Chapter 12. Sex: Evolutionary, Hormonal, and Neural Bases
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By Debra W. Soh The reasons behind why people are gay, straight, or bisexual have long been a source of public fascination. Indeed, research on the topic of sexual orientation offers a powerful window into understanding human sexuality. The Archives of Sexual Behavior recently published a special edition devoted to research in this area, titled “The Puzzle of Sexual Orientation.” One study, conducted by scientists at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada, offers compelling, cross-cultural evidence that common genetic factors underlie same-sex, sexual preference in men. In southern Mexico, individuals who are biologically male and sexually attracted to men are known as muxes. They are recognized as a third gender: Muxe nguiiu tend to be masculine in their appearance and behavior, while muxe gunaa are feminine. In Western cultures, they would be considered gay men and transgender women, respectively. Several correlates of male androphilia — biological males who are sexually attracted to men — have been shown across different cultures, which is suggestive of a common biological foundation among them. For example, the fraternal birth order effect—the phenomenon whereby male androphilia is predicted by having a higher number of biological older brothers—is evident in both Western and Samoan cultures. Interestingly, in Western society, homosexual men, compared with heterosexual men, tend to recall higher levels of separation anxiety — the distress resulting from being separated from major attachment figures, like one’s primary caregiver or close family members. Research in Samoa has similarly demonstrated that third-gender fa’afafine—individuals who are feminine in appearance, biologically male, and attracted to men—also recall greater childhood separation anxiety when compared with heterosexual Samoan men. Thus, if a similar pattern regarding separation anxiety were to be found in a third, disparate culture—in the case, the Istmo region of Oaxaca, Mexico—it would add to the evidence that male androphilia has biological underpinnings. © 2017 Scientific American
By CATHERINE SAINT LOUIS In her 30s, Sophie Marat, now 42, used to record herself reading poetry aloud, then play it back to hear if she sounded like a woman. Ms. Marat, who is transgender, had spent years trying to remake her voice in private by speaking in a higher pitch but ultimately felt that her efforts were hopeless. “I was feeling like changing my voice to match my gender identity was almost impossible,” she said. “It was terrible.” Ms. Marat’s transition from male to female has been a gradual evolution. She had come out to friends and family back home in Mexico, then began to wear skirts to work as a software engineer in Manhattan. Still, her confidence would falter with everyday tasks like ordering takeout. “It was really painful to speak on the phone,” she said, “because they would reply, ‘O.K., sir.’” That was before she started her weekly sessions with a voice therapist at New York University’s speech-language-hearing clinic, one of a growing number of programs that cater to transgender clients seeking to retrain their voices. Just as some transgender women and men choose to take hormones or have surgery, or choose neither, some seek to feminize or masculinize their voices. Many say they want a voice that matches their appearance or that the change allows them to escape unwanted attention. There’s also a growing recognition among health professionals who have transgender patients that altering one’s voice can improve quality of life and reduce distress. After eight months, she had raised her pitch, worked on moving her resonance forward and finishing phrases with an open ending, rather than bluntly. “This isn’t just a sidebar,” said Sandy Hirsch, a Seattle-based speech language pathologist who was a co-author of the pioneering textbook on transgender voice and communication therapy. “It’s an integral part of care for transgender people as they transition.” © 2017 The New York Times Company
Carl Zimmer The oldfield mouse doesn’t seem extraordinary. With soulful black eyes and tiny teacup ears, the rodent lives a humdrum life scurrying about meadows and beaches in the Southeast. But field biologists have long known that when it comes to sex and family life, this mouse is remarkable: Peromyscus polionotus is monogamous — an exception among mammals — and a solicitous parent. Fathers and mothers will dig burrows together and build elaborate nests when pups are on the way; after they’re born, the father will help tend to the pups, retrieving them when they fall out of the nest, licking them, and huddling to keep them warm. In a pioneering study published on Wednesday in the journal Nature, researchers at Harvard University identified a genetic basis for this distinctive behavior. It is the first time that scientists have linked DNA to variations in parenting habits among mammals. Dieter Lukas, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Cambridge who was not involved in the research, hailed the study as a sophisticated tour de force, saying that uncovering these links “is like designing a tool to follow individual threads through a large colorful tapestry.” The findings may one day help scientists make sense of how human couples bond and care for their children. Mammals share many of the genes governing the production of hormones and neurotransmitters in the brain. Variations in how they function may explain why most species are promiscuous, why a few are monogamous — and why some, like humans, are somewhere in between. “We can go from the bottom up and build our knowledge base, and then ask questions about human biology,” said Gene E. Robinson, a biologist at the University of Illinois who was not involved in the new work. © 2017 The New York Times Company
