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“Women really do prefer pink, researchers say.”

I’ll first note that I haven’t (yet) read the study this article references myself. However, as represented in this article from Reuters, this is some icky pseudoscience which apparently fails to take into account that the pink = femininity association is historically a very recent development, arising sometime in the past 100 years. Prior to that, in Victorian England, blue was the color for girls. In other parts of the world at other points in history, there are other associations. (No citations for my own arguments, alas, because I don’t have them handy and I’m too tired to search some out.)

In their experimental group, they seem to have found a gender divide between the colors preferred by women versus men. Then they proceed to “speculate that this sex difference arose from sex-specific functional specialization in the evolutionary division of labor.” Rather than a much simpler explanation: our color preferences are heavily influenced by our social environment. Consider how quickly a particular shade can pass from neutral to favored to distinctly dated in the fashion world. Color preferences are not static, and while individuals clearly have native preferences, it’s also clear that these preferences are shaped by our social groups.

Insisting that a pattern found in a small group (which was most likely taken from a pool of people who are all members of more-or-less the same cultural group!) must not only apply to all people around the world, but that this pattern necessarily has a biological and evolutionary basis is an overinterpretation of the data and is piss-poor science.

If any of my readers have a source through which I can read the original paper, I’ll be most appreciative. If they’ve addressed any of these points in the paper, I’d hate to be complaining unnecessarily. I suspect, though, that getting to read the original source will only allow me to skewer it more effectively.

And remember, boys and girls, when you’re doing science, look for the simplest explanation that accounts for all known data!  Sometimes a correlation is just a correlation.

New insight into chronic fatigue, from The Economist.  (Link via The New Shelton Wet/Dry.)

I can’t agree with the conclusion of this article on the functionality of deception in autistic versus neurotypical brains, but the points the author makes about the presence or absence of the ability to deceive in (a)typical brain types are well worth considering.  Which makes me think, in turn, about the miniessay Dawn posted a while back examining the ability of a child to deceive her parents as a measure of the child’s social development.

Sandy Szwarc analyzes a study examining some of the flaws in the use of BMI as a measure of almost anything.

“For the first time, an inhabited island has disappeared beneath rising seas.”

What a way to wrap up the holiday season.  Every bit as sobering as 2004’s tsunami in the Indian Ocean: less immediately heart-rending, perhaps, but with clearer long-term global consequences.

I am a science geek at heart.  I don’t have the training I need to understand everything I want to — but I suspect that would still be true if I had PhDs in biology, physics, chemistry, ecology, and several others.  So I confess, the stuff that makes me say squee isn’t some ubercool blog celebrity commenting or a neato new technological gadget.  It’s stuff like a certain article in the latest issue of The Economist.

The first two-thirds of the article, about commonalities between the effects of reverse transcriptase on cancer cells versus those of zygotes in early mitosis, is interesting enough.  It’s the last part that takes my breath away:

Some of Dr Spadafora’s work is relevant to fertility treatments, too—but in a more worrisome way than Dr McKeon’s. Naked sperm (those stripped of the seminal fluid in which they normally issue forth) are more promiscuous than those still dressed in that fluid: they can pick up strands of DNA and RNA from their environment if separated from the other ingredients of semen. And they appear remarkably good at this. Dr Spadafora, for instance, claims he once found a section of frog DNA, which must have hung around in his laboratory from an experiment conducted more than a year previously, inside a mouse sperm.

This promiscuity is widespread, and has been seen in sperm from more than 30 species, from sea urchins to honey bees to humans. In many instances the foreign genes have been incorporated into embryos when the sperm fertilised an egg. In about a quarter of cases the foreign genes have appeared in the next generation. And in Dr Spadafora’s mouse experiments, reverse transcriptase in sperm has very occasionally turned foreign RNA into DNA, which has then found a place in the nuclear genome.

Although unlikely to have any effect if it did happen, the principle is cause for concern. Fertility clinics remove the seminal protection from human sperm in order to rid it of diseases. This work suggests, in theory at least, that IVF laboratories could unwittingly create transgenic humans.

Transgenic humans — that is, humans with genes borrowed from other organisms? The possibilities of what this could mean are beyond me.  It is the very idea that this is possible that takes my breath away.

Add one item to my list of things I hope to see or do before I die: the tiankeng of China. These sinkholes are mindbogglingly huge, and apparently were known to very few people, even within China, until the last decade.

This is the planet our species evolved on, and it still manages to stagger me with the things that we don’t even know about it. Can you imagine the wonders we’ll find, if and when we ever manage to travel to another one?