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Archive for March, 2014


NASA Study Concludes When Civilization Will End, And It’s Not Looking Good for Us

Tom McKay's avatar image By Tom McKay  March 18, 2014

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NASA Study Concludes When Civilization Will End, And It’s Not Looking Good for Us
Image Credit: AP

Civilization was pretty great while it lasted, wasn’t it? Too bad it’s not going to for much longer. According to a new study sponsored by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, we only have a few decades left before everything we know and hold dear collapses.

The report, written by applied mathematician Safa Motesharrei of the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center along with a team of natural and social scientists, explains that modern civilization is doomed. And there’s not just one particular group to blame, but the entire fundamental structure and nature of our society.

Analyzing five risk factors for societal collapse (population, climate, water, agriculture and energy), the report says that the sudden downfall of complicated societal structures can follow when these factors converge to form two important criteria. Motesharrei’s report says that all societal collapses over the past 5,000 years have involved both “the stretching of resources due to the strain placed on the ecological carrying capacity” and “the economic stratification of society into Elites [rich] and Masses (or “Commoners”) [poor].” This “Elite” population restricts the flow of resources accessible to the “Masses”, accumulating a surplus for themselves that is high enough to strain natural resources. Eventually this situation will inevitably result in the destruction of society.

Elite power, the report suggests, will buffer “detrimental effects of the environmental collapse until much later than the Commoners,” allowing the privileged to “continue ‘business as usual’ despite the impending catastrophe.”

Science will surely save us, the nay-sayers may yell. But technology, argues Motesharrei, has only damned us further:

Technological change can raise the efficiency of resource use, but it also tends to raise both per capita resource consumption and the scale of resource extraction, so that, absent policy effects, the increases in consumption often compensate for the increased efficiency of resource use.

In other words, the benefits of technology are outweighed by how much the gains reinforce the existing, over-burdened system — making collapse even more likely.

The worst-case scenarios predicted by Motesharrei are pretty dire, involving sudden collapse due to famine or a drawn-out breakdown of society due to the over-consumption of natural resources. The best-case scenario involves recognition of the looming catastrophe by Elites and a more equitable restructuring of society, but who really believes that is going to happen? Here’s what the study recommends:

The two key solutions are to reduce economic inequality so as to ensure fairer distribution of resources, and to dramatically reduce resource consumption by relying on less intensive renewable resources and reducing population growth.

These are great suggestions that will, unfortunately, almost certainly never be put into action, considering just how far down the wrong path our civilization has gone. As of last year, humans are using more resources than the Earth can replenish and the planet’s distribution of resources among its terrestrial inhabitants is massively unequal. This is what happened to Rome and the Mayans, according to the report.

… historical collapses were allowed to occur by elites who appear to be oblivious to the catastrophic trajectory (most clearly apparent in the Roman and Mayan cases).

And that’s not even counting the spectre of global climate change, which could be a looming“instant planetary emergency.” According to Canadian Wildlife Service biologist Neil Dawe:

Economic growth is the biggest destroyer of the ecology. Those people who think you can have a growing economy and a healthy environment are wrong. If we don’t reduce our numbers, nature will do it for us … Everything is worse and we’re still doing the same things. Because ecosystems are so resilient, they don’t exact immediate punishment on the stupid.

In maybe the nicest way to say the end is nigh possible, Motesharrei’s report concludes that “closely reflecting the reality of the world today … we find that collapse is difficult to avoid.”

Writes Nafeez Ahmed at The Guardian:

“Although the study is largely theoretical, a number of other more empirically-focused studies — by KPMG and the UK Government Office of Science for instance — have warned that the convergence of food, water and energy crises could create a ‘perfect storm’ within about fifteen years. But these ‘business as usual’ forecasts could be very conservative.”

Well, at least zombies aren’t real.

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New research challenges old ideas about female sexual desire.
Published on August 22, 2013 by Noam Shpancer, Ph.D. in Insight Therapy
 

What do women want? 

