Filipino inmates shave for spill, female teachers alienate their male students, and nuns talk to God from multiple spots in their mind.

mwcolumn.jpg MAGGIE WITTLIN  Column Archive

Smooth Criminals
Fifteen thousand inmates of a maximum security prison in the Philippines, including 1,000 death row residents, are donating their head and chest hair to help mop up the country’s worst ever oil spill. More than 200,000 liters of industrial fuel leaked when a tanker sank on August 11. The spill has affected more than 40,000 people, causing families to flee suffocating air pollution in the area. The Coast Guard will create a barrier to contain the oil slick using sacks of chicken feathers and human hair tied to bamboo poles.

The inmates are shaving just about everything to help the villagers. “This is a contribution even though it’s a small part,” a 37-year-old drug smuggler told Reuters. Now that’s the talk of an upstanding citizen.

Of Every Tree of the Garden Thou Mayest Freely Eat
In a study that gives a whole new meaning to the name “700 Club,” researchers have concluded that women who use religious media resources—whether television, radio, or books—are more likely to be obese than women who do not. Purdue sociologists Ken Ferraro and Krista Cline analyzed data that tracked the religious practices and body mass indices of more than 2,500 people over the course of eight years. They found that use of religious media increased incidence of obesity by 14 percent among women. However, women who attended religious services often were less likely to be obese than those who didn’t regularly haul themselves to their local house of worship. In 1988, Ferraro published a paper with the claim that states with larger populations claiming religious affiliations, especially states with large numbers of Baptists, had a high level of obesity. Apparently consuming large quantities of religious television is as bad as consuming large quantities of church bake sale goods.

Boys Will Teach Boys
It’s often best to learn under someone of the same sex, according to a new, controversial study by Thomas Dee, a professor of economics at Swarthmore. Dee analyzed test scores and survey results taken from almost 25,000 eighth-graders in 1988 and concluded that when a woman leads a class, girls have higher achievement and boys perform worse than when they are taught by a male teacher. (Currently, about 80 percent of teachers in U.S. public schools are women.) Dee’s research is published in the journal Education Next, which is put out by the Hoover Institution, a think tank founded on libertarian principles. Dee said he also discovered that a teacher’s gender influenced attitudes towards student behavior: Female teachers were more likely to see boys as disruptive, and male teachers were more likely to see girls as inattentive. Come on, Dee, maybe that’s not a question of perception. It’s just how middle school kids flirt.

Nun Sense
A new study out of the University of Montreal has shown that there is no single “God spot” in the brain. Rather, a host of areas are employed during a mystical experience. To locate spirituality neurologically, researchers subjected 15 cloistered Carmelite nuns to fMRI brain scans while they were asked to relive a mystical experience. Since God doesn’t arrive on command, even when science beckons, the researchers couldn’t demand that the subjects achieve a true mystical experience. Citing past studies where actors asked to enter a specific emotional state showed the same brain activity as people actually experiencing the emotion, the researchers noted that a dozen different brain regions went into action when the nuns did their thing, including areas that normally govern self-consciousness, emotion, and body representation.

Guys in Disguise
The results of the newly released Toledo Adolescent Relationships Study show that teenage boys are often emotionally vulnerable and sincerely affectionate toward their girlfriends. The study, led by Bowling Green State University sociologist Peggy Giordano and published in the journal American Sociology Review, concluded that boys are more emotionally invested in romantic relationships than researchers had previously believed. Also, girls apparently have more decision-making power than boys in heterosexual relationships, including in matters of sex. The researchers surveyed 1,316 junior high and high school students from Lucas County, Ohio, and the boys who participated did not fit the confident, swaggering personality they said appear in academic literature. Instead, they reported being less confident and more awkward about their communications in romantic relationships. Don’t hate the player, hate the adults who portray teenage boys as players.

Here Lies Fred
A soldier has fallen in the war against bad medicine. Fred the kitten, not even a year old, was killed in a traffic accident last week. Fred rocketed to fame earlier this year when he helped bust Steven Vassall, a man with no medical degree who was posing as a veterinarian in New York, offering to make house calls for animals. Undercover human detectives invited Vassall to have a look at Fred, who maintained the vulnerable yet hopeful demeanor of a patient, not even flinching as Vassall offered to neuter him for $135. Vassall took the still unflappable Fred outside the home, where Vassall was promptly arrested and charged with unauthorized use of a professional title. Fred was celebrated, slapped on the cover of am New York, and honored at a Theater District animal adoption benefit.

In Vivo Veritas
A scientific visionary has announced that he can determine whether a child is likely to be a “menace to society” before he or she is born. He has realized that there’s a “pretty good chance” that children of single teenage moms could grow up under difficult circumstances and develop anti-social behavior. Further, he has proposed “pre-birth” intervention for parents likely to birth the next generation of criminals. And who is this grand mind who may call for the government to place sanctions on families who refuse help? It’s none other than British Prime Minister Tony Blair. And if you’re planning to birth a problem child, you can expect to see him at your doorstep soon.

Originally published September 6, 2006


Share this Stumbleupon Reddit Email + More


  • Ideas

    I Tried Almost Everything Else

    John Rinn, snowboarder, skateboarder, and “genomic origamist,” on why we should dumpster-dive in our genomes and the inspiration of a middle-distance runner.

  • Ideas

    Going, Going, Gone

    The second most common element in the universe is increasingly rare on Earth—except, for now, in America.

  • Ideas

    Earth-like Planets Aren’t Rare

    Renowned planetary scientist James Kasting on the odds of finding another Earth-like planet and the power of science fiction.

The Seed Salon

Video: conversations with leading scientists and thinkers on fundamental issues and ideas at the edge of science and culture.

Are We Beyond the Two Cultures?

Video: Seed revisits the questions C.P. Snow raised about science and the humanities 50 years by asking six great thinkers, Where are we now?

Saved by Science

Audio slideshow: Justine Cooper's large-format photographs of the collections behind the walls of the American Museum of Natural History.

The Universe in 2009

In 2009, we are celebrating curiosity and creativity with a dynamic look at the very best ideas that give us reason for optimism.

Revolutionary Minds
The Interpreters

In this installment of Revolutionary Minds, five people who use the new tools of science to educate, illuminate, and engage.

The Seed Design Series

Leading scientists, designers, and architects on ideas like the personal genome, brain visualization, generative architecture, and collective design.

The Seed State of Science

Seed examines the radical changes within science itself by assessing the evolving role of scientists and the shifting dimensions of scientific practice.

A Place for Science

On the trail of the haunts, homes, and posts of knowledge, from the laboratory to the field.


Witness the science. Stunning photographic portfolios from the pages of Seed magazine.

SEEDMAGAZINE.COM by Seed Media Group. ©2005-2015 Seed Media Group LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Sites by Seed Media Group: Seed Media Group | ScienceBlogs | Research Blogging | SEEDMAGAZINE.COM