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Not from the people who brought you liquid bandages, it’s the liquid condom.

No, really. It’s actually a gel that turns semisolid upon contact with semen, preventing HIV from passing through. The idea is to give women a way of preventing HIV transmission that doesn’t require her partner’s participation or even knowledge. This is particularly important in places where cultural values prevent men from using condoms and women from insisting they do so.

Now, I gotta say, I am unavoidably reminded of those cookbooks that teach you how to sneak vegetables into your kids’ meals. It may solve the immediate problem, but it won’t lead to a needed long-term change in behavior. (For the record, I always ate my vegetables. Indeed, as a child I was an angel and a delight. Now, not so much.)

In children, the problem is that, if they discover your devious ways, they stop trusting anything you eat, leading to dysfunctions of eating, and meanwhile they still don’t like vegetables. If domineering and recalcitrant lovers discover your devious ways, then, it may lead to dysfunctional sex, and meanwhile they still don’t like or think they should wear condoms. The problem here is men who are in denial about their role in HIV transmission, about how their attitudes and actions contribute to the epidemic.

The solution, as with children and vegetables, isn’t deception—it’s education.

(h/t Boonsri Dickinson)


Yesterday, Barack Obama lifted the Federal ban on research in new stem cell lines. That means research labs using Federal money are no longer restricted to the 20 or so so-called “Presidential lines” of embryonic stem cells that existed before August 9, 2001, when the ban was instituted.

A commenter at Feministe explains some of the absurdity this led to:

[I]f you were working on non-Presidential lines (with non-federal money, of course), you couldn’t buy a pen with federal money and use it to write in your notebook. The janitor who changed the lightbulbs in your lab couldn’t be paid with federal money.

Embryonic stem cell research could be the key to treating neurological injuries or diseases or even diabetes.

The president notes that “the full promise of stem cell research remains unknown,” but that’s a reason to do stem cell research, not an excuse to prohibit it. We’ll never know if we don’t try.

Today is the 71st birthday of Judy Blume. It’s the 86th birthday of Franco Zeffirelli, And it’s the 200th birthday (or would be) of Charles Darwin.

Which is interesting, and happy birthday, but let’s not get carried away.

Darwinolatry, in addition to being a mite hypocritical for professed atheists, misses the point in the same way the so-callled “Lady Hope legend” misses the pont. Nothing called “evolution” sprung fully formed from Charles Darwin’s brow. Other people had the same idea, or a similar one, before and simultaneously with him. He formalized it and made it clear (well, by Victorian standards), but he certainly didn’t invent it.

Fanboying Darwin undermines the idea that ideas are tested by experiment and their worth hinges entirely on their truth while lending credence to the creationist idea that if they can just show that Darwin himself had doubts about the theory, they can get the whole thing to come crashing down. He probably did have doubts, initially, as scientists tend to, and he was flat-out wrong about some things (he had no notion of genetics or of particulate inheritance in general). Conversely, the “deathbed conversion” story, though arrant nonsense, is not actually relevant to whether or not one should accept evolution (not that evolution really cares what you think).

Darwin is certainly worthy of celebration. However, he should be remembered as a sepaprate entity from the theory of evolution he popularized and disseminated, and it should be remembered that theory doesn’t depend on him.

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.

Sex is natural, generally, and many people feel that sex is, indeed, fun (the specific circumstances under which it is best are for another day). “Fun,” however, isn’t the same as “always top priority for everybody.”

This isn’t a problem per se. Unless it is; in other words, when there’s a woman involved. Researchers are working feverishly on treatment for female sexual dysfunction. Progress is said to be slow because the condition is so complex.

Of course, to simultaneously affect 12% of the female population and 44% of the female population, it would have to be.

The 44% is the number of women with “low desire.” The 12% is the number of women bothered by low desire. Since “low” is obvously subjective, normally you would expect a “low libido” to be so low as to bother the person with this condition, but evidently not always. There’s a brass libido in a lab somewhere that all sex drives are measured against, I suppose.