Sigmund Freud famously asked the question, but he didn’t have an answer. Even today, the question of what motivates female sexual desire continues to resound. Definitive answers have proven elusive.

What men want we understand quite well. In general, their sexual desire is orderly, consistent, and narrowly directed. A heterosexual man is heterosexual. If you show him heterosexual sex, his sexual physiology and subjective, reported desire rise in tandem. Homosexual sex will leave him cold both physically and emotionally. For men there is an excellent match between physiological arousal (as measured by penile tumescence) and level of reported desire.

Viagra’s success demonstrates the simplicity of the male mechanism. Viagra does not target desire, but works by increasing genital blood flow, allowing erection. This, apparently, is all that is needed. As the penis rises, desire is already waiting.

For women, the story is different. The female body, studies show, likes everything, or at least responds to everything (or does not know what it likes, some cynics will say). Female physiological arousal (as measured by vaginal lubrication) occurs in response to viewing most any type of sexual activity: man with woman, woman with woman, man with man. Even watching sex among Bonobo monkeys stimulates physiological arousal in women.

The Canadian researchers Kelly Suschinsky and Martin Lalumiere have proposed that this all-inclusive arousal pattern is an evolutionary adaptation. According to this theory, the vagina immediately becomes moist at any hint of sexual activity in the vicinity so as to protect the woman from injury in the event of rape or sexual violence. This arousal is not necessarily related to the sexual desires, intents, or preferences of the woman. After all, women do not really want to have sex with Bonobos.

Indeed, it turns out that unlike men, women’s objective bodily responses don’t reflect their subjective mental desires. This is one reason Viagra does not work for women. Physical preparedness does not imply desire. That the woman can have sex does not mean she wants to.

So what does she want?

This question, as Freud intuited, is not easy to answer.

On one hand, there is considerable evidence that women seek and place a premium on a sense of intimacy and emotional closeness with their sexual partners. The reasons for this seem clear and logical: Having but one uterus to fill with one fetus at a time, a woman gains no obvious evolutionary advantage from promiscuity. For women, possessing no seed to spread, sex with more people does not result in more potential genetic offspring. Moreover, women are at higher risk than men for sexual violence and sexually transmitted diseases, not to mention the unique risk of pregnancy. It pays for women to be careful in choosing their sexual partners.

In addition, the female orgasm is less reliably achieved than the male’s so their odds of enjoying casual or anonymous sex are lower. A woman who wants to increase her chances of enjoyment and minimize her chances of harm is better off getting to know her partner well before she gets to sex. From this logic follows the claim that women are bio-programmed to want relationships, not sex; that they need a stable, intimate relationship to feel aroused and are therefore built for sexual monogamy and marriage.

Problem solved?

Not so fast. First, more recent studies show that gender differences in reported number of sexual partners are reduced or disappear altogether if women are told that they are connected to a lie detector and that the information they provide will remain confidential. In other words, when women feel safe enough or otherwise compelled to tell the truth about their sexual behavior, the story they tell more closely resembles the male story.

Moreover, if women believe that they will not be harmed and that the sex will be good, their willingness to engage in casual sex equals that of men. The female tendency toward a roving eye can also be inferred, according to the work of evolutionary psychologist David Buss, from the very phenomenon of male jealousy, which is common in all societies and consistently related to men’s fears of potential cuckoldry. If women really do not want extra marital sex, then why are men so suspicious and jealous? Why put Stop signs on a street with no traffic?

Second, recent studies indicate that human sexuality is adapted for spermcompetition. In other words, our evolutionary past had programmed women to seek sex with different men in short succession, and have their sperm compete inter-vaginally for the right of paternity. So, while women may have no seed of their own to spread, they do have multiple varieties of male seed to select from. Recent studies indicate that the objects of female sexual attraction vary with the menstrual cycle. During their fertile days, women tend to fancy high-testosterone men who are not good candidates for monogamy but have healthy male genes. How many married women secretly act on this impulse is difficult to estimate, but this type of ‘sperm poaching’ appears to be quite normative among our primate relatives.

