Human Nature

Sperm Secrets

Do you have a right to know your genetic parents?

(For the latest Human Nature columns on abortion, suicide, and teachers who molest boys, click here.)

The government has obtained information on all Internet search requests made in a week through Yahoo, MSN, and AOL. Google is fighting a subpoena for similar information. The government says it’s looking for use of material harmful to minors (porn); the companies apparently negotiated the information dump down from two months’ to one week’s worth of searches. It’s unclear whether the government originally requested information that might identify users. Government’s and companies’ spin: Don’t worry, it’s just aggregated numbers. Civil libertarians’ spin: This is the first time the feds have asked for data on everybody, not just suspects. Beware.

Latest fertility clinic controversies: 1) A clinic neglected to tell many couples that their embryos were stolen and used to make kids born to other women. 2) A study says the ideal number of IVF embryos to implant in older women is five; implanting more increases the risk of multiple fetuses but not the probability of live birth. 3) Birth parents, egg/sperm donors, and IVF kids are asking clinics to link the donors to their kids. They say you have a right to know a) who your genetic parents are, b) what your risks of genetic diseases are, c) whether the woman you’re thinking of marrying is your genetic sister, and d) whether the sperm you got at the clinic really came from a Ph.D. (For Human Nature’s previous takes on IVF regulation, click here and here. For David Plotz’s take on donor secrecy and kids’ curiosity, click here.)

More evidence that men are vindictive:Brain scans show that when somebody they dislike suffers pain, men—but not women—show a) zero activity in empathy-related parts of the brain and b) a surge of activity in pleasure-related parts of the brain. In the study, disliked people were those who had behaved selfishly in a game. Interpretations: 1) Men are born mean. 2) Men are made mean. 3) Men are deeply ethical and reserve empathy for those who deserve it. 4) Men do women a service by instinctively punishing cheaters. (For a previous update on gender differences, click here; for columns on Larry Summers’ comments about gender differences, click  here and here.)

The Vatican signaled more discomfort with intelligent design. Its official newspaper ran an article by a Catholic professor saying 1) “God’s project of creation can be carried out through secondary causes in the natural course of events,” i.e., evolution, and 2) a U.S. judge was right to bar the teaching of ID as science because it’s wrong “to stray from the field of science while pretending to do science.” Evolutionists read the article (coupled with comments by a leading cardinal and the Vatican’s chief astronomer) as evidence that Catholicism is making peace with evolution. ID proponents say the debate isn’t over till the pope sings. (For Human Nature’s take on the pope and ID, click here. For updates on comments from other Vatican officials, click here and here.)

Cities are inviting old people to trade in their cars for rides. The car buys you an account, from which you draw each time you call in for a ride. Rationales: 1) Old drivers are the second most accident-prone age group, just behind teenagers. *  2) They don’t use their cars much anyway. 3) Friends and family can add to their accounts by donating rides or money. 4) Old folks like to spend from their accounts instead of begging friends or family. (For additional ways to limit accidents among older drivers, click here; for Human Nature’s take on raising the retirement age, click here.)

A California school district canceled its philosophy course on creationism. The course was widely seen as an end run around last month’s court ruling that intelligent design couldn’t be taught as science. Civil libertarians sued anyway, and the district folded. Plaintiffs’ spin: Separation of church and state is vindicated. District’s spin: We couldn’t afford a legal fight. Discovery Institute’s spin: The district screwed up by teaching old-fashioned creationism, not intelligent design. Course designer’s obtuse non-spin: “This is the class that the Lord wanted me to teach.” (For Human Nature’s previous update on the case, click here.)

Having a TV in your bedroom means you get only half as much sex. A study of 523 Italian couples found that those with a TV had sex four times a month; those without a TV had sex eight times a month. Among people older than 50, TV reduced the average frequency of sex from seven times a month to 1.5. The study did not make clear whether 1) putting a TV in your bedroom makes you have less sex or 2) having less sex makes you put a TV in your bedroom.

A clinic says it has trained dogs to smell lung cancer on your breath with 99 percent accuracy—and to smell breast cancer with 88 percent accuracy. That’s more accurate than high-tech tests. Explanation: 1) Tumors release tiny amounts of telltale chemicals. 2) Dogs can smell such tiny amounts. 3) Dogs have previously been trained to smell cancer on people’s skin or bladder cancer in their urine. Scientists say the results are too good to be true, so they’re waiting for an independent study to replicate them. (For Slate’s take on bomb-sniffing dogs, click here. For an update on bomb-sniffing wasps, click here.)

Latest Human Nature columns: 1) Scalia on abortion and suicide. 2) Teachers who have sex withboys. 3) Coercingwomen to experiment on their eggs. 4) Our creepy genetic experiment on dogs. 5) The pope’s anti-gay tendencies. 6) Does Alito treat women like girls? 7) Bill Bennett’s racial determinism. 8) The mainstreaming of anal sex.

Correction, Jan. 18, 2005:The item originally said old drivers were more accident-prone than teenagers. In fact, according to the linked article, “The 65-plus population accounts for more accidents per miles driven than any group other than teenagers.” Click here  to return to the corrected sentence.