Thursday, July 14, 2005
Sex and plankton--read all about it
He's back! And the march of science and medical news slithers hither. July 14, 2006
I swim all the way over here and I can’t find a thing to eat--Plankton, the lovely little stuff that constitutes the fast food of the oceans, is disappearing along the Pacific coast and the consequences could be most unpleasant, particularly if you are a fish or a seabird. [If you are a fish or seabird and are reading this blog, please phone in]. But seriously, folks: scientists report that oceanic plankton has largely disappeared off the coast of northern California, Oregon and Washington. No one has any idea why. The mechanics involves the updwelling, the surge of very cold, nutrient-rich water that supports the organisms from the depths of the sea, which is a veritable smorgasbord for fish and wildlife, the basis for the marine food chain. Everything eats plankton, even baleen whales. When it disappears, the fish and mammals move elsewhere. This can have a devastating effect on sea birds, which eat the fish, and that’s what’s happening now. Bill Sydeman, director of marine ecology for the Point Reyes Bird Observatory said nesting sea birds in the Farallon Islands have lost population in unprecedented number, including such rare species as Cassin’s auklets [see illustration]. Cormorants also are dwindling. "Something big is going on out there," says Julia Parrish at the University of Washington. "I'm left with no obvious smoking gun, but birds are a good signal because they feed high up on the food chain." It isn’t El Niño; but it could be the result of climate warming and it could be long-term. Coastal ocean temperatures are up 2 to 5 degrees above normal, again a clue that the updwelling isn't.
Look, being a virgin is hard enough, now you have to read journals?--If you want to see a good example of how to politicize science, take a look at Jordan Ellenberg’s piece in Slate, which takes on the Heritage Foundation report on virginity. We reported on it initially here. Researchers from Yale and Columbia in March published a paper in the Journal of Adolescent Health, reporting that young people who pledged to stay out each other’s bed [do they do it in the back seats of cars any more?] until they are married are just as likely to have sexually transmitted diseases as the ones that don’t. The rise of virginity pledges comes from the socially conservative who oppose sex education, among other things. The report said essentially that it didn’t work. Last month, two researchers at the Heritage Foundation delivered two session papers and a press release [not an article in a peer-reviewed journal] taking after the first study. The Heritage Foundation is a conservative think-tank and was stung by the first report. Both sides used the same longitudinal study. The authors of both studies agree that kids who take the pledge wait longer to have sex than those who don’t but it may be self-selecting: they may have a predisposition to wait and therefore it is easier to make such a promise. What they disagree on is the statistical analysis, and what constitutes statistical significance, the famous p-value (the probability of obtaining the observed result if the null-hypothesis were true.) Oddly, both camps fail the test. Read it; it’s a rare look at the use of statistics in social science and how complicated things can get, especially if you have an agenda.
But someone who obviously did not make such a pledge could use a hand here--A Nigerian tribal chief has a problem all us guys can relate to. He has a harem. The harem apparently is too large for him. He can’t service it properly. You know how it is--you get a couple dozen women in your harem and the next thing they know they want to get laid regularly and as a guy gets a bit older, well, you know. So he puts in an order to an Israeli company that makes a prescription drug for erectile dysfunction that is a lot cheaper than Viagra and allied substances. Trima is the only company in the world making the non-patented drug Tesopalmed Forte Cum Yohimbine [I’m not making any of this up, you know]. It costs about 1/40th of what Viagra, Cialis and Levitra costs and presumably actually works for mild cases of dysfunction. How mild this guy’s dysfunction is could be a function of how many wives he has in his harem. The Jerusalem Post [registration required], which reported this poor man’s plight, doesn’t say, and doesn’t identify him. The drug comes from the bark of the African yohimbine tree. How did the chief know about it? Well, the company’s export agent in Nigeria used it to service his harem, was very pleased with the results and word got around. The rest is history.