The Audacity of Pope
Catholics, abandon intelligent design. Pope Benedict XVI has spoken, and he appears to believe in evolution, although he also says that science cannot answer the philosophical questions it raises and that Christians should take a broader view of creation. The Pope added that “[T]he theory of evolution is not a complete, scientifically proven theory” and can never be completely proven because, “We cannot haul 10,000 generations into the laboratory.” Of course he’s right that evolution can’t be technically proven—no scientific theory is provable; even if we could produce these changes over 10,000 generations in the laboratory, that still wouldn’t show beyond all doubt that that’s how species actually originated.  Pope Benedict seemed to endorse “theistic evolution,” the idea that God was the driving force behind evolution, and science and religion do not need to conflict. The Pope’s remarks are published in a new book, Creation and Evolution, published last week in German.

Abstinence of Malice
The federal government spends tens of millions of dollars every year on abstinence education. But according to a Congressionally authorized study by Mathematica Policy Research, Inc., the government may be burning money. Researchers studied four abstinence education programs, randomly assigning 2,057 adolescents to either participate in the program or not participate, and tracking these teens for up to six years. They found that kids who participated in abstinence education programs were no less likely than the control group to have sex in the following years. Slightly less than half of each group remained abstinent to the reevaluation, and 56 percent of abstinence education participants had been abstinent for the last 12 months, as opposed to 55 percent of the control group. The difference was not statistically significant. The average age of first intercourse (for those who reported intercourse) was 14.9 years for both groups. Abstinence education participants were also no more likely to have unprotected sex than kids who didn’t go through the programs, although it’s worth noting that the nonparticipants did not receive comprehensive sexual education in lieu of abstinence ed. Harry Wilson, the commissioner of the Family and Youth Services Bureau at the Administration for Children and Families, replied to the study, saying, “This report confirms that these interventions are not like vaccines. You can’t expect one dose in middle school, or a small dose, to be protective all throughout the youth’s high school career.”

The Fungus (Expert) Among Us
Stonemason Edward Gange loves him some fungus. The enthusiast and amateur mycologist has been taking notes on fungi near Salisbury, England for more than 50 years, and finally his work has paid off: Mr. Grange and his son, University of London ecologist Alan Gange, are now senior authors on a paper published in the journal Science. The younger Ganged analyzed his father’s data, 52,000 sightings of 315 species of mushrooms and toadstools, to find that fruiting periods have dramatically increased in length, and many species that used to fruit once a year are now fruiting twice a year. The Ganges and their coauthors hypothesize that these new fruiting behaviors are due to climate change: Over the 56 years of the study, August temperatures and October rainfall have both increased. Responding to the news that he is to be a senior author in arguably the most prestigious journal on Earth, Edward Gange told BBC News, “I’m on top of the world, I can’t quite believe it yet.” Hey, man, you’re the one who spent 56 years documenting fungus. I’m sure you’ve seen stranger things.

Can Widows Physically Arouse Men?
They don’t have a bizarre arachnid fetish, but several men recently sustained erections for an unusually long time after being bit by spiders. So researchers from the Rambam Medical Center in Haifa, Israel are now investigating whether a toxin found in spider venom could be the next Viagra. Urologist Ilan Gruenwald has solicited several pharmaceutical companies to participate in spider venom studies, and several have shown interest. The researchers hope spider venom could revolutionize impotence therapy. The study will involve three kinds of spiders from South America and Africa, including the black widow. The spiders will be bred in a special habitat, and the scientists will “milk” their venom with a sponge, so test subjects will not have to endure spider bites for the sake of their erections. According to Israel Insider, “After news of the study was published in Yediot Ahronot, Israel’s largest circulation newspaper and the Ynet internet site, police nationwide were reportedly called to disperse crowds of Israeli men who had descended on an old age homes serving Ethiopian senior citizens. The disappointed crowds left only after being persuaded that the black widows with the potent bite were spiders, not elderly African women who had lost their spouses.” God, I hope they’re joking. They must be joking…

What Are You, Chicken?
It’s perhaps a good thing that we humans weren’t around to battle the great Tyrannosaurus rex mano a mano. But while we would have been crushed by that king of the dinosaurs, we can now flaunt our dominance by eating his distant cousin: the modern chicken. In a study recently published in the journal Science, researchers analyzed a 68 million-year-old bone sample and extracted collagen I, a protein, from its soft tissue. The researchers found that T. rex bone extracts reacted with antibodies to chicken collagen, lending more support to a link between the dinosaur and present-day fowl. The scientists had hoped to find genetic material unique to the Tyrannosaurus rex, but they never isolated a T. rex tag. However, the researchers were able to find four unique mastodon sequences in another sample. Scientists have hypothesized that birds evolved from dinosaurs, but they have never had confirmation this strong. And at long last the public can understand what this would taste like.

Originally published April 17, 2007


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