(For the latest Human Nature columns on gluttony, cybersex, and police shootings, click here.)
The Indian Council of Medical Research says Indian penises are too short for standard condoms. Condom failure rates in India range up to 20 percent; to figure out why, the council has "just concluded an extensive two-year study of the penis sizes of Indian men." Council researcher: "As per international standards, most condoms are 150 mm to 180 mm in length and 44 to 56 mm in width. But data collected in Mumbai till 2001 showed that 60% of the participants measured 126 to 156 mm in length and 30% between 100 and 125 mm." Translation: Thirty percent of Indian men are 1 inch short, and another 30 percent are 2 inches short. Proposed solutions: 1) shorter condoms. 2) Spray-on condoms. Skeptical reactions: 1) The failure rate is lower in clinical trials, and many complaints are about tearing, not slippage, so the main problem is proper use, not size. 2) "Will there be takers for the smaller-sized condoms?" (For a previous update on penis size, click here. For spray-on condoms, click here. For Human Nature's take on the first penis transplant, click here.)
Best evidence yet of water on Mars: Aerial photos show bright sediment that's been deposited since 1999 along crater gullies in a shape that "would be expected from viscous water." Alternative explanations: dust flow or frozen carbon dioxide. We just lost the orbiter that took the photos, but our new orbiter has a camera that can settle the matter. Mars has "thousands of dry gullies," so the next question is how many are still active like these. Excited reactions: 1) Water would make elementary life on Mars possible. 2) It would make human life on Mars possible, if we can separate the oxygen to breathe and perhaps make rocket fuel. (For a previous update on life on Mars, click here. For global warming on Mars, click here.)
A $137 computer program beat the world chess champ in a six-game match. The computer won two games and lost none. (Four games were drawn.) In the last four matches between computers and human champs, computers have won two and lost none. The current program analyzes nine million positions per second. Excuses: 1) The computer really outplayed the champ only in one game; the other loss was just a blunder. 2) The champ had several chances to win the other games. 3) The computer's style in the final game was "very crude," though it won. 4) The champ just needs "more time to prepare" next time. Rebuttal: In other words, we're inferior. Old dismissal: Human-computer chess is uninteresting because humans always win. New dismissal: Human-computer chess is uninteresting because computers will always win. New boast: We can still beat computers at poker. (For previous updates on human-computer chess matches, click here and here.)
New York City ordered restaurants to stop cooking with artificial trans fats and to display the number of calories in standard menu items. Chicago is debating whether to follow suit. Restaurants' complaints: 1) Cities can't ban "a legal product." 2) This is Big Brother. 3) It will force us to raise prices. 4) We may sue. 5) It's unfair because New Yorkers eat out a lot. 6) It sets a bad example for other cities. Rebuttals: 1) It's necessary because New Yorkers eat out a lot. 2) It sets a good example for other cities. (For Human Nature's take on the jihad against junk food, click here. For worldwide obesity, click here. For girth control, click here.)
New York City dropped its plan to let natives change the sex on their birth certificates without changing their bodies. You can still change your certificate, but only if you've had the surgery. Official explanations for dropping the plan: 1) It might let inmates "be housed with female prisoners—even if they still had male anatomies." 2) Hospitals might have trouble figuring out which patients to put in adjacent beds. 3) Federal regulations might overrule the plan. 4) "This is something we hadn't fully thought through." 5) We neglected to get input "from institutions that may have been affected, like jails, schools or hospitals." Transgender advocates' explanation: The board caved in to complaints from moralists. (For a previous update on the New York proposal, click here. For Human Nature's take on transsexuality and transhumanism, click here.)
The U.S. is planning a permanent moon base. Schedule: Robot mission to scout sites in 2010, first set-up mission in 2020, permanent occupation by 2024. Likely location: south lunar pole, since it has 1) lots of sunlight to generate solar power to run the base, 2) hydrogen and oxygen to produce water and rocket fuel, and 3) minerals and gases to produce nuclear fuel, aluminum, and other goods that might be valuable to ship back to earth. Financial plan: dangle these mining opportunities to attract corporate sponsorship. Idealistic prediction: Like our ancestors, we'll use the lure of profit to inspire and fund exploration. Cynical prediction: Like our ancestors, we'll use the rhetoric of exploration to rationalize plunder. (For Human Nature's take on the exploration of Saturn, click here. For previous updates on the militarization of space, click here, here, and here.)