An interesting thing about this is that when a woman is less interested in sex than her male partner, she’s considered to be the one with the problem, but when a man is less interested in sex than his female partner . . . she’s still the one with the problem, as in the demeaning term “nymphomaniac” (Carol Groneman‘s excellent book Nymphomania details the horrors visited on women in the name of “diagnosing” and “treating” a sex drive) and jokes about new brides and all. I can’t help but wonder what happens with mismatched same-sex couples, when one partner can’t whine about the other being all female and stuff.

What I suspect happens is they either work it out or split up, helped by the lack of any sort of expectation that one partner, and only she, needs to make whatever changes are necessary. That’s because it turns out “normal” actually covers quite a wide range, and it’s possible for two normal people to be hideously mismatched, and then each meets a normal person with whom he or she is quite well matched.

Like with any other emotional, a sex drive at or near one end or the other of the bell curve is only a problem if, well, it’s a problem. Being different from one’s partner is no reason to take a pill.

” צֶדֶק צֶדֶק, תִּרְדֹּף [Justice, justice shall you pursue].”–Deuteronomy 16:20

According to a study, pooches don’t like being screwed. If one of two dogs is given a reward, the other becomes disobedient—more so that a dog being tested alone.

Dogs, in other words, can detect unfair treatment, at least when it’s happening to them. Other studies have also shown that dogs experience jealousy. These most human of all human emotions may cross species lines more than we think.

This isn’t exactly noble, of course. It’s looking out for number one. Dogs don’t care that there’s suffering in the world if it’s not happening to them. Not really admirable; very human.

Roger Ebert failed to review eXpelled: No Intelligence Allowed when it came out for some lame reason like “it isn’t worthy of consideration.” Well, never mind that now, he’s filled in the gap.

Confession time: when this movie first came out, I thought “ok, Ben Stein’s widely considered smart, or at least ‘television smart,’ he must have really ripped creationism a new one, right?” To make a hollow laughing. His thesis was that it was creationism “intelligent design” that had been kept out of schools. Now, as Phil Plait notes over at Bad Astronomy, it’s not like the movie wen’t anywhere, so it’s hardly a major part of the public discourse on the subject. However, Stein (rather childishly; showing someone getting made up to go on camera is like laughing at people for being naked under their clothes) does rehash some familiar arguments that I will never get tired of obliterating.

Let’s start with the probability argument. The collective mutations required to produce George W. Bush from unicellular protozoa are so unlikely that we may as well consider them impossible. This is looking at the problem the wrong way. There are 3954242643911240000000 possible bridge hands (I think, my abacus dropped a bead). At 1 a second, it would take you a bit over 125 trillion years to inspect all of them (and at $1 a year, you’d earn enough to bail out GM 5,000 times). Since you don’t have 125 trillion years, it follows that you can’t inspect every possible bridge hand, and the odds of you encountering any particular one are, well, roughly one in 1 in 4 sextillion. We may as well consider that impossible, thus bridge is impossible. This won’t get much argument from anyone who’s actually read the rules of bridge, I suppose, but look at it this way: my gradfather plays bridge, so if bridge is impossible, my grandfather doesn’t exist, therefore I don’t exist, therefore I didn’t post this, therefore you’re not reading it. Doesn’t that just blow your fucking mind?

Ahem. The a priori probability of human life (or bridge) may be small, but the a priori probability isn’t relevant. The question isn’t “how will these protozoa develop?” but “how did contemporary biodiversity develop?” The unlikelihood of evolution leading to us proves we don’t exist, not that we didn’t evolve.

Another ID argument asserts that life can’t come from non-life. That’s not what I learned in 6th-grade biology. In fact, it’s somewhat circular: life can’t come from non-life, therefore life didn’t evolve from lifelessness. Now, the counterargument is also circular, except that it’s been observed.

I can almost hear the discussion about this: the IDer says “life can’t possibly arrive from inorganic matter.” The science-ortented response if “actually, it can, and it’s been simulated by scientists.” “Yes, but they had to zap it with x-rays from a huge machine.”

But that’s moving the goalposts. Now that we know it can be done, figuring out how is that much simpler.

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