Stories tagged gender


Yes, this is on the list too
Yes, this is on the list tooCourtesy tsweden
Check it out: it turns out that women have more powerful immune systems than men. (I include myself in the “men/boys” group.)

So, let’s see… if we’re arranging the list in terms of the order in which I’ve realized each one, then this new development falls at the end, right after “better resistance to sunburn” and “less likely to get testicular cancer.”

If the list is alphabetical (how nice and neat!), it goes between “more powerful backstroke” and “more powerful interpersonal skills.”

Despite my rabbit-killing-strength grip and my powerful stammer (each unlikely to be beaten by women as a whole), the bite of each item on the list burns like jalapeño scorpion stings.

It’s nice, then, that this new fact isn’t quite so painful to accept. See, I like getting sick. I want to get sick. In particular, I want to get the swine flu. My great-grandfather was beaten (i.e. killed) by the swine flu back in 1920 or so, and I’ve been aching for a rematch. Swine Flu vs. JGordon Round II: The Final Showdown: This Time it’s Personal: A Century-Old Family Feud Comes to Blows: To the Death!

Sure, I don’t actually want to die at all, but this disease needs to at least get a foothold in my system if we’re finally going to see who’s the bigger man. (Me, duh.)

If I were what we often call a “lady,” my powerful immune system would make the flu showdown less likely. So thank goodness that that’s not the case. My female body would be producing estrogen left and right, and that estrogen would be blocking the production of an enzyme called Caspase-12. Caspase-12, precious Caspase-12, is needed in my body, because it blocks my inflammatory processes. Inflammation is one of the body’s primary defenses against infection. Blood flow increases at the site of an injury or infection during inflammation, beginning the healing process and delivering structures that kill and absorb pathogens. And I don’t want that. I mean, if every time Evander Holyfield approached Mike Tyson’s boxing ring a flood of blood and plasma crushed Holyfield and washed him away, how would The Dynamite Kid ever have gotten the chance to prove who’s tougher? I want to let the swine flu into my ring, and then I want to bite its ear off and threaten to eat its children.

I’m leaving it up to my frail male body to arrange this fight.


Which one are you?: Be honest.
Which one are you?: Be honest.Courtesy prettywar-stl
Ka-BLAM!!! What more needs to be said?

Sometimes I have these moments of doubt, and I have to ask myself, “JGordon, do you know what you’re doing… at all?”

And, you know, usually I just have to answer, “Um… I don’t know. Maybe?”

It’s not an easy way to live, to be honest. Plagued by self-doubt, stammering and stumbling through even the most basic aspects of my job… frowny face.

And then, and then… BAM! I write a Science Buzz headline that is so perfect, so emotionally evocative, so effective in communicating science fact, so cool with words and stuff… Was there ever any reason to doubt myself? It’s hard to imagine at times like these.

I say “times like these” because, of course, this is one of those times. Look at the title of this post again. Men are cheesy: yes, I understand that. Women are oniony: well, naturally, yes—I mean, “oniony” isn’t much of a word, but it all makes perfect sense. Together they make cheesy onions: a logical jump, sure, but it’s clear when written it out like that. These cheesy onions make you want to throw up: well, duh!

Do I even need to get into the rest of the news item? No, I don’t. But, really, I’ve got time to kill here, so why not?

As you know by now, having read the title of the post, scientists in Switzerland have recently determined that men’s B.O. is cheesy smelling, and women’s B.O. is oniony smelling.

Men’s sweat was found to contain lots of an “odorless fatty acid which releases a cheesy smell when exposed to enzymes produced by bacteria in the armpits.” Kind of a mouthful, if you will. (Not like my headline.)

Women, on the other hand, sweat lots of a particular sulfur-containing compound. When armpit bacteria get a hold of this compound, it turns into a “thiol.” Thiols are a type of chemicals known for their oniony smell (or their garlicky smell, according to Wikipedia).

The Swiss scientists took the study a step further, and determined which smell is grosser.

Any guesses?

That’s right. If you guess that the cheesy male smell is grosser, you were wrong. You were wrong because a team of independent testers determined that “the smell from women’s armpits was more unpleasant.” (I’m assuming that the “independent testers” were hermaphrodites that did not self-identify as either male or female.)

