIndians are aborting nearly 7,000 fetuses and embryos per day because they're female. "Nationwide, 7000 fewer girls than expected are born each day, largely due to sex determination." Old theory: Sex selection is a dying relic of rural ignorance. New theory: Sex selection is an emerging application of urban access to screening technology. Rationale: Daughters entail expensive dowries and don't perpetuate our surnames, so we prevent them. Rebuttal: Or you could dump the dowry policy and let women keep their surnames. (For previous updates on sex selection of embryos and fetuses, click here and here.)
The NBA is dumping its new synthetic basketball and going back to leather. The league had mandated the new ball this summer without consulting its players; they later complained that it was slippery and cut their hands. Commissioner's spin: "Testing performed by Spalding and the NBA demonstrated that the new composite basketball was more consistent than leather, and statistically there has been an improvement in shooting, scoring, and ball-related turnovers." Rebuttal: Next time, try testing the equipment on people instead of in labs and box scores.
Intensive bicycling may dull female genital sensation. Previous studies correlated cycling with dulled male genital sensation and erectile dysfunction. This study compared female runners to young women who "consistently rode an average of at least 10 miles per week." Findings: The "cyclists have a decrease in genital sensation. However, there were no negative effects on sexual function and quality of life." Authors' hypothesis: "While seated on a bicycle, the external genital nerve and artery are directly compressed," which "may lead to compromised blood flow and nerve injury." Why male but not female dysfunction? Scientific answer: "Female cyclists may benefit from anatomical differences that produce less compression." Sarcastic translation: You don't say. (Fine print: Compared to the runners, the cyclists were older, fatter, and "more diverse in their sexual orientation.") (For Human Nature's previous updates on female arousal, drugs, and electric shocks, click here, here, and here. For an update on impotence drugs, click here.)
Ideologues are debating Mary Cheney's lesbian pregnancy. Cheney, 37, and her female partner, 45, are expecting a baby. Cheney's carrying it. Nobody has reported whether it's through IVF or who provided the egg. Nice liberal spin: They're model parents, together for 15 years and committed for life. Honor them by legalizing gay marriage. Nice conservative spin: Nothing against this couple—we're sure they'll try their best—but kids need a dad as well as a mom. Mean conservative spin: "Mary Cheney Cruel to Children … Our society already has too many children born without the benefits of marriage." Mean liberal spin: If that's the way you haters feel, there's still time for an abortion. (For Human Nature's takes on gay marriage and polygamy, click here and here. For evidence of the superiority of lesbian parents, click here.)
Cultural shifts have changed human genes within the last few thousand years. We used to lose our milk-digestion ability after the age of breastfeeding. But since we began milking cattle, adult milk digestion has evolved through different genes in different places. Hypothesis: People who could digest milk were more likely to thrive and procreate. Conclusions: 1) Human evolution is rapid and continuing. 2) It can be driven by cultural changes. 3) Therefore, we have free will. 4) Many of these cultural shifts are "convergent," i.e., they happen everywhere. Cynical view: If they happen everywhere, then nature forces them, so we don't really have free will. (For Human Nature's takes on step-by-step evolution, click here and here.)
Latest Human Nature columns: 1) Unhealthy food outlawed in New York. 2) The perils of contagious shooting. 3) Food and sex without consequences. 4) The mortal combat of biotech politics. 5) Rush Limbaugh's reality problem. 6) The eerie world of policing cybersex. 7) Pro-lifers against contraception. 8) Is eugenics better than sex? 9) Buried alive in your own skull.