Yesterday we talked about how Kathleen Cagney’s research appeared to reveal an effect of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the body mass index of people more than a thousand miles away in Dallas. By coincidence, Discover magazine published a book excerpt (from “Origins: How the Nine Months Before Birth Shape the Rest of Our Lives” by Annie Murphy Paul) yesterday that touches on how the fall of the World Trade Center might have caused post-traumatic stress disorder not just in people near the towers that morning, but also the fetuses being carried by pregnant women near the towers. Can PTSD be transmitted from mother to unborn child? And did 9/11 leave a wide swath of medical impact across the country? Fascinating research.
Oh cruel search for alien habitable worlds: new data released at an astronomy symposium this week appears to refute the existence of Gliese 581g, the “Goldilocks” planet that had everyone daydreaming of intergalactic travel two weeks ago. Though the debate over the planet’s existence is far from settled, it’s a quick, nasty reminder that leaping from a handful of data points to bold claims of Earth-like planets and alien life is a dangerous gamble. (Also, Google News hits for original Gliese 581g story = 1407 articles. For the “Gliese 581g may not exist” story = 91.)
As part of the “It Gets Better” campaign reacting to the recent run of tragic suicides by homosexual teenagers, Scientific American’s psychology blogger Jesse Bering begins a long, detailed look at the evolutionary history of suicide. Why would an organism evolve the capacity to kill itself? Bering dials down to insects that are cannibalized after copulation and explains a mathematical equation for suicidal motivation in the first part of his series.
If University of Chicago evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne is too prolific for you on his blog, Why Evolution is True, you can get a primer on his views regarding the incompatibility of science and religion from his USA Today editorial this week. There were, of course, letters, and a blog response from Albert Mohler of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
An in-depth Reuters article about the increasing use of cardiac assist devices and the end-of-life ethics questions they raise talks to our chief of cardiac and thoracic surgery Valluvan Jeevanandam, among other experts. For more on the topic, see our post on ethicist Daniel Sulmasy, who has written about when it is ethical for physicians to turn off a person’s cardiac device, knowing that it may hasten death.