Also, despite any predilection you might have for cheese and/or onions, it turns out that when the armpits of men and women are combined, you do not end up with something delicious. This wasn’t part of the study; it’s something that I insist to be fact.

The research might be used to develop deodorants aimed specifically at male or female sweat. However, some scientists have pointed out that plenty of other factors go into determining the character of sweat, beyond gender. Genetics play a significant role, as well as individual diet. So while the new information might apply perfectly to the sweaters of Geneva, it might not be very useful to apply to armpits around the world.

More on the way you smell.


Women in science: Should government-funded labs make a point of hiring an equal number of men and women?
Women in science: Should government-funded labs make a point of hiring an equal number of men and women?Courtesy NIOSH—Nat’l Inst. For Occupational Safety & Health

(With the Republican National Convention literally across the street, the Science Museum of Minnesota will be closed starting Friday, August 29. But Science Buzz marches on! To honor our convention guests, I’ll be posting entries focusing on issues where science and politics overlap. Hopefully this will spur some discussion. Or at least tick some people off. Previous entry here.)

Affirmative action. Another nice, safe topic that we have talked about before, though in a different context.

In 1972, Congress passed an education bill which included, among its amendments, the following language:

"No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance."

Certainly sounds fair. But this amendment, known as “Title IX,” has caused its share of headaches. The law states that men and women should have equal opportunity in educational activities. But “opportunity” is often hard to measure. If few women partake in a given activity, is it because of discrimination? Because of lack of interest? Or, in the case of athletics, because of physical limitations?

Hard to say sometimes. So instead, the courts look at outcomes. If significantly more men than women are participating in a activity, the courts tell the schools they need to get the numbers in line. Usually this means trying to increase women’s participation. Too often, however, it has meant cutting support for men – a surreal Harrison Bergeron result if ever there was one.

This same “logic” is now to be applied to academic science departments. Under pressure from Congress, several federal science agencies are now looking for discrimination in college science departments. And, since motive is hard to prove, there are fears that courts will again fall back to looking solely at results, and force schools to hire equal numbers of male and female scientists, regardless of their qualifications. Which is fairly antithetical to the pure meritocracy science is supposed to be.

No one wants discrimination. But it would be a national tragedy if the pursuit of political correctness ended up hindering American science, just as science has become more important than at any moment in human history.

New York Times reporter John Tierney has reviewed the National Academy of Science’s report on discrimination, and has found very little evidence of bias. And, as we discussed earlier, many women do not pursue math careers, not because of discrimination, but simply because of individual choice.

This appears to be a solution in search of a problem.


The East German Women's Swim Team: Members share a laugh between events at the 1952 Summer Games in Helsinki.
The East German Women's Swim Team: Members share a laugh between events at the 1952 Summer Games in Helsinki.Courtesy Mark Ryan
As athletes around the world gear up for the upcoming Beijing Olympics, officials in China are setting a sex-determination laboratory to confirm the gender of some of the competitors.

Despite objections by some medical ethicists that the tests are too intrusive, suspected “female” athletes will be checked for external appearance, genes, and hormones. Particular scrutiny will be given to women who are able to find the laboratory at the Peking Union Medical College Hospital without having to stop to ask directions.

The lab is a holdover from previous Olympics when questions were raised about the gender of several “female” athletes from some Soviet Bloc countries. From then on, every woman wanting to compete in the Games had to submit to a sex-evaluation screening that required them to walk naked in front of a committee of doctors. This was replaced in 1968 with chromosome tests. Blanket testing was eliminated in 1999, and now only “suspect” women – like those who leave the toilet seat up - will be tested.

“We must be ready to take on such cases should they arise,” said Arne Ljungqvist, chairman of the IOC’s medical commission. “Sometimes, fingers are pointed at particular female athletes, and in order to protect them, we have to be able to investigate it and clarify.”

Throughout its existence the mandatory testing program has never led to a single confirmed case of males impersonating females to gain an edge in the Games. Several cases of gender suspicion arose in Atlanta in 1996 when eight women failed to pass a genetic test, but they were cleared after it was determined they all suffered from a birth defect that presented no advantage other than being able to parallel park.