by Claire Lehmann and Debra W Soh “Neurosexism,” “populist science,” “neurotrash,” the problem with using terms like these to describe scientific investigations of sex differences is that their use may be interpreted as hostile. “Not fair!” claim the espousers of these terms, who argue that they only ever use such terms for pseudoscience and media distortions, not robust and replicable studies. In a recent op-ed for The Guardian, Cordelia Fine—the author who coined the term “neurosexism”—together with Rebecca Jordan-Young, argue that they have never been prima facie opposed to sex differences research. Their only concern is that of scientific rigour. In 2005, the British philosopher Nicholas Shackel proposed the term “Motte and Bailey Doctrine” for this type of argumentative style. Taking the name of the castle fortification, the “motte” is strong and is built high on an elevated patch of land and is easy to defend. By contrast, the “bailey” is built on lower, more exposed ground, and is much more difficult to defend from attacks. Shackel used this metaphor to describe a common rhetorical trap used by postmodern academics, where a controversial proposition is put forward (a “bailey”) but is then switched for an uncontroversial one (a “motte”) when faced with criticism. In this case, the controversial position that has been proposed by authors such as Fine and Jordan-Young is that the scientific investigation of sex differences reinforce and legitimize harmful and sexist stereotypes about women. The uncontroversial proposition is that their concern is simply one of “[ensuring] the [maximum possible contribution] of neuroimaging research.” © 2017 Quillette
Keyword: Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 23507 - Posted: 04.19.2017
By Michael Price Do the anatomical differences between men and women—sex organs, facial hair, and the like—extend to our brains? The question has been as difficult to answer as it has been controversial. Now, the largest brain-imaging study of its kind indeed finds some sex-specific patterns, but overall more similarities than differences. The work raises new questions about how brain differences between the sexes may influence intelligence and behavior. For decades, brain scientists have noticed that on average, male brains tend to have slightly higher total brain volume than female ones, even when corrected for males’ larger average body size. But it has proved notoriously tricky to pin down exactly which substructures within the brain are more or less voluminous. Most studies have looked at relatively small sample sizes—typically fewer than 100 brains—making large-scale conclusions impossible. In the new study, a team of researchers led by psychologist Stuart Ritchie, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Edinburgh, turned to data from UK Biobank, an ongoing, long-term biomedical study of people living in the United Kingdom with 500,000 enrollees. A subset of those enrolled in the study underwent brain scans using MRI. In 2750 women and 2466 men aged 44–77, Ritchie and his colleagues examined the volumes of 68 regions within the brain, as well as the thickness of the cerebral cortex, the brain’s wrinkly outer layer thought to be important in consciousness, language, memory, perception, and other functions. © 2017 American Association for the Advancement of Science
By Andy Coghlan “PRENATAL exposure to progesterone affects sexual orientation in humans”. A bold and unequivocal-sounding title for a scientific paper. And certainly important if true. But is it? The study claimed to show that women given extra progesterone during pregnancy, routinely prescribed to prevent miscarriage, bleeding or premature delivery, have children who are “29 per cent more likely” to later identify as bisexual. It would be a landmark finding, allowing us to also ground in biology the established social science contention that sexuality has more dimensions than straight and gay. We suspected that exposing a fetus to strong hormones can shape sexual orientation. But there are no animal models of sexual orientation, and doing this kind of experiment in humans would be deeply unethical. The next best thing would be a retrospective analysis looking at a birth cohort exposed to a specific hormone “in the wild”. And that’s what this study did. June Reinisch of the Kinsey Institute in Indiana and her colleagues trawled a public database containing records of more than 9000 pregnancies in Denmark between 1959 and 1961. They identified women who were given a progesterone-mimicking hormone by the trade name lutocyclin to prevent miscarriage. Lutocyclin did seem to have mild effects on sexual orientation: later in life, exposed individuals were five times more likely to self-identify as non-heterosexual, and were more likely to report relationships with the same sex, than unexposed controls. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.
