Who always gets rights in America?

As the implications of the court’s [anti-]abortion decision continued to reverberate across a divided country on Saturday, many of whose who decried the ruling expressed mounting worry that it would not simply restrict abortion access. Instead, they said they saw in the ruling a watershed that could trigger the repeal of a host of other protections — for racial and ethnic minorities, gay people and others — that were established on similar legal grounds as Roe. That possibility was not just paranoid speculation, they noted: It was spelled out by several Supreme Court justices on Friday…

“It’s like we’ve woken up in the 1950s,” said Madison David, 26, a massage therapist who on Saturday morning was perusing the stalls at a farmers market outside the Capitol building in Madison, Wis. For weeks, she said, she had been riding high on Lizzo’s anthem “About Damn Time,” which David said she views as an ode to the progress women and other historically oppressed groups have made. Now, she said, the ruling had reaffirmed for her the need to prepare to fight for rights — even ones that seemed to have been secured by previous generations…

“The court has for a long, long time said: Look, if we define liberty only in terms of what was permitted at the time of ratification of the Bill of Rights or the 14th Amendment, then we’re stuck in time,” said Scott Skinner-Thompson, an associate professor of law at the University of Colorado Boulder. “Because in the 18th and 19th centuries, this country was not very free for many, many people — particularly women, particularly people of color.”

People who spend their lives only looking backwards for guidance end up believing they profit the most by echoing the past. But, history books are not the same as mathematics textbooks. And the history books today’s conservatives rely upon for guidance are a couple centuries out of date. Try that out for medicine, sometime. I’m sure we can find you a special on leeches.

Why are Nobel-winning scientists old, male, white and Western?


Vera Rubin, astrophysicist who confirmed the existence of Dark Matter

Somehow, Nobel Week always sneaks up like a Swedish cat burglar, stealing me from my bed very early in the morning to hear breaking news about the latest laureates. On one level, the annual ritual is a celebration of scientific discovery, and it’s wonderful to learn about the winners’ accomplishments. But the Nobels are burdened by arcane rules and biases that, for me, have removed some of the luster. As our Michael Greshko notes, when you look at the science laureates between 1901 and 2016, they are overwhelmingly older, white, male, and Western.

Last week’s batch of science winners did little to move that needle, perpetuating stereotypes about who can be a brilliant scientist. Some pundits even noted that the Physics Nobel was awarded in part for theoretical work on the mysterious cosmic substance known as dark matter—just a few years after the death of dark matter pioneer Vera Rubin. Since the awards can’t be given posthumously, Rubin is forever snubbed.

The awards have also permanently overlooked some very worthy science, and they continue to ignore the contributions of large collaborations. If anything, Nobel Week for me has become a reminder that science is a complex and messy human endeavor, and we should not shy away from looking at it critically even as we celebrate it.

By Victoria Jaggard, SCIENCE Executive Editor

I’ll second that emotion!

Cat genes and culture


Dawntreader Texas Calboy

Controversy started last December when Mistelle Stevenson entered a Maine coon cat by the name of Dawntreader Texas Calboy in The Cat Fanciers’ Association show in Cleburne. As the cat’s name implies, he is a calico—marked with patches of brown, red, and white—and he is male. Those things do not go together. The basics of feline genetics say calicos are supposed to be female. (“Technically almost genetically impossible,” one Dallas veterinarian told NBC 5.) The judges had no idea what to do with him. The CFA’s inches-thick book of rules didn’t list his color for male cats. Confusion ensued.

❝ Some of the judges held Calboy up to the crowd, praised his lovely form, then gawked over his coloring and promptly kicked him out of their show rings. Others awarded him ribbons. Despite the judges’ disagreement, by the end of his Cleburne weekend, Calboy had accumulated four wins. Two more and he’d be a champion.

❝ Stevenson decided to pack up Calboy and head to the January show in Houston. But by then, word had spread about the questionable cat. Most of the judges wouldn’t allow Calboy to compete due to his gender-defying mottled markings. Still, one broke from the crowd to give him a win. With one more, he’d have enough points to become the first male calico champion in CFA history.

You know nothing easy like updating the rules happened. That never would make it into newsprint. Nope. The usual hidebound, ignoranus mentality you would expect from folks whose avocations are dedicated to purity were bound to fight to someone else’s death to preserve and protect their silliness.

RTFA. And thanks to UrsaRodinia for sending me a really interesting, well-written story about a radical cat and a boatload of backwards humans.

That special sauce in your fast-food is industrial chemicals

People who reported eating fast food in the last 24 hours had elevated levels of some industrial chemicals in their bodies, according to a new analysis of data from federal nutrition surveys.

The study is the first broad look at how fast food may expose the public to certain chemicals, called phthalates, that are used to make plastics more flexible and durable. The chemicals, which don’t occur in nature, are common in cosmetics, soap, food packaging, flooring, window blinds, and other consumer products.

The Centers for Disease Control says “phthalate exposure is widespread in the U.S. population.”

Though the health consequences of encountering these substances aren’t fully known, scientists have increasingly focused on their effects on health and development, particularly for pregnant women and children. Research in rats has shown that they can disrupt the male reproductive system, and there’s evidence for similar effects in humans.

The latest research suggests that fast food is a significant source of the chemicals, which may leach into food from machinery used in processing or packaging, or from gloves worn by workers…

No contradiction between protective gear required for folks working with this crap – but, it’s OK to stuff it into your gullet?

