This is so very sad. A report by the World Wildlife Fund notes that we’ve lost 52% of the population from all species since 1970. I feel like my children and their children will not know the kind of diversity of species that I had the privilege of encountering in nature as a child. And the shows which brought us the wonderful expanse of nature, will have so much less to document and record. It seems to me, as nature goes, so do we humans. And right now that direction is not looking good. Let’s change it.
From the report:
The conservation group’s Living Planet Report, published every two years, said humankind’s demands were now 50 percent more than nature can bear, with trees being felled, groundwater pumped and carbon dioxide emitted faster than Earth can recover.
“This damage is not inevitable but a consequence of the way we choose to live,” Ken Norris, Director of Science at the Zoological Society of London, said in a statement.
For more about the report, go to this link:
by Rich Juzwiak / gawker.com
Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite recently told the New York Times that she approached her documentary Blackfish as a journalist with an open mind. The resulting film, which is about killer whales in captivity (specifically at SeaWorld and focusing on the 32-year-old orca Tilikum, who’s killed three people), is nonetheless damning enough that it reads like animal liberation propaganda. We hear numerous testimonials from former SeaWorld trainers on the negative effects of keeping these giant, sensitive creatures penned. We see hidden-camera footage of SeaWorld guides feeding park guests incorrect information about orcas’ lifespans and fins — the dorsal fins of captive killer routinely collapse, or flop to the side, which is rare in the wild. We see footage of brutal whale-on-human attacks. We hear nothing from SeaWorld itself.
(The corporation’s general counsel told the Times that SeaWorld declined to be interviewed for the film “because they doubted the material would be used in good faith.” SeaWorld also declined interviews for David Kirby’s book Death at SeaWorld, which was released last year.)
The film is not all straightforward condemnation – it highlights the irony at the heart of the anti-captivity movement. If SeaWorld hadn’t offered the general public an up-close look at these animals that were previously misunderstood as killing machines, killer whales wouldn’t have captured the sympathy of so many humans. It was largely through orca captivity that humans learned just how harmful captivity can be. The film spends a lot of time on former trainers’ accounts of bonding with these animals. Captivity may be widely denounced by scientists, and it may produce behavior that we just don’t see in the wild. For example, there have been two recorded human attacks by killer whales in the wild; in 2006 ABC reported that there had been nearly two dozen in captivity. However, the human-whale shared experience is not without joy, and Blackfish reasonably documents that.
by Annalee Newitz / io9.com
We call those deadly spiders with the red hourglass shapes on their abdomens “black widows” because they eat their mates as part of the sex act. But black widows are far from the only spiders who sexually cannibalize, and some insects and fish do it too. It’s just a natural part of some animals’ reproductive process. So why use a term like “widow” for a creature who has no notion of marriage, and who is part of a species that evolved to eat or be eaten during sex? That’s what British biologist Emily Burdfield-Steele and her colleagues wanted to find out.
Their hypothesis was that people, including scientists, were grossly misunderstanding spider reproduction because they couldn’t stop anthropomorphizing the creatures involved. Instead of seeing a natural spider sex act, they kept seeing “widows” and “male sacrifices.” Those are decidedly human ideas. To find out whether this anthropocentric bias was pervasive, the biologists conducted a survey of 47 scientific papers about sexual cannibalism, to see how the act was described. Not surprisingly, they discovered a lot of non-scientific (and inaccurate) terms like “rapacious” and “voracious” attributed to the females; the males were called “unwilling” and “suicidal” in some cases. They created a fascinating chart of the most popular human-centric terms used to describe the spidery experience of sexual cannibalism.
In their paper published earlier this month in Animal Behavior, the researchers describe what you’re seeing in this chart:
Frequency of terms used when describing male and female behaviour of sexually cannibalistic species considered separately for (a) studies in which cannibalism occurs before and/or during copulation (26 papers) and (b) studies in which cannibalism occurs only during and/or after copulation (17 papers), excluding reviews. See the appendices for references and excluded words. The frequency for each sex is the number of articles the term appears in, in the context of describing behaviour. Words were also classified by three independent observers as active (a), reactive (re) or neutral (n). Terms marked with an asterisk were classified differently by at least two of the parties and so could not be given an overall classification.
It’s fascinating to see how the females are more often described as “attacking” or “predatory” if they eat their mates before or during sex, versus afterwards. Maybe eating somebody after sex doesn’t strike us as being quite so aggressive?
Learn about the evolution and future of human sex, love, marriage, gender differences in the brain and how your personality type shapes who you are and who you love.