Men, in turn, are designed for this sperm competition as well. BiologistRobin Baker of the University of Manchester found, for example, that the amount of sperm a man discharges during intercourse with his wife is not dependent on the timing of the man’s last ejaculation but on the time since his last sex with his wife. If a long time has passed (increasing the chances that someone else’s seed found its way into his wife’s vagina), the husband’s ejaculate contains more sperm cells, which increases his competitive odds. Sex after a long separation tends to be more intense and prolonged. This is because long intercourse increases the chance of the woman reaching orgasm. According to research by Baker and biologist Mark Bellis, the uterine muscle contractions that accompany the female orgasm help retain sperm inside the vagina and move them toward the ovaries, and fertilization.

Moreover, the evidence suggests that women initiate divorce more often than men, and benefit less from marriage than do men on measures of health, happiness, and wealth. Additionally, as is well known to clinical psychologists and marriage counselors everywhere, many women who feel close to a loving partner nevertheless fail to feel passion for him. Australian researcher Lorraine Dennerstein found that the decline in women’s libido over the years of adulthood is strongly linked to the loss of sexual interest in their long time partners.

If monogamy, intimacy and communication are the engines of female desire, why do so many women fail to ignite with a familiar and faithful man? Why does their passion fizzle in marriage? Why will they seek to secretly graze in foreign pastures? Why do they not benefit from the monogamous arrangement more? Why do they break it up more readily?

In light of the new research findings, the old narrative—that women desire relationships rather than sex and are thus built for monogamy—begins to crumble. Instead, a new narrative emerges in which female sexual desire is powerful, flexible, complex—and even subversive.

As additional evidence, developmental psychologist Lisa Diamond of the University of Utah found that many women experience their sexual interests as fluid and open, encompassing at different times men or women, or both. Richard Lippa of California State University has found that unlike men, whose sexual appetite narrows as it increases, sexually charged women display an increasingly open orientation. Women with higher libidos are more likely to feel desire toward members of both sexes.

Marta Meana, a researcher at the University of Nevada, has argued provocatively that the organizing principle of female sexuality is the desire to be desired. In her view, the delicate, tentative guy who politely thinks about you and asks if this is okay or that is okay is a guy who may meet the expectations of your gender politics (treats me as an equal; is respectful of me; communicates with me) and your parents’ preferences, but he may also put you into a sexual coma—not despite these qualities, but because of them.

Female desire, according to Meana, is activated when a woman feels overwhelmingly desired, not rationally considered. Female erotic literature, including all those shades of gray, is built on this fantasy. Sexual desire in this view does not work according to our expectations and social values. Desire seeks the path of desire, not the path of righteousness. It thrives not on social order but on its negation. This is one reason all religions and societies try to control, contain, limit and re-direct it.

Marta Meana had men and women watch erotic pictures of contact between a man and a woman and tracked the participants’ eye movements. She found that men and women focus on different aspects of the sexual event. Men looked at the women, while the women watched the two genders equally. They concentrated on the man’s face and the woman’s body. What turned them on apparently were the desired female body, with which they identify, and the man’s lustful gaze, for which they long.

Despite what is commonly believed, then, Meana argues that female sexuality is more self-centered than male’s. Mick Jagger’s lamentationsaside, male fantasies focus on giving satisfaction, not on receiving it. Men see themselves in their fantasies bringing the woman to orgasm, not themselves. Women see the man, set aflame by uncontrollable lust for them, bringing them to ecstasy. Men want to excite women. Women want men to excite them. Being desired is the real female orgasm, Meena says, and her words resound as a kind of truth. After all, wouldn’t more women be jealous of the desired woman who cannot orgasm than of the orgasmic woman who is not desired?

Meana asserts that this aspect of female sexuality explains the prevalence of rape fantasies in the female fantasy repertoire. Rape fantasies, in this understanding, are actually fantasies about surrender, not out of masochistic yearnings to be harmed or punished, but out of the female desire to be desired by a man to the point of driving him out of control. By this logic, the fantasy is actually about surrendering voluntarily after the coveted man, in his inability to stop himself, attests to the woman’s own supreme desirability.

