Sunday, August 30, 2015

POSTED: Friday, March 9, 2012, 1:09 PM

In Wednesday’s paper, I wrote a this piece questioning why we think sluts are bad, and why we think they’re particularly bad if they’re women but not if they’re men. The reaction was prolific, vehement and sociologically interesting. In addition to the 68 comments on I got an earful over the phone and quite a collection of bile in my inbox.

The reaction revealed two kinds of people out there and they don’t neatly divide up along liberal/conservative lines. Instead, there are people who intuitively grasp and enjoy “why” questions, and ones who don’t. This difference could inform discussions of science illiteracy.  

Many readers chided me for not mentioning that Bill Maher used the dreaded c-word to describe Sarah Palin. This newly popular meme is irrelevant since the story was about sluts and why the term is an insult when applied to females. The c-word is a slang for female genitalia.  There probably is a piece to be done examining why in the English-speaking world women are insulted by a crude slang for female genitalia, and men are insulted by crude slang terms for male or female genitalia or anal sphincters. But that’s a completely different story.

Faye Flam @ 1:09 PM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Wednesday, March 7, 2012, 7:05 PM

If you're like me and you enjoy looking at the sky, you may have noticed two bright planets shining together in the evenings. The planets are Jupiter and Venus, and they will continue to move closer, putting on a good show for much of March, according to this piece from Sky and Telescope. The conjuction may not bring me good luck, but even in light-polluted Center City Philadelphia it should make a beautiful sight. The crescent moon will appear with the two bright planets on March 25.  

"By March 9th these dazzling evening "stars" are less than 5° apart, about the width of three fingers at arm's length. Then, from March 12th to 14th, the gap between them closes to just 3° as they pass one another in the evening sky. The pairing of these bright lights will be dramatic, though not especially rare.

Venus is the brighter one, for three reasons. First, it's close to the Sun, as planets go, basking in sunlight twice as bright as we receive on Earth and about 50 times more intense than the sunlight that reaches distant Jupiter. Second, it's almost seven times closer to Earth. And, its cloudy atmosphere is slightly whiter than Jupiter's, reflecting a little more of the sunlight that strikes it. These advantages combine to make Venus appear seven times brighter than Jupiter just now.

Faye Flam @ 7:05 PM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Tuesday, March 6, 2012, 7:45 PM
Conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh. (AP Photo/Ron Edmonds, File)

In tomorrow's paper the Inhealth column will run a condensed version of this feature about Rush Limbaugh, sluts and the double standard.

When Rush Limbaugh called law student Sandra Fluke a “slut” and a “prostitute” last week, it caused an uproar and raised a scientific question — why is it so hard to imagine using the same word to insult a man?

The epithet “slut” can be devastating to a woman's reputation in our society, but a man's reputation might even be enhanced by having many sexual partners. He might be called “a player” instead.

Faye Flam @ 7:45 PM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Tuesday, March 6, 2012, 12:52 PM

If Rush Limbaugh had aimed his “slut” comments at a man who happened to be advocating the coverage of birth control, it wouldn’t have been seen as much of an insult. The guy might even have taken it as a compliment. When people accuse a woman of being a slut, the charge can damage her reputation and cause her genuine harm. This may not be simply an artifact of our culture, since surveys show that sexual double standards occur among many disparate groups of people.

I'm sensitive to this issue because a subset of the readers of the Philadelphia Inquirer used to call me a slut and worse on a daily basis. That was back when I wrote the column, "Carnal Knowledge."   

Higgs the cat was a first-order slut back in his day, and he'd like to offer his insights into comparative animal sexuality:

Faye Flam @ 12:52 PM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Monday, March 5, 2012, 9:30 AM

Here's my evolution column for the week. It ran Monday March 5 in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Election seasons can serve as a reminder of just how deeply mysterious the human mind remains. Particularly puzzling is the fact that people are heavily influenced by political advertising on television.

Our rational sides tell us that these ads are unlikely to serve as unbiased sources of information. And yet, in states where the bulk of negative ads focused on Mitt Romney’s rivals, Romney won. In states where Rick Santorum or Newt Gingrich ran the most negative ads, they surged.

Faye Flam @ 9:30 AM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Saturday, March 3, 2012, 3:51 PM

F.F. After my visit with Richard Dawkins I’ve started thinking more in terms of those self-replicating viral ideas he dubbed “memes”. A recent letter from a creationist seemed interesting to me in that it amounted to a big pile of creationist-friendly memes – memes about Louis Pasteur, about the origin of the cosmos, and about thermodynamics. This is not the clearest letter I’ve received and it’s not the nicest, but I thought if anyone could handle it, it would be Higgs, who once made his living hunting rats in city dumpsters. It's quite long, so I recommend you skim it.

Reader: I have read some of your recent columns on Science and Creation in The Inquirer, and I found the one of January 23rd ("Cheers For The Word 'God'") particularly interesting.

Actually, I have never heard so much sheer philosophical balderdash masquerading as "science" in my life.

Faye Flam @ 3:51 PM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Friday, March 2, 2012, 3:11 PM

Evolution comes to life in this video, which is cute but also a little scary when the volcano erupts. According to, it was created by Tyler Rhodes, a student in the animation program at Virginia Commonwealth University. The artwork came from students at Patrick Henry School of Science and Art. 

Faye Flam @ 3:11 PM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Thursday, March 1, 2012, 6:18 PM
(Illustration by Tony Auth)

Earlier this week I came across a fascinating study showing that 3-year-old humans were more likely to share than were chimpanzees, but only under specific circumstances. Then a new chimp/toddler comparson on sharing and cooperation was published in this week's issue of Science. I decided to combine them into the story below, which will also appear tomorrow in The Philadelphia Inquirer's In the Know column: 

Despite all our faults and foibles, human beings are apparently pretty good at sharing and cooperating when compared with other primates. In two recent experiments, 3-year-old children shared prizes — marbles, stickers, or treats — achieved for solving a puzzle, while chimps wouldn’t.

The scientists conducting these experiments say they believe such cooperative behavior is a crucial factor in explaining why we’ve colonized much of the planet and reached a population of seven billion while most other primates are endangered.

Faye Flam @ 6:18 PM  Permalink | 0 comments
About this blog
Faye Flam - writer
In pursuit of her stories, writer Faye Flam has weathered storms in Greenland, gotten frost nip at the South Pole, and floated weightless aboard NASA’s zero-g plane. She has a degree in geophysics from the California Institute of Technology and started her writing career with the Economist. She later took on the particle physics and cosmology beat at Science Magazine before coming to the Inquirer in 1995. Her previous science column, “Carnal Knowledge,” ran from 2005 to 2008. Her new column and blog, Planet of the Apes, explores the topic of evolution and runs here and in the Inquirer’s health section each Monday. Email Faye at Reach Planet of the at

Planet of the Apes
Latest Health Videos
Also on
letter icon Newsletter