Human Nature

Fatal Fellatio

And other news from science and technology.

(For the latest Human Nature columns on stem cells, Pat Robertson, and abortion, click here.)

A study indicates that oral sex can lead to mouth cancer. Swedish researchers found that 36 percent of mouth cancer patients, but only 1 percent of a control group, carried the human papilloma virus (or HPV), which can be acquired through oral sex. Study director’s conclusion: “You should avoid having oral sex.” (For Human Nature’s take on the risks of oral vs. anal sex, click here.)

NASA will send robots to find extractable water and oxygen for a manned moon base. The four or five missions will prepare the way for a permanent station at the moon’s south pole in 2018. Early betting is that it’ll be easier to get water than oxygen.

Two patients received blood vessels made from their skin. Scientists put tiny bits of skin and vein in a lab dish, applied chemicals that caused specific kinds of growth, and harvested big sheets of tissue that were then rolled into vessels and implanted in the donors.

A woman’s eye was eaten alive by ants at a hospital in India. The diabetic patient checked in with high blood pressure after a cataract operation and lapsed into a coma. Her family found her with ants crawling on her face. The hospital superintendent says ants like to bite diabetics because of their high blood sugar. At another Indian hospital, rats chewed off a patient’s fingertip.

A government investigation says the FDA bent its rules to block over-the-counter sales of the morning-after pill. The GAO report indicates 1) senior officials decided to reject such sales long before their scientific assessment was finished; 2) in so doing, they overruled the agency’s internal and external science advisers on an over-the-counter sales question for the first time in 10 years; and 3) they justified the rejection by invoking an age distinction they had ignored in previous cases. (For Human Nature’s take on pharmacies and morning-after pills, click here.)

Strenuous daily exercise extends lifespan by three to four years on average. To make it sound easier, the medical establishment says you don’t have to run; walking helps. But the data suggest strenuous exercise buys you two more years than light exercise does.

Pat Robertson told the people of Dover, Pa., that God would punish them for ousting advocates of intelligent design from their school board. “If there is a disaster in your area, don’t turn to God. You just rejected Him from your city,” Robertson said, adding, “And don’t wonder why He hasn’t helped you when problems begin, if they begin.” Meanwhile, the pope declared that the universe is an “intelligent project” created by divine love. Advocates of ID hailed his remarks as an endorsement. (For Human Nature’s take on Robertson vs. the pope, click here.)

A live baby was born with her heart outside her body. The pumping heart, connected to her circulatory system by protruding arteries and veins, was clutched in her hand.

Down syndrome can be detected earlier in pregnancy. Women used to be screened at 16 weeks; now they can be screened at 11 weeks with 87 percent accuracy. Doctors are happy because earlier abortions are safer, less “traumatic,” and more private (you’re not yet showing) than later ones. Pro-lifers worry because 1) we’ll now be less troubled about killing fetuses with the syndrome, and 2) our tolerance for aborting defects is extending to those that permit relatively long and happy lives. (For Human Nature’s latest take on abortion polls, click here.)

Astronauts proposed a new way to prevent an asteroid from hitting us. The old idea was to land a spacecraft on it and blow it up. The new idea is to fly the spacecraft alongside it so the spacecraft’s gravity slows or speeds up the asteroid enough to avoid collision with our moving planet. The old idea required perfect execution; the new idea just requires perfect calculation. The next high-risk asteroid arrives in 24 years.

Voters threw out the Pennsylvania school board that approved “intelligent design.” Eight of the nine board members were up for election; all eight lost to candidates who opposed the ID policy. This happened in a district that voted 65 percent for President Bush  in 2004. (For Human Nature’s take on the court case, click here.)

The Kansas Board of Education adopted science standards that allow supernatural explanations. The standards 1) recommend the teaching of shortcomings in evolution and 2) eliminate a definition of science as “a search for natural explanations of observable phenomena.” (For Human Nature’s first take on the Kansas fight, click here; for an update, click here.)

Latest Human Nature columns: 1) The overconfidence of stem-cell liberals.2) Pat Robertson vs. the pope on intelligent design. 3) Abortion, sexism, and the polls. 4) Does Alito treat women like girls? 5) Monty Python’s flying creationism. 6) Two breakthroughs in the stem-cell war. 7) Bill Bennett’s racial determinism. 8) The mainstreaming of anal sex.