Tag Archives: Science

Why Men Don’t Live as Long as Women

It’s a well-known fact that on average, women live longer than men. If you’ve ever visited a facility catering to the elderly, you know this is indeed the case. That men die younger is a given, but determining why isn’t quite as simple. Men in general are often involved in more dangerous work situations and are more likely to take risks but much of the difference in life span can’t easily be explained only by these. So what other factors are at play?

From birds to humans, the answer is pretty much the same: testosterone. It’s complicated, of course. Both males and females have it but males obviously have it in much greater amounts. It’s essential for reproduction in both genders but the higher amounts in males has a high price, longevity-wise. It makes men more likely to suffer issues like heart attacks but can also lower immunity to diseases. It’s a double whammy.

Is there no hope for men? Yes and no. Obviously testosterone is necessary to ensure a species continues. Oddly enough, the historical record regarding eunuchs and others who were castrated  doesn’t show a significant difference in lifespan so that in itself isn’t the answer either. But human males may still have reason to hope. We’ve evolved to have much greater paternal roles in child rearing than pretty much any other animal. There is evolutionary pressure to live longer and to avoid some of the behaviors to contribute to earlier mortality. It won’t be enough to eliminate the gap with women but it is likely to shrink it. So we’ve got that going for us. Which is nice.

Drugs You Don’t Need For Disorders You Don’t Have

You’ve seen them on TV. In fact, if you watch more than a few minutes your odds of seeing one are pretty much 100%. What are they? Ads for prescription medications. They tout some science, a distressingly long list of side-effects and tell you to “ask your doctor”. Their ubiquity has created a situation where patients ask for a drug by name and far too often get it, regardless of whether or not they have the condition the drug claims to treat. Italics because in many cases these new, and often expensive drugs don’t necessarily offer improvements over existing ones. But they do offer increased revenue for the drug companies and contribute to the rising cost of healthcare.

The End of the Dinosaurs: How Luis and Walter Alvarez Uncovered the Catastrophic Event Responsible

It’s been known for a long time that the dinosaurs and many other species went extinct fairly quickly. It was likely due to a fairly widespread and catastrophic event, but what?

Luis Alvarez was a physicist on the Manhattan Project, his son Walter a geologist. When Walter showed his father some sedimentary rock of an age associated with that extinction Luis thought that an examination of radioactive isotopes might help reveal what happened. Their investigation showed unusually high levels of tritium compared to both older and newer layers. They knew that such high levels didn’t occur naturally on Earth but were consistent with would be expected if a very large asteroid were to strike.

The proof of this hypothesis hinged on being able to determine its size and where it actually hit. That discovery would eventually come but unfortunately Luis had passed away.

What You Can Learn From Hunter-Gatherers’ Sleeping Patterns

Here’s the story that people like to tell about the way we sleep: Back in the day, we got more of it. Our eyes would shut when it got dark. We’d wake up for a few hours during the night instead of snoozing for a single long block. And we’d nap during the day.

Then—minor key!—modernity ruined everything. Our busy working lives put an end to afternoon naps, while lightbulbs, TV screens, and smartphones shortened our natural slumber and made it more continuous.

All of this is wrong, according to Jerome Siegel at the University of California, Los Angeles. Much like the Paleo diet, it’s based on unsubstantiated assumptions about how humans used to live.

Dr. Oz and the Pathology of ‘Open-Mindedness’

Unlike “Dr. Phil”, Dr. Oz is a real, practicing physician who is on the faculty of Columbia University. But you’d have a hard time guessing that based on his The Dr. Oz Show which has featured séances, energy healing, and a never-ending parade of miracle diet products. Some of his colleagues wrote a letter to Columbia, accusing him of (among other things) promoting “quack treatments and cures in the interest of personal financial gain”. He responded with ad-hominem attacks against his accusers.

But is Dr. Oz all that different from other doctors, outside of having his own show? As the article points out, he isn’t. There’s a thin line between what constitutes alternative therapies and outright quackery and many doctors skate that line all the time. They’re quietly hoping Dr. Oz prevails.

11 images that capture the incredible vastness of space

Space is big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space.

– Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
English humorist & science fiction novelist (1952 – 2001)

Confused by changing dietary recommendations?

One day salt is bad, the next it’s fine. Same for eggs and butter and lots of other foods. Are you confused? It’s perfectly understandable since the research behind dietary recommendations is a lot less certain than you think. The studies are often done poorly, relying on test subjects to voluntarily report what they eat or they’re performed on animals without knowing if translates to humans.

So what should you do? I can’t tell you,  no one can at least not for sure. If your doctor tells you to avoid something or eat more of something else that’s probably as good advice as you’re doing to get. Other than that, eating everything in moderation seems like a good strategy.

The exploding methane holes in Siberia

What’s happening is Siberian permafrost is defrosting due to climate change. When that happens, it releases methane gas which in some cases is at such a pressure that it causes the land to explode, leaving enormous craters. The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the global average so this can be expected to accelerate should nothing change.

Ultimately, this results in significantly more carbon in the atmosphere which only makes climate change worse. It’s happening in Siberia now but could also extend to Alaska and northern Canada.