According to this view, monogamous marriage does work for women on a certain level: it provides security, intimacy, and help with the children. But it also suffocates female sexual desire. As the mischievous author Toni Bentley wrote recently: “There is virtually no female sexual problem—hormonal, menopausal, orgasmic, or just plain old lack of interest—that will not be solved by—ta-da!—a new lover.”

At the end of the day, the accumulating evidence appears to reveal a paradoxical element at the core of female desire, a tension between two conflicting motives. On the one hand is the desire for stability, intimacy, and security—picture the flame on the burner of a gas stove: controlled, utilitarian, domesticated, and good for making dinner. On the other hand is the need to feel totally, uncontrollably desired, the object of raw, primal lust—a house on fire.

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The latest hype in medical research, caused by a paper released stating that the benefits of breast feeding has been overstated. Every nut job and conspiracy theorist jumped up and shouted: “I told you so!!!!!!” Meanwhile no one reads the thousands of pier reviewed scientific papers released on the subject over many decades. This reminds me of the anti-vaccers.

Breast feeding isn’t for everyone and not possible for everyone. The facts are very hard to ignore about the benefits that breastfeeding provides.

I am posting that article below, as well as a very good follow-up article by a pediatrician, that explains why he does not agree with that study and why it is important to look at the facts.

New Study Confirms It: Breast-Feeding Benefits Have Been Drastically Overstated

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A man gives a bottle of formula to his newborn baby at a hospital in Angers, France.

Photo by Jean-Sebastien Evrard/AFP/Getty Images

A new study confirms what people like our own Hanna Rosin and Texas A&Mprofessor Joan B. Wolf have been saying for years now: The benefits of breast-feeding have been overstated. The study, published in the journal Social Science & Medicine, is unique in the literature about breast-feeding because it looks at siblings who were fed differently during infancy. That means the study controls for a lot of things that have marred previous breast-feeding studies. As the study’s lead author, Ohio State University assistant professor Cynthia Colen, said in a press release, “Many previous studies suffer from selection bias. They either do not or cannot statistically control for factors such as race, age, family income, mother’s employment—things we know that can affect both breast-feeding and health outcomes.”

Colen’s study is also unique because she looked at children ages 4-14. Often breast-feeding studies only look at the effects on children in their first years of life. She looked at more than 8,000 children total, about 25 percent of whom were in “discordant sibling pairs,” which means one was bottle-fed and the other was breast-fed. The study then measured those siblings for 11 outcomes, including BMI, obesity, asthma, different measures of intelligence, hyperactivity, and parental attachment.

When children from different families were compared, the kids who were breast-fed did better on those 11 measures than kids who were not breast-fed. But, as Colen points out, mothers who breast-feed their kids are disproportionately advantaged—they tend to be wealthier and better educated. When children fed differently within the same family were compared—those discordant sibling pairs—there was no statistically significant difference in any of the measures, except for asthma. Children who were breast-fed were at a higher risk for asthma than children who drank formula.

Colen’s conclusion is the same one I came to when I wrote about a British pilotprogram that would pay women to breast-feed: Breast-feeding is good, but it shouldn’t be such a huge societal priority. As Colen put it, “We need to take a much more careful look at what happens past that first year of life and understand that breast-feeding might be very difficult, even untenable, for certain groups of women. Rather than placing the blame at their feet, let’s be more realistic about what breast-feeding does and doesn’t do.”

As more and more research comes out showing that the benefits of breast-feedingare modest at best, I’m starting to come around to the French feminist theorist Elisabeth Badinter’s views, which I once thought were overly radical and sort of bananas. I’m all for women breast-feeding if that is what is right for their families, but as Badinter does, I am finding the cultural push for all women to breast-feed, no matter how difficult it is, to be more and more oppressive. Hopefully this study will give women who can’t or don’t want to breast-feed for whatever reason more ammunition to tell the breast-is-best purists to piss off.

