Triple-Decker Weekly, 36
Critics claim that evolutionary biology is, at best, guesswork. The reality is otherwise. […] If homosexuality is in any sense a product of evolution—and it clearly is, for reasons to be explained—then genetic factors associated with same-sex preference must enjoy some sort of reproductive advantage. The problem should be obvious: If homosexuals reproduce less than heterosexuals—and they do—then why has natural selection not operated against it? [The Chronicle of Higher Education]
These days, the TSA’s major role appears to be to make plane trips more unpleasant. And by doing so, it’s encouraging people to take the considerably more dangerous option of traveling by road. […] A longer list of TSA’s confiscations would include a G.I. Joe action doll’s 4-inch plastic rifle (“it’s a replica”) and a light saber. […] Researchers at Cornell University suggest that people switching from air to road transportation in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks led to an increase of 242 driving fatalities per month—which means that a lot more people died on the roads as an indirect result of 9/11 than died from being on the planes that terrible day. They also suggest that enhanced domestic baggage screening alone reduced passenger volume by about 5 percent in the five years after 9/11, and the substitution of driving for flying by those seeking to avoid security hassles over that period resulted in more than 100 road fatalities. [BloombergBusinessweek]
Customers buy a saliva kit online at 23andMe.com, send it in, and the company extracts their DNA from cheek cells preserved in saliva. In its labs, 23andMe then copies the DNA many times until there’s enough to be genotyped. Then, says lesbian scientist Emily Drabant, the DNA is examined for tens of thousands of genetic variants linked to various conditions and traits, and within weeks users get more than 100 reports on diseases, more than 50 reports on traits, more than 40 reports on carrier status, and more than 20 for drug response. […] The most commonly requested test, Drabant says, is for sexual orientation, a particularly controversial area. […] The company initiated its sexual orientation project about six months ago, and researchers are hoping that tens of thousands of LGBT folks take the genetic test and fill out the accompanying survey — the information from which allows 23andMe to see patterns among, for example, gay men or transgender women. […] As soon as the company has a big enough sample, it plans to make those results public. [Advocate]
In some societies, sexual activity is prohibited during certain times of day. The Cuna of Panama approve of sexual relations only at night in accordance with the laws of God. The Semang of Malaysia believe that sex during the day will cause thunderstorms and deadly lightening, leading to drowning of not only the offending couple but also of other innocent people. And the West African Bambara believe that a couple who engage in sex during the day will have an albino child. Sometimes, sex is prohibited in certain places. [Encyclopedia of Sex and Gender/Mind Hacks]
In a year or two, augmented reality (AR) headsets such as Google Glass may double up as a virtual dieting pill. New research from the University of Tokyo shows that a very simple AR trick can reduce the amount that you eat by 10% — and yes, the same trick, used in the inverse, can be used to increase food consumption by 15%, too. The AR trick is very simple: By donning the glasses, the University of Tokyo’s special software “seamlessly” scales up the size of your food. […] It has been shown time and time again that large plates and large servings encourage you to consume more. In one study, restaurant-goers ate more food when equipped with smaller forks; but at home, the opposite is true. In another study, it was shown that you eat more food if the color of your plate matches what you’re eating. [ExtremeTech]
Psychologists Segal-Caspi and colleagues took 118 female Israeli students and videotaped them walking into a room and reading a weather forecast. Then other students – male and female – judged the ‘targets’ on attractiveness, but also tried to work out their personality, purely based on 60 seconds of video. So what happened? The judges judged prettier women as having stereotypically ‘better’ personality traits e.g. less neurotic and more friendly. Interestingly, both male and female judges did this, and there were no significant differences between the genders. So there’s a tendency to think that those we find attractive are also beautiful on the inside. [Neuroskeptic]
Young children are inclined to see purpose in the natural world. Ask them why we have rivers, and they’ll likely tell you that we have rivers so that boats can travel on them (an example of a “teleological explanation”). […] A new study with 80 physical scientists finds that they too have a latent tendency to endorse similar teleological explanations for why nature is the way it is. They label those explanations as false most of the time, but put them under time pressure, and their child-like, quasi-religious beliefs shine through. [BPS]
It’s all about the fact that people want to achieve two things at the same time. We want to think of ourselves as honest, wonderful people, and then we want to benefit from cheating. Our ability to rationalize our own actions can actually help us be more dishonest while thinking of ourselves as honest. So the idea that everybody else does it, or the idea that nobody is really going to suffer, or the idea that the entity you are stealing from is actually a bad entity, or the idea that you don’t see it—all of those things help people be dishonest. [ Daniel Ariely/The Politic]
For the very first time researchers have streamed braille patterns directly into a blind patient’s retina, allowing him to read four-letter words accurately and quickly with an ocular neuroprosthetic device.