News organizations are surrendering to the blog revolution. Reuters and Yahoo are inviting anyone to submit photos, videos, and eventually articles for publication; Gannett is turning reporters into "mojos" (mobile journalists) assigned to file multiple daily Web items on whatever they can find. Objectives: 1) generate Web traffic and ad revenue. 2) cut costs. Sample reader-filed photo: Santa with kids. Sample mojo-filed item: "the signing of a fundraising calendar for the local chamber of commerce featuring the Hunks of North Fort Myers." (Quote from Gannett editor: "Whatever you spend your time and money doing is news.") Liberal view: By suspending the old rules of reportorial training, analysis, and editing, we're saving the news business. Conservative view: By suspending the old rules of reportorial training, analysis, and editing, we're abolishing the news business. (For an update on citizen journalists using cell phones to catch flashers, click here.)
Psychopathic brains are measurably unmoved by other people's fear. MRI scans indicate that exposure to frightened faces makes blood flow to key brain regions increase in normal people but decrease in criminal psychopaths. Theory: Psychopaths "lack empathy because they have deficits in processingdistress cues." Excited reactions: 1) The blood-flow defect causes psychopathy. 2) Genes or childhood abuse cause the defect. 3) We can cure psychopaths by fixing their blood flow. 4) We can use MRIs to catch psychopaths who pretend to be cured. Skeptical reactions: 1) Maybe psychopathy causes the blood-flow defect. 2) Psychopaths will learn to game MRIs just as they've learned to game polygraphs. (For a previous update on psychopathy, click here. For Paxil as a defense, click here. For Human Nature's take on "contagious shooting," click here.)
The "abortion pill" may prevent breast cancer. Results in mice using mifepristone (a.k.a. RU-486, Mifeprex) "raise the possibility thatantiprogesterone treatment may be useful for breast cancer prevention" in women who carry breast cancer genes. Theory: RU-486 blocks progesterone, which plays a key role in breast cancer as well as in pregnancy. Caveat: Long-term human use of mifepristone (as opposed to one-time use to abort a pregnancy) would disrupt the immune system, so we need to find a different antiprogesterone drug for humans. Pro-life reaction to possible evidence of mifepristone harm: Ban it. Pro-life reaction to possible evidence of mifepristone benefit: Silence. (For a previous update on deaths following RU-486 use, click here. For Human Nature's take on RU-486 as a step toward earlier abortions, click here.)
Regular doctors are invading the cosmetic medicine business. Examples: Obstetricians, family doctors, emergency-room physicians. Plastic surgeons' complaint: Cosmetic medicine is too important to be done by these inadequately trained nonspecialists. Ethicists' complaint: Cosmetic medicine is too unimportant to be done by these real doctors. Invaders' arguments: Cosmetic medicine is too unimportant to 1) require my availability at all hours, 2) stress me out like high-stakes surgery, 3) generate the crazy malpractice awards that are driving me out of regular medicine, 4) be covered by health insurers with their cheap payments and stupid paperwork, or 5) require much training before I can enter the field. And patients are so oblivious to the difference between real and cosmetic medicine that 6) they're just as grateful as if I'd helped them with an illness and 7) they're willing to pay through the nose. (For previous updates on cosmetic surgery, click here, here, here, and here.)
A German institute is developing spray-on condoms. Rationale: Unlike regular condoms, which may not fit you, a spray-on is a custom job. The technology consists of a "spray can into which the man inserts his penis." It "works by spraying on latex from nozzles on all sides … once round and from top to bottom. It's a bit like a car wash." Idealistic prediction: The spray can will prevent pregnancy and disease by sheathing men. Cynical prediction: It will prevent pregnancy and disease by replacing women. (For Human Nature's take on condoms and fat, click here. For birth control and abortion, click here. For the safety of cybersex, click here.)
Latest Human Nature columns: 1) The perils of contagious shooting. 2) Food and sex without consequences. 3) The mortal combat of biotech politics. 4) Rush Limbaugh's reality problem. 5) The perils of policing cybersex. 6) Pro-lifers against contraception. 7) The first penis transplant. 8) Is eugenics better than sex? 9) Buried alive in your own skull. 10) The global explosion of fat.
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