Here is the follow-up article:

An interesting and provocative study, published last month in the journal Social Science and Medicine, suggests that the benefits of breastfeeding are overstated. In a clever experimental design, the authors analyzed data from a national database managed by the United States Department of labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. They queried from this database whether breastfeeding impacts any of the following outcomes in families with young siblings: body mass index, obesity, asthma, hyperactivity, parental attachment, behavioral compliance, reading comprehension, vocabulary recognition, math ability, memory based intelligence, and scholastic competence.  They firstly looked at all families with siblings and noted that siblings who were breast fed fared better than their non-breastfed counterparts on all of the outcome variables measured except one; asthma rates were surprisingly higher among the breastfed siblings compared to the formula-fed siblings. When the authors looked specifically at families in which one sibling was breastfed but the other sibling was formula fed (this sub-analysis helps control for environmental variables other than breastfeeding that may explain the differences) they found that there were no differences between siblings in any of the outcomes measured.   The authors conclude, therefore, that the benefits of breastfeeding are overstated.

The media and blogosphere followed suit with sensationalized headlines:

‘Breast milk no better than bottled,’ study claims

Are breastfeeding benefits overstated, overrated, or the healthiest way to go?

Hold the guilt! New study finds benefits of breastfeeding dramatically overstated. 

Did this paper really demonstrate that breastfeeding isn’t as beneficial as we once thought?  Well, I have a few comments to make in that regard:

Firstly, the ‘surprising’ asthma outcome is not really suprising. In recent decades, there has been a belief that breastfeeding is protective from asthma.  Since asthma runs strongly in families, it is very possible that mothers who have strong histories or family histories of asthma are compelled to do whatever they can to prevent asthma in their children. Since it has been widely thought that breastfeeding is protective against asthma, it is plausible that mothers in this study with asthma and/or family histories of asthma were more likely to choose breastfeeding in an attempt prevent their children from developing asthma. Since these children were genetically more likely to develop asthma, many of them likely did develop asthma despite having been breastfeed.  In this case, it was not the breastfeeding that increased the likelihood of developing asthma, it was the likelihood of developing asthma that increased the probability of the mother choosing to breastfeed her child.  Though the analysis picked up on the connection, the design is only able to identify the correlation, not the direction of the cause nor if there is a causal relationship at all.

Secondly, the authors only looked at the impact of breastfeeding on the children; the maternal health benefits of breastfeeding such as protection from cancers, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and mental health problems, were not considered at all.

Finally, I am suspicious of the outcome measures that were chosen by the authors. As one can see from the table below, there is no shortage of scientific literature demonstrating both the benefits of breastfeeding and the risks of formula feeding:


References are listed at the end of this post

If, from the list above, I selected the conditions for which there is the weakest connection between breastfeeding and protection from said conditions, I would choose asthma, obesity and neurocognitive development. In other words, current research has not been able to demonstrate very strongly that breastfeeding reduces the incidence of asthma, improves brain development, or protects from obesity. If those were the only reasons to promote breastfeeding, there wouldn’t be a very strong public health case to make for breastfeeding promotion.  However, there are far more compelling reasons, as illustrated above, than those three outcome measures.  Amazingly, the authors only chose those three specific outcomes (obesity, asthma, and a variety of neurocognitive outcomes) to measure in their study. It is almost as if the authors were rooting for a negative outcome at the onset of the study by picking outcome measures that were least likely to show any difference.

So, has this study demonstrated that formula feeding is the same as breastfeeding? I really don’t think so.  And has this study demonstrated that the benefits of breastfeeding are overstated?  For obesity, asthma, and cognitive outcomes: very possibly. But for the many other benefits that breastfeeding confers to both the child and the mother: not at all.

Author

Dr. Flanders is a Toronto pediatrician practicing primary care and consultation pediatrics at Kindercare Pediatrics. He also works at the North York General Hospital’s Pediatric Eating Disorders Program and the Infant, Child, and Adolescent Nutrition Clinic.

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