Bangladesh is becoming a floating country. Reasons: Coastal location, low elevation, heavy rains, and converging rivers bringing water from melting glaciers. Villages are becoming islands, then disappearing. Projected land loss by 2030: up to 20 percent. Impact: lost farmland and "climate refugees." (If 20 percent of the population loses its land, that's 30 million people.) Adaptive responses so far: house boats, school boats, library boats, hospital boats, and floating gardens. Angry spin: "For every hundred thousand tons of carbon you emit, you have to take in a Bangladeshi family." Rosy spins: 1) School boats come to your house. 2) They facilitate the education of girls. 3) The library boats have computers. 4) Floating gardens can yield lots of crops thanks to "constant irrigation." (Question: Should U.S. carbon emitters pay for the submersion of parts of Louisiana? Discuss here.)
Genital cancer, but not breast cancer, increases a couple's risk of divorce, according to a Norwegian study. Over 17 years, compared to cancer-free couples, breast-cancer couples were 8 percent less likely to divorce, but cervical-cancer couples were 40 percent more likely, and testicular-cancer couples were 20 percent more likely. Theories: 1) Genital cancers cripple your sex life. 2) Genital cancers, unlike breast cancer, strike younger couples, who rely more on sex. 3) It's not about sex; younger couples are simply more likely to divorce. 4) Younger couples are less psychologically prepared to nurse each other through serious illness. 5) Cervical cancer raises false suspicions about your wife's infidelity. 6) Cervical cancer accurately reflects your wife's infidelity. 7) Breast cancer brings out the best in your husband. 8) Breast cancer is more lethal than cervical cancer, so instead of divorcing you, your husband can wait for it to kill you. (Related: The top five sex trends of 2007.)
The French National Assembly approved genetic testing of immigrants who claim to have French relatives. If you apply for a visa and claim to be joining your family, a consular officer can ask for DNA samples, at your expense, to check your claim. Rationales: 1) It'll prove you're related. 2) It'll speed up your application. 3) It's voluntary. 4) Other European countries are doing it. Objections: 1) It's not really voluntary, since the alternative is looking guilty and letting your application languish. 2) It's part of a racist, anti-immigrant backlash. 3) It's expensive. 4) It'll exclude stepchildren and adopted kids. Human Nature's view: DNA testing is less racist than leaving your application to the discretion of an immigration officer.
Sleep deficiency can double your risk of death from heart disease, according to a study of Britons aged 35 to 55. Those whose nightly sleep fell from seven hours to five hours or less were 1.7 times as likely to die (compared with those who stayed at seven hours) over the next 11 to 17 years. Their risk of cardiovascular-related death was double. Theory: Sleep deficiency causes hypertension, fat, and diabetes. Researchers' spin: Modern society is bad for you. Skeptical view: Sleeping at least eight hours a night increased the risk of death even more than sleep deficiency did—and researchers have no idea why, so these correlations may be hooey. Human Nature's theory: If evolution deprives edible creatures of their senses for several hours a day, it must be bloody important. Sleep. (Full disclosure: Human Nature blames sleep deficiency for his present cold.) How many hours a night do you sleep? Join the discussion in this thread.
The president of France proposed to eliminate early-retirement privileges for some public employees. Most workers in the Paris transit system "retire before the age of 55, and the average duration of retirement is nearly 25 years, compared to 17.7 years in the private sector." Some retire as early as 50. The workers with early-retirement privileges don't contribute enough to support their pensions, so taxpayers bail them out. The president wants a "new social contract" that might increase their retirement age to 65. He also proposes to repeal tax and employer policies that force old people to retire. Human Nature's view: In French, public worker means the public works for you. (Related columns: the biological case for raising the retirement age.)
British regulators approved an application to reject embryos for the probability of early Alzheimer's. Circumstances: 1) The age of onset in the husband's mother was 49. 2) The disease runs only in the husband's mother's family. 3) To make sure he doesn't produce a child with the disease, the clinic "will screen embryos to ensure only the chromosome from [his father's] side is passed on." 4) The husband refuses to be tested to find out whether he carries the gene in the first place. Consequently, the approved weeding process poses "a one in four risk that a healthy embryo will be discarded." Clinic's arguments: 1) Nature discards healthy embryos, too. 2) This kind of screening is so hard that people will do it only for "life-threatening diseases." 3) Early Alzheimer's might leave the kid "only half a live worth living." Rebuttals: 1) So, now we're snuffing embryos that would live normally to 49. 2) And we're snuffing embryos that might never get the disease. 3) You're promising us an imminent Alzheimer's cure from stem cells—but you're tossing embryos on the theory that they're doomed to Alzheimer's 50 years from now? (Related columns: the slippery slope of embryo screening.) Question: In this situation, would you use the same test? Debate it here.
Latest Human Nature columns: 1) Rethinking the age of consent. 2) The best sex stories of 2007. 3) Are conservatives stupid? 4) Larry Craig's anti-gay hypocrisy. 5) The jihad against tobacco. 6) Fat lies and fat lies revisited. 7) Liberals and bioethics. 8) The case for turning food into fuel. 9) Recombining man and beast. 10) The spread of virgin births.