Ami Zota and colleagues from George Washington University analyzed data from almost 9,000 people who participated in federal nutrition surveys between 2003 and 2010. Participants answered detailed questions about what they ate in the last 24 hours and gave urine samples that were analyzed for byproducts that indicated the presence of three chemicals. The study was published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, which is supported by the National Institutes of Health.

For two of the three substances Zota examined — phthalates designated as DEHP and DiNP — there was a significant relationship between fast-food intake and exposure. People who ate more fast food had more evidence of phthalates in their urine. The third chemical they measured was Bisphenol A, or BPA, which is commonly used to line aluminum cans. That wasn’t significantly correlated with fast-food intake.

…The American Chemistry Council says that they’ve been thoroughly studied and “phthalates used in commercial products do not pose a risk to human health at typical exposure levels.” The Environmental Protection Agency, in a 2012 Phthalates Action Plan, notes that it is “concerned about phthalates because of their toxicity and the evidence of pervasive human and environmental exposure to them.”

Japan banned vinyl gloves in food preparation over concerns about DEHP, and the European Union has limited the use of the chemicals in food products and toys. Some phthalates, including DEHP, were restricted in children’s toys in the U.S. by a 2008 law.

Zota said that for people interested in reducing their exposure, “common-sense approaches will take you a long way. Eat organic when you can. If you can’t still, try to eat fresh vegetables,” she said. “Try to eat low on the food chain.”

Perfectly reasonable – even aside from this latest entry-level study. We buy most of our food from two chains with a reputation and tradition of healthful food, organic and conventional. Once in a while they get bagged with dangerous crap. As often from organic providers as not.

Fortunately, they also have administrative systems in place that I consider pretty good at catching problem incidents, vendors who screw up.

Frankly, I’m amazed at how long I have been around given some of the chemical crap I confronted in industrial settings years ago. Corporate owners literally got away with murder before ordinary citizens made enough noise to nudge our elected representatives into earning their keep.

The Spider that dies from Sex

For the male dark fishing spider, the price of love is death. New research shows that the male Dolomedes tenebrosus (right) expires just after the height of passion, despite no visible assault by his partner.

Scientists collected the common U.S. arachnids (see image) in Nebraska parks and did a little matchmaking. In 25 observed matings, after the male stuffed his sperm into the female’s body using his antennalike pedipalp, he immediately went limp and his legs curled underneath him

By counting the pulse rate in the spiders’ abdomens, researchers measured the heartbeat of motionless males and confirmed that they do indeed die. As if death weren’t sacrifice enough, the scientists found that lovemaking also disfigures the male. In most spiders, part of the male’s pedipalp swells to deliver sperm before shrinking to normal size. In D. tenebrosus, the pedipalp remains enormously enlarged and presumably useless even after the deed is done.

Evolutionary theory predicts male monogamy—such as that shown by the dark fishing spider—when females are larger than males. Smaller animals are more likely to survive to mating age than big ones, the thinking goes, making larger females scarcer than smaller males. And that means males must settle for just one inamorata. True to theory, the female dark fishing spider, whose outstretched legs span a human’s palm, outweighs her man 14-to-1.

Helluva way to go!

Male train drivers get around shorts ban – by wearing skirts

train driver skirts

Male train drivers in Stockholm have rebelled against a ban on wearing shorts by turning up for work in skirts.

Temperatures in the train cab can reach 35C during the summer, and now a group of 13 employees working for the Roslagsbanan railway system have ditched trousers for skirts to keep cool.

According to Sweden’s The Local website, the train company Arriva reportedly insists that staff cannot wear shorts.

An Arriva spokesman, Tomas Hedenius, said that shorts are “more relaxed” than a skirt, and that skirts are a perfectly acceptable alternative.

“To say anything else would be discrimination,” he said.

Driver Martin Åkersten said: “Of course people stare at you a little when you are on the platform, but you just have to put up with it…

A meeting has been arranged for September to discuss the uniform issue.

Eventually, cooler, uh, heads will prevail.

Trying pregnancy test as a joke diagnoses man’s cancer

You may have followed, or seen a report of, the guy who used a pregnancy test on himself and it turned out positive. A friend posted it to reddit as a funny rage comic, and a commenter warned that it might be a sign of cancer. The guy saw a doctor, a small tumor was found, and his life was saved, as this very rare form of cancer is usually not detected early. The pregnancy test reacted to human chorionic gonadotropin, or HCG.

Yes, HCG in men can be a sign of a rare (and dangerous) form of testicular cancer — choriocarcinoma. This is a cancer made up of syncytiotroblastic cells, said Katherine McGlynn, a senior investigator with the National Cancer Institutes. The tumor secretes HCG because that’s what syncytiotroblasts do. They secrete HCG. And they don’t particularly care whether they’re secreting it into a man or a woman.

But how do they get into a guy, to begin with? That’s where things get really weird. The truth is that nobody is entirely certain, McGlynn told me. But there are a couple of theories. One possibility is that these syncytiotroblasts that turn cancerous were leftovers — remnants of the time when that guy was just a ball of 70-100 cells. One way or another, they persisted in his body and then started to grow out of control.

Needless to say, he is glad his fey sense of humor paid off. You can read more about the science behind this coincidence over here

Thanks, Ursarodinia.