Fighting climate change through reduced flatulence.
Fighting climate change through reduced flatulence.
Science, technology, and life.
June 1 2007 9:40 AM

Global Farting

Fighting climate change through reduced flatulence.

(For the latest columns on fetal ultrasound, artificial intelligence, and abolishing menstruation, click here.)

Americans are retiring later. In 10 years, the typical retirement age has risen from 60 to 62. In 20 years, the percentage of people in their late 60s who keep working has risen from 18 to 29. Reasons: 1) Cuts in pensions and retiree health benefits. 2) Longer lives and better health. (The probability that one spouse in a 65-year-old couple will reach age 90 is now 63 percent.) 3) Prohibition of age discrimination. 4) Retirees are more bored not working than working. Results: More productivity and a better outlook for tax revenue and Social Security. (For Human Nature's takes on raising the retirement age to keep up with longevity, click here and here.)

William Saletan William Saletan

Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right.


Britain may recommend reducing meat consumption to fight global warming. Rationale: "Cattle and sheep release millions of metric tons of methane gas a year into the environment through flatulence. In New Zealand … farm animals produce some 90 percent of the country's methane emissions." A British official says the government "is working on a set of key environmental behavior changes to mitigate climate change. Consumption of animal protein has been highlighted within that work." Officials' caveat: We won't "enforce a dietary or lifestyle change." Carnivores' reaction: Sure, we'll let you stop us from eating meat ... right after you stop animals from farting. (For Human Nature's take on the morality of meat-eating, click here.)

A study suggests pro-football concussions cause depression. An ex-NFL player's odds of depression correlate with how many concussions he suffered. NFL's critique: The study is based on uncorroborated self-reporting of concussions. Rebuttals: 1) Concussion-depression studies in other populations show a similar pattern. 2) Studies based on self-reporting are often the first step toward proving medical links. Anti-NFL conclusions: 1) Pro football ruins many players for life. 2) The league may be responsible, since one ex-player says he got his worst concussion after his coach made him practice against his doctors' advice. NFL's conclusion: Before we believe this link, we need three years of instant replay—i.e., our own study.

Doctors used stem cells to "create a neovagina." One of every 4,000 to 5,000 girls is born without a vagina. Until now, doctors fixed this by making a vagina from skin grafts or intestinal tissue, which involved painful, invasive surgery. The new method grows vaginal tissue in the lab using stem cells derived from tissue where the vagina should have been. The lab-grown tissue is then grafted onto the donors. Approved conclusion: Now every woman can have a vagina. Unapproved conclusion: Now every man can have a vagina without a woman  (link NSFW). (For previous updates on cosmetic vagina surgery, click here, here, and here. For Human Nature's take on male and female genital mutilation, click here.)

Infidelity is rampant among female cheetahs in the Serengeti desert. Forty-three percent of their litters have cubs from multiple fathers. Researcher's comment: "Before we started the DNA analysis, we thought it was possible that female cheetahs were choosing to be cheaters, but we were amazed by the level of infidelity."  Moral spin: This is bad, because "mating with more than one male poses a serious threat to females, increasing the risk of exposure to parasites and diseases." Evolutionary spin: No, "This is good news for conservation as the genetic diversity of future generations of cheetah will be preserved by their duplicitous behavior." Human Nature's view: Infidelity is natural … but so is predation. (For the evolutionary superiority of female promiscuity, click here.  For the effects of female promiscuity on male genital size, click here. For Human Nature's case against promiscuity in humans, click here.)

Texas lawmakers approvedmandatory random steroid testing of high-school athletes. The governor is expected to sign the bill. A legislative sponsor predicts kids will be suspended if they test positive or refuse to be tested. New Jersey already tests high-school athletes statewide; Florida has a limited pilot program. Activists say they'll push other states to follow. Ban supporters' arguments: 1) We're protecting kids from poison. 2) This will be more successful than other kinds of drug testing, because if athletes get suspended from playing sports, the drug's whole purpose is defeated. 3) Coaches will show kids how to bulk up without steroids. Cynical view: Then get ready to start testing for protein shakes. (For Human Nature's takes on steroids and "legitimate" performance-enhancing alternatives, click here and here.)

The last U.S. horse slaughterhouse is shutting down now that Illinois has banned killing horses for human consumption. Official rationale: No more horse slaughter. Unofficial rationale: No more slaughter of American horses to satisfy the disgusting habits of rich Europeans. Skeptical views: 1) Why is it OK to slaughter pigs and cattle but not horses? 2) If we don't slaughter horses, other countries will take over the business. 3) Or people with old, useless horses will just abandon them instead of sending them to slaughter. Animal welfare activists' answer: No problem—we just have to persuade people to adopt 100,000 unwanted horses each year. (For Human Nature's take on horses and animal slaughter, click here.)

Twin brothers have thwarted paternity testing by having sex with the same woman. She named one brother as her daughter's father, but he demanded a paternity test, which showed that his twin brother has the same 99.9 percent probability of being the dad. A judge decided that the first brother was the legal father, so he has to pay the child support. First brother's spins: 1) In my case, the probability of paternity isn't 99.9 percent; it's 50 percent. 2) "If they can't prove it's me then they should throw it out of court." 3) As to the child support, "The state should eat it." Rebuttals: 1) The futility of DNA testing in this case just means courts have to decide paternity based on old-fashioned evidence, which they did. 2) Since both guys had sex with the woman, they should split the child support. 3) God help us if a similar situation arises in a criminal case. (For a previous update on "semi-identical" twins, click here. For black-and-white twins, click here. For twins from two wombs in one woman, click here. For twins and low IQ, click here. For twinning and the problem of double souls, click here.)

Latest Human Nature columns: 1) The abolition of menstruation. 2) The chess match of man and machine. 3)  Ultrasound and the future of abortion. 4) The global market in human organs. 5) The evolution of brains and morals. 6) Machines that read your mind. 7) Invasion of the naked body scanners. 8) The future of pain-beaming weapons. 9)  Gay sheep and human destiny. 10)  More on gay sheep.

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