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Good news, parents: your teenage girls aren’t going wild. According to the New York Times, “in many ways, today’s teenagers are more conservative about sex than previous generations.”

This is being celebrated left and right (although not actually getting much play, so to speak, if only becase it’s apparently not very interesting), so while I hate to rain on anyone’s parade, what’s wrong with sex? I’m hardly going to be getting it on with teenagers at my age, but it’s not clear to my why less teen sex is clearly a good thing.

Of course, all sex is not created equal; I wouldn’t encourage anyone of any age to be indiscriminate (whatever that means to them) or to have sex when they don’t want it1. And I don’t think anyone should be engaging in sexual acts if they’re not clear on or ready for the consequences or if they’re at a place in their lives when it would probably be more of a bad thing than a benefit—conditions that are true of many if not most teenagers and of a smaller percentage of adults. But that isn’t what was studied.

The study was about sex (in particular, probably, intercourse, but the Times didn’t say). People start to have sex at puberty. Around 13, the child is a man or woman. Teenagers want sex. And by and large we give it to them: 31 states and the District of Columbia have an age of consent at or below 16. Many have “Romeo and Juliet” laws permitting activity involving only teenagers even if one or both is not ordinarily of legal age.

There’s nothing wrong with not having sex, of course (particularly, says the cultural narrative, if you’re female, but it’s a lesson that boys should indeed be getting in school). But teenagers who do aren’t being “rebelllious,” or showing signs of demonic possession, or embarrassing their families, or embracing pagan hedonism. Nor are they re-enacting what they see on TV or read in books or that garbage those liberal teachers are fillling their heads with. It’s natural.

1This cuts both ways, of course: you shouldn’t say “yes” if you don’t want it, but you also shouldn’t have sex with someone who’s reluctant no matter what they say.

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Along with the growth of the Internet has come an increase in ways to track individuals. Information on your Web activity is much more feasible to record and track than what boooks you read at the library. Recording cell-phone conversations is far easier than recording face-to-face conversations. The Federal government under the George W. Bush Administration assumed unprecedented power to spy on terrorists and vegetarians that simply would not have been possible (let alone legal) 30 years ago.

Indeed, the Internet and the capabilities of modern technology cause data privacy issues to figure prominently in the lives of many people in the United States at work, in their interaction with government and public authorities, in the health field, in e-commerce transactions, and online generally. That language is from House Resolution 31 (111th Congress), designating January 28, 2009 as “Data Privacy Day.”

It’s good to see the government not just acknowledging how the technological revolution has affected our lives, but doing its part to encourage us to protect ourselves.

(While running a Google search in relation to this post, I noticed a message letting me know the search is “[p]ersonalized based on [my W]eb history.” I logged off Gmail, but it didn’t change my reults.)

Most science coverage in daily newspapers is wrong.

Oh, I have no doubt the science is (generally) right. Most studies demonstrate what they demonstrate, it just doesn’t make for exciting reading. For example, this study showing that coffee lowers your risk of dementia. The study shows no more than that the people who drink less coffee (and my current two cups a day puts me in the “less coffee” category) overlap with people who have a greater instance of Alzheimer’s. There’s no indication that either of these things causes the other one, or which. In other words, it’s a starting point at best.

But that’s not interesting. No one wants to read a story that basically says “well, there seem to be a lot more people in both of tese groups than in only one of them.” Something like Alzheimer’s disease is complicated, the sum of a myriad of genetic and environmental factors that interact in unpredictable ways. Studies, by design, isolate one behavior and look at it. There’s no proof of correlation there, or even proof it’s not a coincidence.

In fact, some news reports of studies showing an obvious correlation get that obvious correlation backwards. This was probably written about in the papers because it has breasts in it, just as this one has sex in it, as does this one. That second one even brings the good news that the Independent‘s readers should have more, and those rotten kids should have less (which it turns out they do).

There’s nothing wrong with science coming to the masses. But before acting on anything you read, take a moment to consider what it actually says.

Milllions of Americans are no longer required to allow the government to raise their children for them.

The Child Online Protection Act, Bill Clinton’s panicked reaction to the mysterious new Internet, was denied certiorari by the Supreme Court, meaning that it is thoroughly dead. As someone to whose care a child is entrusted, I find this entirely good.

That’s because when I think of the children, I think of people who have parents to guide them. If you don’t want your child to look at what you consider inappropriate—not what a jury somewhere thinks is inappropriate, or what Congress thinks is inappropriate—you are in the best positon to, through a combination of education, monitoring, and, if needed, filtering, prevent them from doing so

Children are not typically victimized by online pornography per se. If I was reasonably typical, either they won’t see it at all, they’ll ignore it, or they’ll go looking for it. The first two aren’t a problem and the last is something best left to the parents to fix, both because it’s more efficient and because it lets the rest of us alone. As Melissa McEwen notes at Shakesville, “a law designed to ‘protect the children’ from pornographers necessarily impinged on the freedom of expression of feminists/queers engaged merely in the promotion of their radical ideas about equality.

For that matter, bullying is a bigger problem, as Megan Meier could tell you if she weren’t dead. But you don’t get reelected that way, since more bullies vote than pornographers.