Over the second half of the 20th century, the average age for girls to begin breast development has dropped by a year or more in the industrialized world. And the age of first menstruation, generally around 12, has advanced by a matter of months. Hispanic and black girls may be experiencing an age shift much more pronounced. […] “If you basically say that the onset of puberty has a bell-shaped distribution, it seems to many of us the whole curve is shifting to the left,” says Paul Kaplowitz, chief of the division of endocrinology and diabetes at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C. More girls, he says, are starting puberty before age 8, putting them at “the lower end of the new normal range.” Researchers are now turning their attention to what could be driving the trend. Many scientists suspect that younger puberty is a consequence of an epidemic of childhood obesity, citing studies that find development closely tied to the accumulation of body fat. But there are other possibilities, including the presence of environmental chemicals that can mimic the biological properties of estrogen, and psychological and social stressors that might alter the hormonal makeup of a young body. [ScienceNews]
It’s not surprising that social norms influence consumer behavior. When everybody else wants to spend $400 on the new iPad, it makes sense that you’ll be more willing to spend $400 on a new iPad. The question is, how far does this social influence extend? A new study led by Ivo Vlaev examines how social norms influence spending on a good that ought to be on the opposite end of the social influence spectrum from consumer electronics: pain reduction. If somebody stabs you in the foot with a steak knife, you would assume your desire to alleviate that pain has nothing to do with the decision of somebody else who suffered the same stabbing. But that’s not what Vlaev and his team found. When it came to avoiding a painful electric shock, people didn’t just make decisions based their own pain, they also took into account how much other people wanted to reduce that same pain. [peer-reviewed by my neurons]
The ‘enigmatic’ protein behind our heartbeat. New research has shed light on the mechanism responsible for a regular heartbeat, scientists announced, saying the findings could help explain cardiac arrest in otherwise healthy young people.
Why is the polyp Hydra immortal? Researchers from Kiel University decided to study it — and unexpectedly discovered a link to aging in humans. [Kurzweil]
The shadow banking system is the collection of non-bank financial intermediaries that provide services similar to traditional commercial banks. It includes entities such as hedge funds, money market funds and structured investment vehicles (SIV). Investment banks may conduct much of their business in the shadow banking system (SBS), but most are not SBS institutions themselves. [Wikipedia]
The system of so-called “shadow banking,” blamed by some for aggravating the global financial crisis, grew to a new high of $67 trillion globally last year — more than the total economic output of all the countries in the study. A report by the Financial Stability Board (FSB) on Sunday appeared to confirm fears among policymakers that shadow banking is set to thrive, beyond the reach of a regulatory net tightening around traditional banks and banking activities. [Reuters]
The OECD has a new report out projecting what countries’ economic output, both total and per capita, will be in 2060. Unsurprisingly, the Chinese and Indian economies will have eclipsed the U.S. one, which will remain in third place. But the per capita numbers are more striking, and encouraging. The report projects that between 2011 and 2060, real GDP per capita will increase sevenfold in India and China. In China, that means a jump from $8,387 in 2011 to almost $60,000 in 2060, in constant 2011 dollars. By contrast, U.S. GDP per capita in 2011 was $48,328. OECD also projects declining inequality between countries over the next fifty years. The United States will still have a much bigger GDP per capita than China in 2060 — about $136,611, if the OECD is right. But that’s a little more than double China’s level, whereas today, U.S. GDP per capita is almost six times that of China’s. [Washington Post]
China to build world’s tallest building – in just 90 days. Critics have pointed out that BSB’s construction company has never built anything taller than 30 storeys before, but the builders seem unworried.
Six years ago, Mexico was the world’s ninth largest exporter of cars. Today the country is ranked fourth—behind Germany, Japan and South Korea—with exports expected to total more than 2.14 million vehicles this year. […] Mexico’s Economy Minister Bruno Ferrari boasted that a batch of new factories planned by car makers will help Mexico surpass South Korea in a few years. [WSJ]
This report spells out what the world would be like if it warmed by 4 degrees Celsius, which is what scientists are nearly unanimously predicting by the end of the century, without serious policy changes. The 4°C scenarios are devastating: the inundation of coastal cities; increasing risks for food production potentially leading to higher malnutrition rates; many dry regions becoming dryer, wet regions wetter; unprecedented heat waves in many regions, especially in the tropics; substantially exacerbated water scarcity in many regions; increased frequency of high-intensity tropical cyclones; and irreversible loss of biodiversity, including coral reef systems. […] The science is unequivocal that humans are the cause of global warming, and major changes are already being observed: global mean warming is 0.8°C above pre industrial levels; oceans have warmed by 0.09°C since the 1950s and are acidifying; sea levels rose by about 20 cm since pre-industrial times and are now rising at 3.2 cm per decade; an exceptional number of extreme heat waves occurred in the last decade; major food crop growing areas are increasingly affected by drought. [World Bank | PDF]
When I was a kid, probably about 9 or 10 [years old], we went to an Indian restaurant for dinner. Just as my dad was about to pay, he suddenly tinked his spoon against his glass and stood up. The whole restaurant went silent. My dad said, “I’d just like to thank you all for coming; some from just round the corner, some from much further afield. You’re all most welcome to join us for a little drinks reception across the road.’ And so an entire restaurant of strangers who had never seen us before were all applauding wildly because they didn’t want to be seen as gatecrashers. We just took off. He [told me] we’re not going to the pub really and [explained that his] old friend Malcolm had [just opened a new pub across the street]. […] If you’re an intelligent psychopath and violent [and get a good start], there are any number of exciting occupations, anything from special forces operative to head of a criminal syndicate. [Kevin Dutton/Time]
Directed by Michael Bay. [gif]