Friday, July 31, 2015

Archive: May, 2011

POSTED: Monday, May 30, 2011, 2:00 AM
(TONY AUTH / The Philadelphia Inquirer (

When a Psychology Today magazine blog appeared under the headline "Why Are African American Women Less Physically Attractive Than Other Women?", some dismissed it as an isolated incident of racism and misogyny creeping into science. But history shows that racism has poisoned certain areas of science intermittently for several hundred years.

Here in Philadelphia in the early 1800s, one of the world's leading anthropologists, Samuel Morton, was measuring human skulls and using his results to justify the continued enslavement of Africans. "Physical anthropology played a very large role in ways by which race and the institution of slavery was seen - and was either supported or argued against," said Princeton anthropologist Alan Mann.

Mann has lectured on this, encouraging his colleagues to be mindful of their field's past. But racism, he said, has infected other fields including biology and psychology.

Faye Flam @ 2:00 AM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Friday, May 27, 2011, 5:53 PM

This is interesting in that it seems to capture the view of the religious right, in case you're curious about where they're coming from. I welcome any comments or rebuttals of this rebuttal.  (I'm a little surprised he's still here, what with late week's Rapture and all, though perhaps there's email in heaven.)

     As the writer of the "conscience" letter of a month ago in which I stated that its existence was evidence of a creator God, please allow me to address the various rebuttals given by you and your readers.

     You, in your blog, said that "some find a moral compass without God" when writers objected to my saying that moral judgment requires a divine being.  The Bible says that Scripture is absolute objective truth.  It is truth for all, applies to everyone, and does not depend on one's opinion of it.  However, if God does not exist, truth and morality are indeed relative.  As an example, years ago when the Bible was revered as God's truth, homosexuality was condemned as a sin because the Bible said that it was.  However, along the way, the Bible was slowly abandoned as a standard of morality and when that happens, society has no authority to declare anything immoral.  Man then thought that tolerance was the nobler way to go so homosexuality passed from a state of condemnation, to being condoned, to being accepted, to now being openly celebrated.  Profanity, abortion, pornography, etc. are commonplace now and shock no one but in the past they were taboo because the Bible deemed them as sinful.  What's the sense of having a moral code if it's in a continuous state of flux?

Faye Flam @ 5:53 PM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Wednesday, May 25, 2011, 5:33 PM

By Wednesday I usually have a pretty good haul of e-mail from readers disputing points made in my Monday column.  This week’s topic was hard to hate. Who gets angry over smell receptors and asparagus urine?  So instead of posting feedback, I thought I’d explain why I chose to write about the evolution of our olfactory sense, while passing up a sexier finding you might have seen about gossip. According to various news sources, we evolved to focus on negative gossip because it helped our ancestors avoid bad people.

The story concludes with this take-home message: “Our visual system is wired to focus on those we’ve heard negative gossip about, helping us steer clear of possibly harmful individuals.”

Faye Flam @ 5:33 PM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Monday, May 23, 2011, 2:00 AM
(Tony Auth / The Philadelphia Inquirer (

The human nose doesn't always know.

According to the latest research, we do not all smell the same thing when we walk through a flower-studded meadow in April or a fetid alley in August.

As neuroscientist Charles Wysocki sees it, we all live in different sensory worlds.

Faye Flam @ 2:00 AM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Friday, May 20, 2011, 12:43 PM

In an interesting new paper in the latest issue of Science, paleontologists draw some sweeping conclusions about brain evolution by examining skulls of some 190 million year old creatures on the road to becoming mammals.  

It may not have been survival of the smartest but of the keenest sniffers that pushed the brains of early mammals to grow far bigger and more complex than those of their reptilian ancestors.

A group of paleontologists announced Friday that they had used CT scanning to analyze the skulls of ancient creatures on the evolutionary path to becoming mammals, and found most of the brain growth occurred in the smell center - the olfactory bulb.

Faye Flam @ 12:43 PM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Wednesday, May 18, 2011, 7:32 PM

The end is only two days away. The predicted May 21st apocalypse is supposed to happen by earthquake, according to believers quoted in this interesting story from the Philadelphia Weekly.  And they say you can’t have your pets in heaven, which is making the post-rapture situation look grim whichever way you end up going. 

And what about sex? Without sex heaven could be downright boring. Luckily, I researched this question for a column several years ago:

Eternity is a long time to go without sex.

Faye Flam @ 7:32 PM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Wednesday, May 18, 2011, 1:10 PM

I received a great collection of responses from readers on my recent column exploring the Pope's homily and possible areas of conflict between Catholicism and science. In case you missed it, you can find it here. 

Below are three of the more concise and provocative ones. The second is the meanest I've received so far. 

The sun definitely circles the earth as proved by Ptolomy in the 2nd Century.  All science followed him for 14 centuries until Copernicus proved him wrong.  Einstein showed that the stars in the sky were fixed in place until Hubble proved they are moving.  Anything science proves today could be right but the chances are it could be wrong.  Remember that Evolution, the science, requires as much faith as creationism and both could be wrong.

Faye Flam @ 1:10 PM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Monday, May 16, 2011, 5:07 AM

Charles Darwin meticulously observed not only the natural world around him but also the strange and troubling events in his own body.

Over much of his life (1809-1882), Darwin recorded a bizarre array of symptoms, from debilitating attacks of nausea to vomiting on special occasions, happy or stressful.

Creationists have tried to use this to paint Darwin as a hypochondriac, sickened with guilt over the godlessness of his natural-selection theory.

Faye Flam @ 5:07 AM  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

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