Tuesday saw the inauguration of the first president to really use the Internet, make it part of his campaign, and integrate it into his approach to public service (as evidenced by the introduction of a blog on the White House Web site). Hopefully his familiarity with the Internet will help him avoid missteps like COPA.

barack-obama

In case this is the very first thing you’re reading after waking up from a long coma, Barack Obama is President of the United States (and yet I still can’t spell his first name; I’m going with Wikipedia’s rendering). This represents a change from the commonplace platitudes of the Bush administration &c. &c.

(As I type this, a neighbor is marching in the Inaugural Parade as part of the Lesbian and Gay Band Association. Hi Louisa!)

A highlight of the inaugural address, for me, was the “throwaway line”we will restore science to its rightful place.” (This was also a highlight for a lot of other people, it seems: I have nine browser tabs open with blog posts quoting it1.)

“Rightful place.” Most of those eight (and most other amateur political scryers) seem to be welcoming this as a victory. Sue Bailey makes the point that “[r]unning government on provable facts isn’t something we should have to fight for, despite the last eight years.” She took the line as the subtitle of her blog. The oft-quoted Phil Plait at Bad Astronomy hopes “that with this new Administration, much of what we have fought for these past few years will now only need our support, and not our defense.”

Others are a bit more nervous. Presumably eight years of Bush has conditioned them to seek out the hidden meaning in everything, and they’re not used to a president who doesn’t have to talk about his agenda in code.

It reains to be seen whether Obama will live up to that. But the fact that he said it tells us which side he’s


And with that, I’m handing over the reins . . . to myself. I’m expanding the scope of Some Facts/What This Means for You. Look for posts on domestic policy at the federal level, with a focus on bills and regulations. This is in addition to, not instead of, the impact of scientific research on people’s lives.

I figure it’s better to do that early on than if I have a huge audience.

1The blogs not linked in the text are Ruminations of a Junkie for Politics, Princeton Election Consortium, The Serenity of Reason, Pharyngula, Dot Earth at the New York Times, and Stand up for REAL Science. I am aware not all of these people need the publicity.

How much money would you spend to prevent critically ill people from getting treatment?

If you’re an American, your tax dollars go to support research into quack remedies rather than legitimate medical treatment. So how does that prevent people from getting the help they need?

Biomedical research funding is falling because of the nation’s budget problems, but biomedical research itself has never been more promising, with rapid progress being made on a host of diseases.

That’s from Change.gov, a Web site set up by the Obama transition team to allow people to suggest priorities fr the new administration. This is from a proposal to stop funding the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, the division of the National Institutes of Health that investigates nonsense claims.

The site allows users to vote up or down, so go to support the fight against antiscience.

My e-mail tempts me with promises that every hot woman will ask me about the time, and offers to add spices to my bed. The second would be messy, but the first would be intriguing if attenton from hot women were missing from my life.

Well, soon it may happen. Larry J. Young, a research neurochemist at Emory Univversity, say’s he’s found the neurochemical basis of love. I exaggerate, he acknowledges it’s a touch more complex then that.

Young is also convinced that love does not boil down to one single hormone. Other studies have shown that differences in a gene called major histocompatibility complex, which affects the immune system, may be involved in initial sexual attraction. For males, the hormone vasopressin appears to be more important.

However, many of the people saying it can’t work seem to have more of a visceral than a scientific objection.

Fisher also disagreed with Young on the nature of biological love: Rather than a single reproductive imperative repurposed into other feelings, she believes there are three distinct brain systems for sex, romance and attachment.

Young is little concerned with the possibility of unethical uses, though he does note that a love potion can hep strengthen legitimate relationships. I’m not sure how this is different from a date-rape drug, beyond that there would be a sort of manipulated consent which in the long run would probably be wrse for the victims, and women in general, than anything actually available.

Caffeine Molecule

Caffeine Molecule

I, winner that I am, don’t do drugs—except for alcohol and caffeine. I try to watch my alcohol intake, but having been raised on a diet of soda, I pay little attention to how much caffeine I have (though I’ve largely stopped drinking soda).

Whille I’m one of those people who feels caffeine is somewhat the point of coffee, I acknowledge there’s a health benefit to cutting back, particularly for expectant mothers. That’s why it’s possible to get decaf, and to test the caffeine content of your drinks. The product is essentially a pregnancy test for coffee, looking for caffeine by causing a chemical reaction.

Now it’s possible to be sure you’re not getting too much . . . or too little.

I like to cook. A large portion of my bookshelf space is devoted to cookbooks and books on food. So I was drawn to this New York Times story about cooking with Shirley O. Corriher.

I actually have Cookwise (er, somewhere; that was a metaphorical bookshelf I was referring to up there), as well as Harold McGee’s On Food and Coking, also mentioned in the article. One thing I find interesting about their work is the focus on science, the key to which is replicability.

That’s because cooking is a science; in particular, it’s mostly chemistry. The task of the cook is to facilitate chemical reactions (there’s also physics and biology—e.g., yeast used in baking). And science is repeatable.

Too often the words “science” and “cooking” call to mind Ferran Adrià and his ilk, turning olives into olive-flavored green spheroids and the like. In fact, Corriher says, all cooking is science:

I see a little technical information as liberating, something that enhances creativity. If you know the limiting factors in a recipe, you’re free to go wild with the rest.

That said, of course, cooking is older than science as we know it and the scientific method. However, knowing how it all works is useful in perfecting and improving traditional recipes—and creating new ones.


Looks like The Not Scientist independently read the same article and felt the same way. Howdy!

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