Friday, July 02, 2004

Collected articles 2: animals, evolution and sex

This article about the chemistry of love was published (unsurprisingly) in February of 2004. It inspired the Economist staff so much that a leader (op-ed) was written to go along with it (not by me) in the form of a sonnet.

  • I get a kick out of you
    Scientists are finding that, after all, love really is down to a chemical addiction between people
    (From The Economist print edition) Feb 12th 2004

    Scientists are finding that, after all, love really is down to a chemical addiction between people

    OVER the course of history it has been artists, poets and playwrights who have made the greatest progress in humanity's understanding of love. Romance has seemed as inexplicable as the beauty of a rainbow. But these days scientists are challenging that notion, and they have rather a lot to say about how and why people love each other.

    Is this useful? The scientists think so. For a start, understanding the neurochemical pathways that regulate social attachments may help to deal with defects in people's ability to form relationships. All relationships, whether they are those of parents with their children, spouses with their partners, or workers with their colleagues, rely on an ability to create and maintain social ties. Defects can be disabling, and become apparent as disorders such as autism and schizophrenia—and, indeed, as the serious depression that can result from rejection in love. Research is also shedding light on some of the more extreme forms of sexual behaviour. And, controversially, some utopian fringe groups see such work as the doorway to a future where love is guaranteed because it will be provided chemically, or even genetically engineered from conception. .... (read on)

  • Love makes voles of us all
    A Shakespearian reaction to this week's science section (see article)
    (From The Economist print edition) Feb 12th 2004
    (Subscription required)


    The following article is a lighthearted look at hair for our Christmas issue 2003. The core of the article is about evolutionary biology, and why humans might have become nearly hairless. I entered this for a science-writing award last year. It didn't win but I was surprised to get feedback on the article. One judge described the introduction as gratuitous, while another loved it. Most of our readers seemed to enjoy it, too. One, however, did say that it put it off his supper.

  • The bare truth
    Why are humans nearly hairless? And why do some wish to become more so?
    Dec 18th 2003

    AT THE back of a hairdresser's shop, just off Piccadilly in London, an Irish beautician called Genevieve is explaining what a “Brazilian” is as she practises her art on your correspondent. A Brazilian strip, some are surprised to learn, is nothing to do with Latin American football. Between each excruciating rip, she explains that she is going to remove nearly all my pubic hair, except for a narrow vertical strip of hairs the width of a couple of fingers. This is known colloquially as the “landing strip”.... (read on)


    Finally, another Christmas piece from 2000 looking at invading foreign animals and plants.
  • New flora and fauna for old
    Animals, plants and microbes can now migrate across the planet to new homes with unprecedented ease. Ought they to be stopped? Some, no doubt. But the arrival of new species is no novelty, and many have been harmless, some highly beneficial
    (From The Economist print edition) Dec 21st 2000

    Animals, plants and microbes can now migrate across the planet to new homes with unprecedented ease. Ought they to be stopped? Some, no doubt. But the arrival of new species is no novelty, and many have been harmless, some highly beneficial

    FAR off in the South Atlantic, 2,500 kilometres (1,550 miles) from the nearest landmass, Africa, a war is being waged on a lonely spot called Gough Island. One side has suffered heavy casualties: over 1,000 dead this year, 63 alone on one particularly bloody night. The outcome of this interspecies warfare is a foregone conclusion, however: battered but unbowed, the mice are defeating the humans.

    Out in its isolation, Gough is home to animals found nowhere else. The mice, however, arrived quite recently on sealing vessels. They now over-run the island, the base camp and the food store of the other newly arrived species: the currently ten intrepid scientists and meteorologists who live there for year-long stretches. The humans face long evenings, with limited scope for entertainment. In some ways, here is a microcosm of human attitudes towards new alien species. It’s a grudge match.... (read on)