The new rap on trans fats: infertility.
(For the latest Human Nature columns on lesbianism, cloned food, and made-to-order embryos, click here.)
Trans fats may cause female infertility. Data: "Each 2% increase in the intake ofenergy from trans unsaturated fats, as opposed to that fromcarbohydrates, was associated with a 73% greater risk of ovulatoryinfertility," even after adjustment for fertility risk factors. Hypothesis: Trans fats disrupt a fertility-boosting "cell receptor involved in inflammation, glucose metabolism and insulin sensitivity." Next: Trans fats cause ADHD and herpes. (For Human Nature's take on banning trans fats, click here.)
Nicotine output increased every year in every cigarette category over seven years, according to a Harvard analysis of Massachusetts government data. During this period as a whole, nicotine yield from every major tobacco company increased. Tobacco companies' spin: It's random variation, since some individual brands didn't increase. Researchers' rebuttal: When yields from every category and every producer go up, that's not random. Outraged reaction: The nicotine infusion violates the industry's legal agreement to discourage youth smoking. Casual reaction: Who cares, since cigarette sales steadily declined during this period. (For recent updates on banning smoking in cars, click here, here, and here.)
Some Indian victims of the 2004 tsunami are selling their kidneys. The tsunami wiped out their fishing-based economy, so they've been selling kidneys for about $1,000 apiece. Old industry: gutting fish. New industry: gutting people. (For previous updates on organ sales, click here, here, here, and here.)
An analysis of old data confirms that parenthood is lethal. Having 12 or more kids instead of 1 to 3 kids quadrupled a mother's risk of death (within a year of the last birth). It increased a father's risk of death sixfold. "Even after their child-bearing years came to an end, women who had had many children died earlier than women who had had few." Suggested reasons: mental and physical stress. Critique: The data are a century old, predating improvements in maternal survival of childbirth. Downside: Kids are the death of you. Upside: Human parents live much longer than parents of many other species, because our kids need our help to reach the age of procreation.
An embryo rescued after Hurricane Katrina has become a baby. Police used boats to evacuate 1,400 frozen embryos from a hospital that had lost electricity; the first one to become a baby was born Tuesday. Father's reaction: "I thought the only thing you could freeze [and revive] was a crab." Pro-life view: See, embryos are babies. Skeptical view: Which would you put in your boat first—the patients or the embryos? (For Human Nature's take on manufacturing embryos, click here.)
Porn entrepreneurs are planning to offer video of live, on-demand sex through hotel TVs. Trends in this direction: 1) Americans spent half a billion dollars last year on pay-per-view or on-demand sex videos. 2) TV is merging with computers, which facilitate private communication. 3) Computers are already allowing porn buyers to text performers. 4) Live sex on demand is more exciting than video sex on demand. Live-sex operator's conclusion: "We are planning to make the jump to hotel rooms." Skeptical view: Hotel chains won't allow it because it's not mainstream. Cynical view: It's not mainstream yet. (For a previous update on virtual-sex technology, click here. For the average viewing time of pay-per-view porn, click here. For Human Nature's take on policing cybersex, click here.)
Marriage is losing its grip on the United States. Data: 1) Most American women no longer live with a husband. (They're single, divorced, separated, or have an absent husband.) 2) Married couples are no longer a majority of U.S. households. 3) "On average, Americans now spend half their adult lives outside marriage." Reasons: 1) Women are less dependent on men. 2) They're co-habiting longer and marrying later. 3) They're living longer after husbands die. 4) They're staying single longer after getting divorced. Excited reaction: This is a "tipping point" that will shift public and employer benefits away from marriage. Skeptical reaction: Most men still live with a wife, and most women still marry at some point. (For a previous update on marriage and global sex trends, click here.)
Candidates are being screened for the first U.S. womb transplant. The only previous womb transplant failed several years ago in Saudi Arabia. To minimize anti-rejection drugs, the womb would be a one-shot rental, transplanted shortly before pregnancy and then removed with the baby. Objections: 1) It's risky and unnecessary, since the purpose is to allow pregnancy, not survival. 2) If you want a kid, you can hire a surrogate or adopt instead. 3) It's unethical to put a fetus at such risk. Defense: 1) Pregnancy is a "very basic desire." 2) It's not "a doctor's role to tell a patient that their values are not important." 3) We're already transplanting hands and faces, which aren't necessary to survival. Idealistic spin: Men could have babies! Cynical spin: Men could wash dishes … but they don't. (For Human Nature's takes on artificial wombs and made-to-order embryos, click here and here.)
The U.S. House passed legislation to fund embryonic stem-cell research. The White House pledged to veto the legislation because such research requires the destruction of embryos. Supporters lack enough votes to override the veto. Opponents touted new research suggesting that some amniotic cells might permit the same research and therapies without requiring embryo destruction. Liberal view: Our opponents are overselling what the amniotic cells can do. Conservative view: Our opponents are overselling what the embryonic cells can do. Cynical view: They're both right. (For Human Nature's previous takes on stem-cell alternatives, click here, here, here, here, and here.)
Will Saletan covers science, technology, and politics for Slate and says a lot of things that get him in trouble.
Photograph of a baby on Slate's home page by Photodisc/Getty Images.