Helen Fisher is a Biological Anthropologist, a Research Professor and member of the Center for Human Evolution Studies in the Department of Anthropology, Rutgers University and Chief Scientific Advisor to the Internet dating site, Chemistry.com, a division of Match.com.
By Karen Kaplan, Los Angeles Times/For the Booster Shots blog
Former “Sex and the City” star Cynthia Nixon says she is gay by “choice” – a statement that has riled many gay rights activitists who insist that people don’t choose their sexual orientation.
Here’s what Nixon, who recently shaved her head to play acancer patient in a Broadway production of “Wit,” told the New York Times Magazine:
“I gave a speech recently, an empowerment speech to a gay audience, and it included the line ‘I’ve been straight and I’ve been gay, and gay is better.’ And they tried to get me to change it, because they said it implies that homosexuality can be a choice. And for me, it is a choice. I understand that for many people it’s not, but for me it’s a choice, and you don’t get to define my gayness for me.”
The question of whether sexual orientation is subject to nature or nurture – or some combination of both – has been hotly debated for years. If it is not an immutable characteristic, that would imply that a gay person could be somehow transformed into a straight one. In other words, homosexuality could be “cured.” Which in turn implies that being gay is some sort of illness.
Hence, the offense taken to this point of view.
Nixon seemed to anticipate the controversy her remarks might generate. She also told the New York Times:
“A certain section of our community is very concerned that it not be seen as a choice, because if it’s a choice, then we could opt out. I say it doesn’t matter if we flew here or we swam here, it matters that we are here and we are one group and let us stop trying to make a litmus test for who is considered gay and who is not.” Her face was red and her arms were waving. “As you can tell,” she said, “I am very annoyed about this issue. Why can’t it be a choice? Why is that any less legitimate? It seems we’re just ceding this point to bigots who are demanding it, and I don’t think that they should define the terms of the debate. I also feel like people think I was walking around in a cloud and didn’t realize I was gay, which I find really offensive. I find it offensive to me, but I also find it offensive to all the men I’ve been out with.”
As expected, this did not go over smoothly with everyone. Writing on AmericaBlog Gay, John Aravosis wrote that Nixon “needs to learn how to choose her words better, because she just fell into a right-wing trap, willingly. When the religious right says it’s a choice, they mean you quite literally choose your sexual orientation, you can change it at will, and that’s bull.”
So, what’s the scientific evidence that sexual orientation is either a biologically determined trait or an actual choice?
A Spanish study published in 2009 in the journal Investigacion Clinica summarizes the evidence forgenetic influences. Based on research comparing identical twins, fraternal twins and even siblings who were adopted, scientists have determined that 27% to 76% of the chance that one is gay is determined by DNA. The genetic influence appears to be greater for men than for women, according to the study.
Other stuff is probably happening in utero that influences one’s sexual orientation. As a review articlepublished last year in the journal Endocrinology explains, exposure to atypical levels of testosteroneand other steroids in the womb is probably responsible for some people being gay. Another review article, published last year in Frontiers in Neuroendocrinology, makes the same point:
“The evidence supports a role for prenatal testosterone exposure in the development of sex-typed interests in childhood, as well as in sexual orientation in later life, at least for some individuals. It appears, however, that other factors, in addition to hormones, play an important role in determining sexual orientation. These factors have not been well-characterized, but possibilities include direct genetic effects, and effects of maternal factors during pregnancy.”
One of those prenatal influences may be the number of males who have previously inhabited the mother’s uterus. It may sound strange, but Canadian researchers have found that “having one or more older brothers boosts the likelihood of a boy growing up to be gay,” as I explained in a 2006 Los Angeles Times story. As I wrote at the time, “The so-called fraternal birth order effect is small: Each older brother increases the chances by 33%. Assuming the base rate of homosexuality among men is 2%, it would take 11 older brothers to give the next son about a 50-50 chance of being gay.” Those findings were reported in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
In addition, my colleague Shari Roan wrote about a fascinating controversy surrounding treatment for a rare condition called congenital adrenal hyperplasia. The disorder can cause girls to be born with genitals that look male, making it hard to tell the baby’s gender. One treatment is to give women hormones during subsequent pregnancies to reduce the risk for siblings. But doctors have found that this approach has an unusual side effect:
“The treatment might reduce the likelihood that a female with the condition will be homosexual,” Roan wrote. “Further, it seems to increase the chances that she will have what are considered more feminine behavioral traits.”
This is all just the tip of the iceberg. But the scientific consensus seems to be that there is indeed a biological basis for homosexuality – though it’s not necessarily 100% determined by either genes or by environmental factors.