Human Nature

Dope on a Soap

Caffeinating your body in the shower.

(For the latest columns on moral evolution, selling your organs, and abortion and ultrasound, click here.)

Canadians are evading their country’s ban on buying human eggs. Methods: 1) Answer ads from one of the Canadian women who offer their eggs on the Internet. Sign a document pledging not to exchange money in the transaction, then pay her cash. 2) Take a “fertility vacation” to the U.S., where egg buying is legal. 3) Buy eggs in the U.S., make your embryos there, then drive the frozen embryos across the border and have them implanted in Canada. Canadian egg price: $5,000 to $7,000 per cycle. U.S. price: $3,000. Canadian government’s view: We outlawed egg buying because Canadians want a ban. Rebuttal: These Canadians don’t, and all you’ve done is raise the price. (For Human Nature’s take on the emerging business of customized embryo manufacture, click here.)

Update on caffeinating your life: 1) An entrepreneur is trying to persuade Krispy Kreme and other companies to sell his caffeinated pastries. Rationale: “There’s some mornings that I’d like juice instead of coffee but I still want that caffeine kick.” 2) A company is selling sunflower seeds infused with caffeine and other stimulants copied from energy drinks. Company’s spin: “You can’t consume a sunflower seed as fast as, say, you could guzzle a 10-ounce or a 12-ounce can of a beverage, and you also don’t have that sugar. So it will be more of a sustained energy boost.” 3) A company is selling a soap called Shower Shock that delivers, through your skin, as much caffeine as two cups of coffee per shower. Ad message: “Tired of waking up and having to wait for your morning (coffee) to brew?” Cynical view: Don’t forget to caffeinate the chairs in the emergency room so we can all get our fix when we show up with caffeine poisoning. (For a previous update on caffeinated supplements and drink mixes, click here. For Human Nature’s take on the legalization of caffeine in Olympic athletes, click here.)

Researchers identified a gene that regulates the longevity effect of calorie restriction in worms. Many people are eating ultra-low-calorie diets designed to trigger a life-extending “starvation” response. The new idea is to develop drugs that trigger the genetic mechanism that regulates this response, so you can get the life extension without starving yourself into misery. Skeptical view: People aren’t worms. Rebuttal: We have three genes that resemble this one, and evolution has probably equipped us with the same starvation-survival mechanism. (For a previous update on diet and life extension, click here.)

Austria will lower its voting age to 16. The Cabinet has agreed to propose the change, and the parliament is expected to pass it. The plan would also let people run for office at age 18. The only other countries that let people vote at 16 are Brazil, Cuba, and Nicaragua. Chancellor’s view: This will “strengthen communication with young people and … include them as early as possible in the political education process.” Critics’ view: They need the education before they get the vote. (For Human Nature’s take on regulation of teens and tanning, click here. For teens and cosmetic surgery, click here.)

A 13-year Dutch study concludesLeft-handedness is associated with higher mortality in women.” Data summary: “Lefties had a 40 percent higher risk of dying from any cause, a 70 percent higher risk of dying from cancer, and a 30 percent higher risk of dying from diseases of the circulatory system.” Theory: “Left-handedness is the result of an insult suffered during early development, which ultimately leads to … premature demise.” Skeptical view: Studies associating lefties with earlier death are riddled with flaws, including “selective publication of positive results” and confusion of natural with altered lefties.

A study suggests that racial bias by referees changes the outcomes of NBA games. Authors’ summary: “More personal fouls are awarded against players when they are officiated by an opposite-race officiating crew than when officiated by an own-race refereeing crew. These biases are sufficiently large that we find appreciable differences in whether predominantly black teams are more likely to win or lose, according to the racial composition of the refereeing crew.” NBA’s rebuttal: We’ve refuted this study with our own study, which is better because it uses special data that we can’t show you. Rosy spin: The bias is unconscious, and there’s less of it in the NBA than in police searches, tipping, or “trying to hail a cab at midnight.” Gloomy spin: Exactly. (For Human Nature’s take on predicting criminal propensity from a child’s race, click here.)

Update on “natural orifice” surgery: Surgeons are removing brain tumors through patients’ noses. This follows operations in which doctors removed gall bladders through vaginas and removed appendixes through mouths. Nasal breakthroughs: Surgeons 1) “removed part of a boy’s brain tumor through his nose,” 2) “removed brain tumors the size of baseballs through the nose,” and 3) “operated on neck vertebrae of an elderly man through his nose.” Rationales for going through orifices: less pain, trauma, and recovery time. Rationale for going through the nose: It avoids facial scars. Caveat: You’d better make sure you get the whole tumor. Next predicted applications: Weight-loss surgery and removal of kidneys and intestines through lower orifices. (For previous updates on natural orifice surgery, click here and here.)

Male ducks are evolving fantastic phalluses to inseminate females with fantastic oviducts. Unlike other birds, male ducks can grow “phalluses as long as their entire body.” The organ “expands into a long, corkscrew shape,” in some cases a “spiraling tentacle.” Now scientists have discovered that unlike other birds, female ducks have oviducts complicated by “pockets and spirals.” Theories: 1) The females evolved these oviducts to thwart insemination by unwanted males. 2) The males evolved long, flexible phalluses to overcome this barrier. 3) The reason we hadn’t figured this out till now is that male scientists never thought to examine the female ducks, so a woman had to do it. (For the evolution of double penises in earwigs, click here. For Human Nature’s take on human penis transplants, click here. For women who gave birth from two wombs, click here and here.)

Memories lost to degenerative brain diseases might be recoverable. In studies, mice (a) learned how to find food in a maze and avoid an electric shock, (b) lost these abilities through induced brain degeneration, and (c) recovered them through “mental stimulation” and then through chemical intervention. Authors’ conclusions: 1) Memories that appear to have been lost may actually be severed but intact. 2) We might be able to restore them in humans, too, since “spontaneous ‘rewiring’ of the brain and recovery of memories was recently reported in a brain-injured man who was in a minimally conscious state for 20 years.” 3) The chemical part of the experiment suggests drugs “in patients with dementia could facilitate access to long-term memories.” (For erasure of memories in rats and mice, click here and here. For dieting by implanting false memories in humans, click here.)

Surgery to restore female virginity is increasing among French Muslims, according to anecdotal reports. One doctor says each week he’s getting about four queries and is doing the surgery (hymen reattachment) on one to three patients, with demand rising in recent years, possibly due to a resurgence of Muslim identity. The leader of the Union of French Islamic Organizations declines to take a position on the surgery. The French government pays part of the cost if you claim you were raped or traumatized. Liberal reaction: Women are being pressured into this surgery by conservative Muslim families. Conservative reaction: Yeah, right after they were pressured into sex by liberal French men. Human Nature’s reaction: Any guy who believes a suicide bombing will earn him 70 virgins in paradise is dumb enough to believe they’re virgins. (For a previous update on virginity restoration, click here. For the untrustworthiness of virginity pledges, click here.)

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