Polar bears' genitals are shrinking, Gospel listeners are engaging in unprotected sex, and livestock are still contributing to global warming.

mwcolumn.jpg MAGGIE WITTLIN  Column Archive

Bad Things Come of Small Packages
George Costanza warned us about the cold causing shrinkage. Recently a team of scientists has found that the size of polar bear genitals is on the wane. The researchers worry that the dwindling members could hinder the bears’ already meager reproduction rate and endanger the species. The scientists examined the preserved genitalia of 55 male and 44 female east Greenland polar bears collected between 1999 and 2002. They found that males with higher levels of organohalogens, pollutantsthat the bears ingest when eating seal blubber and that can act like hormones, had smaller testicles and bacula (or penis bones). Ovary size and weight also decreased with higher levels of these pollutants. In case you were wondering, the average polar bear testicles measured were three inches across, and the average penis bone was almost seven inches long.

It’s in the Stars
While scientists are getting all worked up about the demotion of Pluto, pseudoscientists are unfazed by the new, streamlined solar system. Astrologers say they will use Pluto just as they did before. After all, the prognosticators regularly rely on heavenly bodies that aren’t planets. “It’s very interesting that Pluto’s been downgraded in a planetary sense because he could never be downgraded in a mythological sense,” British astrologer Russell Grant told Reuters. Instead of downgrading Pluto, astrologers say they are looking to bring 2003 UB313, aka Xena, into their universal scheme. Grant said that Xena would have limited use as it would only be relevant to people of the sun signs Pisces and Aries.

Joey Control
Australian scientists are working to curb their country’s booming kangaroo population by putting female kangaroos on the pill. They are looking to develop an oral contraceptive that can be slipped into the animals’ food. Kangaroos are a hazard on the road, especially during the dry months, when they vacation in well-watered golf courses. Currently, to keep too many ‘roos from running around the Aussie capital of Canberra, experts use less efficient methods such as giving shots to females and vasectomies to males. But government ecologists say any technique that requires capturing the animal is a poor solution to the problem. Animal rights groups have applauded the new research as it will mitigate the need to shoot kangaroos to thin the population.

Gospel Lovers Spread Disease!
In the grand tradition of linking raunchy music with irresponsible sexual activity comes a new study touting a link between sexual risk-taking and listening to…gospel music. Last week, at the global AIDS conference in Toronto, Columbia University researcher Miguel Muñoz-Laboy announced the results of his analysis of hundreds of interviews with young men living in three New York City neighborhoods. He broke the participants down into two categories: those who listened to hip-hop, reggae, reggaeton, and R&B, and those who listened to rock, heavy metal, pop, techno, electronic, and gospel. Muñoz-Laboy acknowledges that any music fan would find this dichotomy wildly offensive—at least nobody’s grouped with country—but he insists it makes sense mathematically. He found that hip-hop fans were more likely to have sex and had, on average, more partners. But the groups most likely to spread HIV, were the ones who listened to club music (techno, pop, or electronic) or gospel. “Those who are part of religious culture or the club scene used condoms inconsistently,” Muñoz-Laboy said. So, religious culture, what’s your plan B?

Errin’ in Erin
“In this house we obey the laws of thermodynamics!” Homer Simpson once yelled at his daughter Lisa. Apparently, the Irish company Steorn isn’t aware that we all “live in Homer’s house.” The company issued a challenge to scientists to test out its new product, which, it claims, produces energy for free—without consuming any other type of energy. If it worked, the machine would violate the first law of thermodynamics, which states that the total energy of the universe remains constant in any process. Steorn hasn’t detailed the operations of the machine, but it has mentioned that the contraption involves creating a magnetic field. When an object travels around the field, the object’s energy increases. Theoretical physicist Michio Kaku has called the machine—I’m paraphrasing here—a flaming heap of bull feces. In actuality, he just called it “a fraud.”

Steorn may not have created free energy, but it has certainly created a lot of free publicity, and, yes, I’m just helping them right along.

Grazin’ in the Grass is a Gas
Where once people shouted “Reduce, reuse, and recycle,” there is now a new pro-environment cry: “Stop the farting cows!” Yep, scientists are preparing to funnel millions of dollars into reducing cow flatulence as part of the fight against global climate change. When cows pass gas, they release methane, a greenhouse gas, which contributes to global warming. The new project aims to breed “fuel-efficient cows” that convert more of their food into milk and less into gas. In case you doubt that cow farts can actually contribute to our environmental problem on a meaningful scale, I refer you to the fact that in 2003, livestock produced more than half of New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions. Efforts to pass a “fart tax” in that year failed when farmers protested.

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Originally published August 28, 2006


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