Category Archives: Sex

Guest Blog at Scientific American – second guest post: We all need (a little bit of) sex

As I noted yesterday, the Scientific American Guest Blog is about to get really busy! Already today we have another new post – We all need (a little bit of) sex by Lucas Brouwers (blog, Twitter). Go and check it out and post comments (it takes a second to register).

Quick & dirty: misleading sex surveys in women’s mags (video)

Christine Ottery, on her awesome new blog Women’s Mag Science (check older posts) did a very interesting interview with Dr. Petra Boynton about the way sex surveys in women’s magazines are done, and how misleading they often are. Watch the video:

The quick and dirty world of women’s magazines from Christine Ottery on Vimeo.

Unity without U is nity – Angela Shelton at #140conf (video)

Angela Shelton (@angelashelton), an Asheville NC native, gave a powerful talk at the 140conf in NYC this week:

Never go anywhere unprepared

Shy about openly carrying condoms around your pocketbook? Well, hide them in a tasteful little case – a variety of styles, including, for those with a sense of humor and fun, these Kitty cases, pre-packaged with two condoms each:
kitty condom cases.jpg
Conflict of Interest: this is Bride of Coturnix’s store (look around for other items). Every item sold puts money in our joint account. Which is good for me as I am owing tons in taxes…..

Books: ‘Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex’ by Mary Roach

A few years ago, I read Mary Roach’s first book, Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers and absolutely loved it! One of the best popular science books I have read in a long time – informative, eye-opening, thought-provoking and funny. Somehow I missed finding time to read her second (Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife – I guess just not a topic I care much about), but when her third book came out, with such a provocative title as Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex, I could not resist.
And I was not disappointed. It is informative, eye-opening, thought-provoking and funny. The language we use to talk about sex (and death) is so rich, and so full of thinly (or thickly) veiled allusions, that playing with that language is easy. Puns and double-entendres come off effortlessly and yet never seem to grow old. And the effect of interspersing serious discussion of science with what amounts to, essentially, Kindergarten humor, makes the humor effective. I guess it is the effect of surprise. The same humor in a different context (or outside of any context) may not be as effective or funny. The book made me laugh out loud on many occasions, startling the other B-767 passengers on the trans-Atlantic flight a couple of weeks ago (if it was B-777, as American Airlines promised, I would have slept, but the smaller airplane made that impossible, so I read about sex instead).
I should not point out any specific examples of research described in the book – there’s so much of it – as I don’t want to take the wind out of Scicurious’ sails: she uses the book as a starting point for many of her Friday Weird Science posts.
And I will not even attempt to write a real book review (see the review by Scicurious and the series of posts on The Intersection for more details. Also check out Greta Christina and Dr.Joan for different takes).
Instead, I will mention something that I kept noticing over and over again in each chapter. An obsession of mine, or a case of a person with a hammer seeing nails everywhere, you decide.
On one hand, the history of science shows a trajectory of ever improving standards of research, more and more stringent criteria for statistics and drawing conclusions from the data, more and more stringent ethical criteria for the use of animal and human subjects in research, etc. As the time goes on, the results of scientific research are becoming more and more reliable (far from 100%, of course, but a huge improvement over Aristotle, Galen or the Ancient Chinese who could write down their wildest ideas with authoritative flair).
On the other hand, the language of science has become, over time, more and more technical and unintelligible to a lay reader. The ancient ‘scientific’ and ‘medical’ scripts, the books of 300 years ago, the Letters to the Academy of 200 years ago, the early scientific papers of 100 years ago – all of those were readable and understandable by everyone who could read. Of course, in the past, only the most educated sliver of the society was literate. Today, most people are literate (ignoring some geographical difference in the rates of literacy for the moment). But even the most educated sliver of the society, unless they are experts in the same scientific field, cannot understand a scientific paper.
Thus, as the science gets ever more reliable through history, it also becomes less and less understandable to an educated lay reader. Why is that so?
In the past, the educated lay reader was the intended audience for the scientific and medical writings. Today, the intended audience are colleagues. The papers are hidden behind paywalls and accessible only to people in big First World research institutions where the libraries have sufficient funds to pay for journal subscriptions. The communication to the lay audience is relegated to the non-experts: the media (which does an awful job of it) and science writers (who often do a great job, but their audience is severely limited to self-selected science aficionados).
I have been wondering for a while now (see the end of this post for an early example – and we had an entire session on the topic at ScienceOnline’09) if Open Access and the new metrics (that include media/blog coverage, downloads and bookmarks – all requiring that as many people as possible can understand the paper itself) will prompt authors of scientific papers to write keeping broader audiences in mind. Even if the “Materials and Methods” and “Results” sections need to remain technical, perhaps the Abstract, Introduction and Discussion (and in more and more journals also the “Author’s Summary”) will become more readable? At least the titles should be clear – and sometimes funny.
Last week I asked (on Twitter, FriendFeed and Facebook – but FriendFeed, again, proved to be the best platform for this kind of inquiry) for examples of witty, normal-language titles of scientific papers. You can see some responses here and everyone reminded me of NCBI ROFL, the blog that specializes in finding wacky papers with wacky titles. Many, but certainly not all, of such titles indeed cover the science of sex.
Do you see this trend towards abandoning unreadable scientese (at least in titles) happening now or in the near future? Is it more likely to happen in OA journals? Do you have good examples?
In the meantime, watch Mary Roach – see why humor is an important aspect of science communication to lay audiences:

Science Cafe – Durham: Uncovering the Mysteries of Human Fertility: On Sex, Fertile Days, and Why the Rabbit Dies

From SCONC:

Science Cafe
July 14, 2009 | 7:00 P.M.
Uncovering the Mysteries of Human Fertility: On Sex, Fertile Days, and Why the Rabbit Dies
Speaker: Allen Wilcox, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
Everyone knows where babies come from, but few people appreciate the extraordinary and in some cases completely weird processes that have to work right in order for a new life to form.
Dr. Wilcox will discuss the key steps of human conception and early pregnancy including the window of days in which a woman can conceive, some of the factors that affect a couple’s chances of conceiving, and the new options for infertile couples created by modern technology.
Periodic Tables is a monthly gathering where curious adults can meet in a casual setting to discuss the latest science in plain English. At Periodic Tables, you will chat with your neighbors and local experts about interesting and relevant science happenings right here in the Triangle and beyond. No lengthy PowerPoint presentations, no drawn-out seminars, no confusing jargon. Simply smart and relevant science in a relaxed atmosphere. There is no such thing as a stupid question.
Come out and join us for a lively conversation at Broad Street Café at 1116 Broad Street (919.416.9707).

Sex Week on Deep Sea News

It is Sex Week on Deep Sea News.
It started with The Sand Dollar Love Shack: A Special Echinoblog to DSN and followed by ‘Sleezy’ sponge sexuality and more is yet to come for the rest of the week.