Prior to the tests, there’s only been one confirmed case of a male impersonating a female in the Games. In 1936, Hermann Ratjen was forced by the Nazis to compete as Dora Ratjen in the women’s high jump during the Berlin Olympics. He confessed to the subterfuge in 1956 but only after being confronted with rumors that he had been overheard telling a teammate a joke without botching the punch line.


NY Times story
Guardian story


Two future fathers compare their progress: Hey! They should be in a bar!
Two future fathers compare their progress: Hey! They should be in a bar!Courtesy $4 griz
One Thomas Beatie of Bend, Oregon, claims to be five months pregnant with a baby girl.

A pregnant man… so strange… and yet so familiar. Where have I seen this before?

Oh, wait, I know exactly where I’ve seen this before: for the second time in as many months, Hollywood has beaten the rest of us saps to the scientific punch. And not just Hollywood, but the Terminator himself. First it was the thing with the twins, a so called scientific breakthrough that we had nonetheless seen 20 years ago in the film
, and now we’re being told that a pregnant man is something to get all excited about, when we’ve all already known about this kind of thing since 1994 and the film (that is to say, documentary) Junior, where a matronly Arnold Schwarzenegger frets over the impending catastrophic damage to his male urethra (this wasn’t explicit in the movie, as far as I know, but we all know Arnold is too tough for a cesarean—check out Predator—and there aren’t a lot of other options for a pregnant man).

As redundant as it may be to give them attention, here are the details of the current male pregnancy: Normal guy Thomas Beatie and his wife have been together for 10 years, and had long hoped to start a family. Sadly, Nancy Beatie had had a hysterectomy, and was unable to conceive. Thinking outside the box, the Beaties decided then to switch things up a little bit, and Thomas took up the pregnancy flag himself. This would have been particularly tricky, if not for the fact that Thomas Beatie was born Tracy Lagondino, a woman. Tracy underwent a sex change 10 years ago, and legally became Thomas, and a man, but decided to keep his reproductive organs. So, after halting his testosterone regimen and waiting for his menstrual cycle to resume, Thomas was artificially inseminated.

Five months into his pregnancy, Thomas announced his condition in the gay, lesbian, and transgender publication The Advocate, explaining the process, and the associated difficulties—both medical, and in getting friends, family, and the medical community to accept him as a man who wishes to carry his family’s child.

Here’s something else to consider: aside from Junior, even, this isn’t the first time there has been buzz over a male pregnancy. In 1999 an extensive website was launched to track the pregnancy of a man named Lee Mingwei. However, the website is still up in 2008, and mister Mingwei is still apparently pregnant—the whole thing was a performance art piece by the artist Virgil Wong. This has lead some to believe that Beatie and The Advocate are pulling a similar stunt. The fact that Beatie intends to speak to the news media in two days—April 1st—doesn’t exactly lend credibility to the story.

Any thoughts? A hoax, or the real deal? And how do you feel about a man getting pregnant?


Guess what my costume is!: Guess!!  (Photo courtesy of goldberg on
Guess what my costume is!: Guess!! (Photo courtesy of goldberg on
That's right, there's a new Halloween costume option out there, because "phantom genitals" are in the news.

The term isn't one I really expected to come across today, but it is the subject of a pretty interesting article on Cosmos Researchers at the University of California in San Diego interviewed men who had had their penises removed, either as a medical necessity, or through gender reassignment surgery. They found that 60 percent of the men who had it removed for medical reasons still retained some sensation of the missing organ, whereas only 30 percent of the post-op transsexuals had a similar experience. The researchers also interviewed female-to-male transsexuals, and found that 60 percent of this group reported the sensation of "phantom penises" since early childhood.

The San Diego team thinks that this may a breakthrough in understanding the biological basis of gender - that body image could be hardwired into someone's mind even before birth, resulting in the occasional mismatch with their physical gender.

Critics of the theory claim that while the reported feelings of the interviewed transsexuals may be valid, they are not necessarily linked with the hardwiring of the brain.

