March 7, 2012 |
When Rush Limbaugh called law student Sandra Fluke a "slut" and a "prostitute" last week, it caused an uproar and raised a scientific question - why is it so hard to imagine using the same word to insult a man? The epithet slut can be devastating to a woman's reputation in our society, but a man's reputation might even be enhanced by having many sexual partners. He might be called "a player" instead. This bit of sexual inequality is observed in diverse cultures, said Todd Shackelford, an evolutionary psychologist at Oakland University in Michigan.
March 5, 2012 |
Election seasons can serve as a reminder of just how deeply mysterious the human mind remains. Particularly puzzling is the fact that people are heavily influenced by political advertising on television. Our rational sides tell us that these ads are unlikely to serve as unbiased sources of information. And yet, in states where the bulk of negative ads focused on Mitt Romney's rivals, Romney won. In states where Rick Santorum or Newt Gingrich ran the most negative ads, they surged.
March 4, 2012 |
The Barnes Foundation, whose renowned collection of early modernist art will open in May on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway after moving from Merion, plans to install a soaring sculpture by contemporary master Ellsworth Kelly near the entrance to its new building. The Barnes Totem , a slender, stepped blade rising 40 feet into the air, is a gift from the Neubauer Family Foundation, Barnes officials said. Joseph Neubauer, vice chair of the Barnes board of trustees, characterized the bead-blasted stainless-steel work as a gift for the city, a welcoming statement to gallery visitors and passersby alike.
February 6, 2012 |
Timing is everything, and if there was ever a scientist whose legacy was tarnished by bad timing, it was Jean Baptiste Lamarck. The French naturalist lived from 1744 to 1829 - and published his own evolutionary theory decades before Darwin's theory went public in 1859. In the popular imagination, those who've heard of Lamarck tend to associate him with a wrongheaded version of evolution in which giraffes can grant their offspring longer necks by reaching for high leaves. Historians say this unfair portrayal was engineered by Lamarck's enemies.
January 16, 2012 |
We humans can be a cocky species - so much so that a realistic self-image can be seen as a symptom of trouble. Take the reaction to a recent survey in which about 52 percent of college students rated their emotional health as below average. About half of them are, after all, going to be below average. But the UCLA researchers who did the survey say it indicates a deeper problem. In past surveys, at least 64 percent of the respondents said they were above average. What's going on here?
January 2, 2012 |
It's a common misconception that evolution is a matter of faith, because it happens too slowly to observe. Here's the way one reader sees it: "I don't see any fish walking around, nor do I see any other creature in mid-evolving mode. . . . Simply stated, both creationism and evolution should be taught as competing theories; both are not provable, and both cannot be duplicated in a lab. " But evolution does happen in the lab, in real time, and it's bad news for us because such rapid evolution allows organisms that can kill us by evading drugs, vaccines, and our own immune systems.
December 26, 2011 |
Chimps are about 96 percent genetically identical to humans, and like us they are self-aware enough to recognize themselves in a mirror. But physically, we show some remarkable differences. They don't get the same kind of heart disease humans get. They develop some of the brain abnormalities associated with Alzheimer's disease, but not others. And despite being more sexually promiscuous than humans, they don't get the same sexually transmitted diseases. They heal better than we do and don't get sleep apnea, hemorrhoids, varicose veins, or acne.
November 26, 2011
Lynn Margulis, 73, a biologist whose work on the origin of cells helped transform the study of evolution, died Tuesday at her home in Amherst, Mass. She died five days after suffering a hemorrhagic stroke, said Dorion Sagan, a son she had with her first husband, the cosmologist Carl Sagan. Dr. Margulis, who had the title of distinguished university professor of geosciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst since 1988, drew upon earlier, ridiculed ideas when she first promulgated her theory, in the late 1960s, that cells with nuclei, which are known as eukaryotes and include all the cells in the human body, evolved as a result of symbiotic relationships among bacteria.
November 21, 2011 |
As the darkest days of the year close in, some of us crave the feel of sunlight on our skin. That could reflect our evolutionary heritage, since we humans are not well-adapted to live as far north as Philadelphia. We're essentially an equatorial, tropical species who migrated only recently to places with long, dark winters. There hasn't been time to adapt. One major problem with living this far from the equator is that it's hard to get enough Vitamin D, a hormone that turns out to be essential not only for keeping our bones strong but also for running our immune systems and just about everything else.
October 10, 2011 |
Several weeks ago I got a call from a reader who wanted me to investigate whether humans are still evolving, and if so, into what. Will we become superbrainiacs, or will we mentally degenerate, as in the film Idiocracy , or Planet of the Apes ? Or, will we split into two species, as H.G. Wells imagined in The Time Machine ? In the last few years, scientists have come up with some clever ways of getting at this question, and they're picking up signs that people are evolving.