Human Nature

The Creationists Get Creamed

And other news from science and technology.

(For the latest Human Nature columns on creationism, anal sex, and treating women like children, click here.)

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 advice to head off a bird flu epidemic: Stop feeding chicken feces to fish. Chicken feces is a prime conduit of the bird flu virus; Vietnamese farmers feed fish at least 100 tons of it a day.

Scientists are proposing to use your stomach as a lie detector. Polygraphs, which are sometimes inaccurate, could be combined with “electrogastrograms,” which monitor digestive activity and proved more reliable than heart rate at detecting lies in a small study.

Washington’s Supreme Court extended parental rights to a non-biological, non-adoptive lesbian “mom.” For six years, the plaintiff helped her partner raise a child (conceived with donated sperm), staying home while the biological mom worked outside the home. The biological mom then married the sperm donor and cut off the plaintiff’s access to the child. The court said the plaintiff can qualify as a “de-facto or psychological parent” if she 1) lived with the child, 2) helped raise the child without expectation of compensation, 3) formed a bond with the child, and 4) was encouraged by the legal parent to form this bond.

Colgate-Palmolive is working with a biotech firm to develop gene-therapy mouthwash. The mouthwash and other “topically applied products” would infect your mouth with tumor-suppressing genes.

Denver legalized marijuana possession. Voters passed a ballot measure barring criminal or civil penalties if 1) you’re carrying less than an ounce of pot and 2) you’re 21 or older. The effect is symbolic, because state law still punishes possession, but advocates in other states will probably copy the argument that passed the Denver legalization measure: Marijuana diverts people from alcohol, which is more dangerous.

The mayor of Las Vegas proposed to amputate the thumbs of freeway graffitists. He said he was “dead serious” and added that some troublemaking kids should be whipped or caned.

President Bush requested $7 billion to prepare the United States for a bird flu epidemic. The flu is spreading west from Asia and has killed 62 people in the last two years; scientists fear that a mutation will allow it to pass more easily from human to human. Production of enough vaccine for the general population “will take years.”

Aetna will pay doctors to screen its patients for depression. The company thinks it’s cost-effective for employers because untreated depression causes absenteeism, low productivity, poor diet, and lack of exercise. A study calculates that the disease costs the country more than $83 billion a year. One executive calls depression the white-collar equivalent of a chronic bad back.

Chocolate is being re-engineered as a health food. The Mars company is maximizing flavanol and putting plant sterols into the “CocoaVia” bar, capitalizing on research that suggests these chemicals can reduce cholesterol, blood pressure, and heart disease. Mars says it’s “nutritionally responsible” and can confer “maximum benefit.” Skeptics say the benefits are overwhelmed by the calories and fat.

Four new findings on whether day care is good or bad for kids: 1) The cognitive benefits of day care persist, while the relatively high rate of behavioral problems diminishes. 2) The cognitive benefits are twice as great for poor kids as for rich ones. 3) Kids from higher-income families ended up with the worst social problems. 4) Kids in day care were 16 times less likely to die than kids at home.

A woman gave birth to twins from two wombs. She was born with two vaginas, but doctors had merged them into one. Seventy women have reportedly carried double-womb pregnancies in the last century. Odds of twin births in this case were 5 million to one. (For Human Nature’s take on deformities, click here.)

Latest Human Nature columns: 1) Does Alito treat women like girls? 2) Monty Python’s flying creationism. 3) Two breakthroughs in the stem-cell war. 4) Bill Bennett’s racial determinism.5) The mainstreaming of anal sex. 6) The emerging technology of artificial wombs. 7) The case for  growing embryos for their parts.