For anyone who's unfamiliar with the terms:
-A "phantom limb" is the sensation that a missing or amputated limb (or, in this case, penis) is still attached to the body. People who were born without limbs, as well as by those who have had limbs removed, have reported phantom limbs.
-A transsexual is a person who identifies as being of the opposite gender of that which they were born with.

In unrelated news, I am now accepting applications for my brand new band, The Phantom Genitals. If you're at all interested, please reply with your stage name, musical talent (if any), and performance gimmicks. Lead vocals are already taken, as is the name "The Headless Horseman."

The Phantom Genitals are in no way associated with the Science Museum of Minnesota.


A new paper published in the Procedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that, as parents preferentially select boys over girls and gender imbalances grow, we'll see rising levels of anti-social and violent behavior.

Stella: Isn't she worth just as much as a baby boy? (Photo by Liza Pryor)
Stella: Isn't she worth just as much as a baby boy? (Photo by Liza Pryor)

"There are already an estimated 80 million missing females in India and China alone."

(According to the World Bank, in 2004 48.6% of China's population and 48.7% of India's population were female. By contrast, females made up 49.1% of the total population in East Asia, and 52.1% in all of Europe and Central Asia.)

The Reuters news report says,

"'This trend would lead to increased levels of anti-social behavior and violence, as gender is a well-established correlate of crime, and especially violent crime,' [the authors] said, adding the trend would threaten stability and security in many societies."

The authors of the paper call for "measures to reduce sex-selection and an urgent change in cultural attitudes." But that seems easier said than done.

Do you think it's possible to change cultural attitudes about gender preference? It's easy to say this is a problem of East Asian cultures, but what about the US? Do we have cultural preferences about our children's genders, too?


A new study published in The New England Journal of Medicine shows that low doses of aspirin do not prevent first heart attacks in women under 65, as they do in men.

Earlier research, which focused mostly or entirely on men, indicated that aspirin prevents heart attacks. But the 10-year Women's Health Study, which followed 40,000 women, showed that aspirin does not prevent heart attacks in women. However, it does prevent strokes caused by blood clots, a benefit that has not been conclusively proven in men.

Women in the control group had the same number of heart attacks as the women in the aspirin group. But the number of strokes in the aspirin group was 17% lower. And the aspirin takers had a whopping 24% lower risk of ischemic stroke—the most common kind, caused by a blood clot in an artery leading to the brain. However, the risk of hemorrhagic stroke—caused by bleeding—was slightly higher in the aspirin group. (This was expected, because aspirin reduces blood's ability to clot.)

Both ischemic strokes and heart attacks are caused by blood clots in arteries, so it isn't clear why aspirin only protects women against strokes. The explanation may have something to do with the size of the blood vessels that lead to the brain, which are smaller than those leading to the heart, but no one knows yet for sure.

Because aspirin therapy increases the risk of bleeding, doctors don't currently advise men or women with no risk of heart disease to take aspirin as a preventive measure. Women with risk factors for heart disease (they're over 65, they smoke, have high blood pressure, are diabetic, or have a family history of cardiovascular problems) are often told to take a baby aspirin every day. That probably won't change.

But now doctors can fine-tune the way they manage patients with cardiovascular risk, knowing that women under 65 are more vulnerable to certain kinds of stroke.

You can read the New York Times article about the study here

You can read an abstract of the article in The New England Journal of Medicine here

What do you think about research that shows that some drugs affect women differently than men? Should drug studies have to include equal numbers of men and women? Or should they look at men and women separately? How about different ethnic groups? Or children?


In January, Harvard President Lawrence Summers created quite a stir when he suggested that one reason why there are fewer women than men working in math and science is that there are inherent differences between male and female brains. (Summer's full speech can be found here.

The comments created quite a controversy. Enter "Summers Harvard women math speech" into Google and you'll get about 28 thousand hits. Many people are reluctant to accept the idea that men and women are inherently different.


Life expectancy in the US hit a new high on Monday. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that the average American now lives 77.6 years. This is the highest figure ever recorded.

The mortality rate for the two biggest killers—cancer and heart disease—both fell. On average, women still live longer than men, though the gaps is shrinking. And, for reasons that are not explained, people in Hawaii live the longest. Must be all the surfing.