Another breakthrough in "natural orifice" organ extraction.
(For the latest columns on the Virginia Tech massacre, moral evolution, and selling your organs, click here.)
A scientist is campaigning to eradicate cremation because it promotes global warming. For a greener death, he recommends changing your will to request "being buried in a cardboard box under a tree. The decomposing bodies would provide the tree with nutrients." Estimated carbon dioxide production from the average cremation of an Australian male: 110 pounds, plus the carbon impact of the fuel and the burned casket. Scientist's view: Your death can do "an enormous amount of good for the planet." Critics' view: So can his. Bonus report: British crematoria are building bigger furnaces because Britons are getting too fat to fit in the old ones. (For a previous update on global warming and chicken fat, click here. For global warming and Christianity, click here. For Human Nature's take on air conditioning and global warming, click here.)
French doctors removed a woman's gallbladder through her vagina. Last month, U.S. doctors removed a gallbladder by passing surgical instruments through the patient's vagina, but the French case appears to be the first in which only the vagina was used for extraction, with no scar-producing instruments going through abdominal muscles. The instruments included an endoscope with a miniature video camera. Doctors' boasts: 1) It's "minimally invasive." 2) It spared the patient post-operative pain. 3) It spared her the "emotional impact" of a scar. Skeptical view: That depends on how you define "minimally invasive" and "emotional impact." (For a previous update on "natural orifice" surgery using vaginas, mouths, and rectums, click here.)
The global movement to ban ordinary light bulbs is advancing. Two months ago, Australia committed to ban incandescent bulbs by 2009. Yesterday, Canada announced it will ban the sale of such bulbs by 2012. Greenpeace is campaigning for a similar ban in India. Rationale: Incandescent bulbs are inefficient and contribute to global warming. The expected substitute is compact fluorescent bulbs, which require 75 percent less electricity. Idealistic view: Humans are finally mobilizing to save our planet. Cynical view: Canadians will be arrested for throwing out their incandescent bulbs in plastic bags. (For the first U.S. ban on non-recyclable plastic bags, click here.)
Women are postponing motherhood by freezing parts of their ovaries. Two hundred babies have been born from frozen eggs. Now doctors are learning to remove ovarian tissue, freeze it, and put it back into your body so it resumes producing eggs when you're ready to have kids. The method has yielded two babies so far. The first women to try this did so for medical reasons (e.g., they were slated for chemotherapy, which would kill their fertility), but demand is rising from healthy "career-minded women" who want to delay parenthood. Objections: 1) It's a new procedure, so if you bet on it, you may discover too late that it doesn't work for you. 2) You shouldn't have kids when you're too old to be a good parent. 3) Don't mess with nature. Rebuttals: 1) It's no more unnatural than egg freezing. 2) It's cheaper. 3) It's better than egg donation, which women will resort to if they can't do this. 4) "What is the difference between losing your fertility from aging of your ovary or from cancer treatment?" (For the current maternal-age record holder, a woman who gave birth at 67, click here. For Human Nature's take on the new business of embryo manufacture, click here.)
Astronomers may have found the first habitable planet beyond earth. Excited reactions: 1) If it has our kind of atmosphere, it has just the right temperature for life. 2) Planet formation theories suggest it's "probably full of liquid water." 3) It orbits one of the 100 stars closest to ours, so "we can go there." Skeptical reactions: 1) If it has Venus's kind of atmosphere, it's an oven. 2) There's no evidence yet that it has water. 3) It's 120 trillion miles away, so we can't get near it with existing technology. Optimistic big picture: 1) It's the smallest planet we've found outside our solar system, and smaller planets are more likely to be habitable, so as detection technology improves, we'll find more potentially habitable planets nearby. 2) We've only just begun looking for planets around the kind of star where this planet was found. (For a previous update on the hunt for planets, click here. For Human Nature's take on our most distant landing mission to date, on a moon of Saturn, click here.)
Women are debating the wisdom of a pill that abolishes menstruation. The FDA will approve the pill in May; the effect persists as long as you take it. Pill maker's spins: 1) Periods can be painful. 2) They ruin your mood. 3) They cost you work time and hurt your job performance. 4) They disrupt your sex life. 5) They disrupt your exercise routine. 6) There's no evidence that they're necessary to your health. 7) Your "periods" on the pill are fake anyway. Objections: 1) Periods are womanly. 2) They're not an illness. 3) Stop treating your body as a nuisance. 4) Don't mess with Mother Nature. 5) There's no long-term evidence that abolishing periods is safe. 6) If you don't have them, how can you be sure you're not pregnant? (For previous updates on the abolition of menstruation, click here and here.)
A big study indicates abortion doesn't cause breast cancer. Previous studies found more breast cancer in women who said they'd had abortions, but this study of more than 100,000 nurses found no such correlation. Authors' theory: If you wait till some women get cancer, those who have it will be more likely to admit their past abortions, since they're looking for an explanation. We eliminated that bias by asking the abortion question before they got cancer. Conclusion: Stop passing laws that order doctors to tell women abortions may cause breast cancer. Caveat: Completing a pregnancy before you turn 35 cuts your risk of breast cancer, so if abortion prevents you from doing that, it may increase your risk. (For a previous update on abortion pills and breast cancer, click here. For birth control and breast cancer, click here. For housework and breast cancer, click here.)
The mayor of New York proposed an $8 fee every time you drive into Manhattan. London and Singapore already impose such fees. Rationales: 1) It'll reduce traffic. 2) It'll reduce pollution. 3) It'll raise money for roads and mass transit. 4) If you don't like it, ride the subway. 5) It's less than you'd pay in London. 6) It's cheaper than a movie in New York. 7) The rich will be able to get around faster. Objections: 1) It's a "tax on working people." 2) Only in New York would the mayor say $8 is no big deal. 3) Roads will now be for the rich. 4) It'll become a revenue source disguised as social engineering, just like the tobacco settlement. 5) It'll extend Big Brother's reach, fortifying Manhattan with $225 million worth of cameras and other surveillance devices that "deduct money from a driver's EZPass account or photograph a car's license plate, with the driver given two days to pay the fee." (For previous updates on surveillance cameras and traffic, click here, here, and here.)
Job applicants are submitting video resumes. Concept: Instead of putting your experience and talents on paper, you present them on video. You put the video on the Web and email the link to employers. Pros: 1) It turns your resume into an interview. 2) It's easier than an interview, because you don't have to face a human being. 3) It shows off your distinctive personality, creativity, and initiative. 4) You'd better make one, because soon everyone will have one. Cons: 1) Soon everyone will have one, so it won't show any distinctive creativity or initiative. 2) It'll show what a bore or jerk you are. 3) It's harder than an interview, because you have to talk into a camera. 4) It'll help employers screen applicants by race. (For the effect of webcams on child pornography, click here.)
Will Saletan covers science, technology, and politics for Slate and says a lot of things that get him in trouble.
Photograph on Slate's home page of a hand holding a cell phone by Digital Vision. Photograph on Slate's home page of a man napping by David De Lossy/Photodisc Green/Getty Images.