Source: Sperm Count Dropping in Western World – Scientific American
Sperm counts in men from America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand have dropped by more than 50 percent in less than 40 years
“An unanswered question is whether the impact of whatever is causing declining sperm counts will be seen in future generations of children via epigenetic (gene modifications) or other mechanisms operating in sperm,”
— Daniel Brison, a specialist in embryology and stem cell biology at Britain’s Manchester University
“Given that we still do not know what lifestyle, dietary or chemical exposures might have caused this decrease, research efforts to identify (them) need to be redoubled and to be non-presumptive as to cause.”
— Richard Sharpe at Edinburgh University
Source: The Mystery of Why Japanese People Are Having So Few Babies – The Atlantic
Many point to unromantic 20-somethings and women’s entry into the workforce, but an overlooked factor is the trouble young men have in finding steady, well-paid jobs.
Japan’s birth rate may be falling because there are fewer good opportunities for young people, and especially men, in the country’s economy. In a country where men are still widely expected to be breadwinners and support families, a lack of good jobs may be creating a class of men who don’t marry and have children because they—and their potential partners—know they can’t afford to.
Japan’s problems have implications for the United States, where temporary jobs are common, and where union power is getting weaker with every year. As I’ve written before, men are struggling in many regions of the country because of the decline of manufacturing and the opioid epidemic. And studies have shown that as men’s economic prospects decline, so do their chances of marrying. The U.S.’s fertility rate is already at historic lows—and worsening economic conditions for men could further depress it.
Source: The team that took us to Pluto briefly spotted their next target at the edge of the Solar System – The Verge
The object in question is called 2014 MU69, and it’s thought to be an incredibly old space rock that’s remained relatively unchanged since the Solar System first formed 4.6 billion years ago. But tracking 2014 MU69 has been pretty tough. It’s only about 30 miles wide, and it orbits over 4 billion miles from Earth. … Using the Hubble data, along with precise star positions measured by Europe’s Gaia satellite, the team predicted various times when 2014 MU69 might pass directly in front of a star. … However, the first two times the scientists tried to see the occultation, they didn’t see the object’s shadow. The first attempt was on June 3rd, with two separate teams looking in Argentina and South Africa, and the scientists tried again on July 10th with NASA’s SOFIA airplane — a flying observatory — as it flew over the Pacific Ocean. It wasn’t until this weekend, just before midnight Eastern Time on Sunday, that the mission team finally caught the occultation while huddled around telescopes in Chubut and Santa Cruz, Argentina.
This is why science is amazing. It is not always correct. It has to be updated constantly with new information in order to perform even the most trivially different task (e.g. track a new star or a different space rock). But the cumulative knowledge gained thereby let’s us do incredible things, like predict when an object only about 30 miles wide and more than 4 billion miles away will pass between a particular place on Earth and a star that is light years away correctly enough to put a telescope at that place and watch it happen.
Source: The Myth of Drug Expiration Dates – ProPublica
Hospitals and pharmacies are required to toss expired drugs, no matter how expensive or vital. Meanwhile the FDA has long known that many remain safe and potent for years longer.
The federal agencies that stockpile drugs — including the military, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Veterans Affairs — have long realized the savings in revisiting expiration dates.
In 1986, the Air Force, hoping to save on replacement costs, asked the FDA if certain drugs’ expiration dates could be extended. In response, the FDA and Defense Department created the Shelf Life Extension Program.
Each year, drugs from the stockpiles are selected based on their value and pending expiration and analyzed in batches to determine whether their end dates could be safely extended. For several decades, the program has found that the actual shelf life of many drugs is well beyond the original expiration dates.
A 2006 study of 122 drugs tested by the program showed that two-thirds of the expired medications were stable every time a lot was tested. Each of them had their expiration dates extended, on average, by more than four years, according to research published in the Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences.
I worry that people don’t adequately separate two kinds of caution. Call them local caution and global caution. Suppose some new spacecraft is about to be launched. A hundred experts have evaluated it and determined that it’s safe. But some low-ranking engineer at NASA who happens to have some personal familiarity with the components involved looks at the schematics and just has a really bad feeling. It’s not that there’s any specific glaring flaw. It’s not any of the known problems that have ever led to spacecraft failure before. Just that a lot of the parts weren’t quite designed to go together in exactly that way, and that without being entirely able to explain his reasoning, he would not be the least bit surprised if that spacecraft exploded.
What is the cautious thing to do? The locally cautious response is for the engineer to accept that a hundred experts probably know better than he does. To cautiously remind himself that it’s unlikely he would discover a new spacecraft failure mode unlike any before. To cautiously admit that grounding a spacecraft on an intuition would be crazy. But the globally cautious response is to run screaming into the NASA director’s office, demanding that he stop the launch immediately until there can be a full review of everything. There’s a sense in which this is rash and ignores all sorts of generally wise and time-tested heuristics like the ones above. But if by “caution” you mean you want as few astronauts as possible to end up as smithereens, it’s the way to go.
Source: Two Kinds Of Caution | Slate Star Codex