Keyword: Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 23477 - Posted: 04.11.2017
Cordelia Fine and Rebecca Jordan-Young At a time when both science and feminism are under attack, there are welcome signs that neuroscience is showing new openness to critiques of research into sex differences. Mainstream journals increasingly publish studies that reveal how misleading assumptions about the sexes bias the framing of hypotheses, research design and interpretation of findings – and these critiques increasingly come with constructive recommendations, discussions and debates. For example, we, together with other colleagues, made recommendations in the peer-reviewed journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience on best practice in sex/gender neuroscience. Some of the errors and traps we identified included human neuroimaging studies with small sample sizes, and the common “snapshot” approach, which interprets neural associations with sex as a matter of timeless and universal male and female essences, without taking seriously the fact that biological associations might as easily be the effect of social differences as the cause of them. For example, a study reporting female-male differences in spatial processing should take into account that women and men have different life experiences, on average, that can build such skills – such as practice with aiming at targets that comes from certain kinds of sports and video games. We also expressed concern about studies that draw on and reinforce stereotypes, even as they slip and slide regarding specific predictions about sex differences in the brain, and what findings might mean for how women and men think, feel, and behave.
Keyword: Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 23465 - Posted: 04.08.2017
Aaron E. Carroll One of the biggest American public health victories of the last decade has been the record low reached in the teenage birthrate. Along with that have been lows in rates for teenage pregnancy and abortion. Most researchers believe that improved access to contraception is a large part of this success. But news continues to focus on the concern that hormone-based contraception — like the pill or the patch — causes depression, and that this should lead us to question its wider use. A more nuanced discussion would consider both the benefits and the harms. This issue drew widespread coverage at the end of last year with a large study published in JAMA Psychiatry. Researchers tracked all women and adolescent females (ages 15 to 34) living in Denmark from 2000 through 2014. The study found that those who used hormonal contraception had significantly higher risks of also taking an antidepressant. The study broke down the increased relative risk for each hormonal method this way: combined oral contraceptives (23 percent), progestogen-only pills (34 percent), the patch (100 percent), vaginal ring (60 percent) and levonorgestrel intrauterine system (40 percent). The risks were highest in adolescents and decreased as women aged. The risks also peaked six months after the start of contraception. Needless to say, many news outlets covered this finding widely. Some portrayed it as shocking new information that should change the way we think about hormonal birth control. Others saw it as a vindication of many women who said for years that birth control had triggered their depression while scientists and doctors ignored them. But we have to acknowledge the limitations of this type of research. It’s not a controlled trial, and it’s impossible to establish causality. Women who choose to have sex could also be more likely to consider antidepressant use. © 2017 The New York Times Company
Laurel Hamers SAN FRANCISCO — Girls and boys with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder don’t just behave differently. Parts of their brains look different, too. Now, researchers can add the cerebellum to that mismatch. For boys, symptoms of the disorder tend to include poor impulse control and disruptive behavior. Girls are more likely to have difficulty staying focused on one task. Studies show that those behavioral differences are reflected in brain structure. Boys with ADHD, for example, are more likely than girls to display abnormalities in premotor and primary motor circuits, pediatric neurologist Stewart Mostofsky of Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore has reported previously. Now, Mostofsky and colleagues have looked at the cerebellum, which plays a role in coordinating movement. He reported the new findings March 25 at the Cognitive Neuroscience Society’s annual meeting in San Francisco. Girls ages 8 to 12 with ADHD showed differences in the volume of various regions of their cerebellum compared with girls without the condition, MRI scans revealed. A similar comparison of boys showed abnormalities, too. But those differences didn’t match what’s seen between girls, preliminary analyses suggest. So far, researchers have looked at 18 subjects in each of the four groups, but plan to quintuple that number in the coming months. |© Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2017
Erin Ross The sex of a sea lamprey may be determined by how fast it grows as a larva. Sex is determined by chromosomes in mammals and by temperature in many reptiles. But for sea lampreys — eel-like creatures that dine on blood — the growth rate of their larvae seems to control whether they are male or female. They are the first creatures known to undergo sex determination in this way. Researchers know next to nothing about sex determination in sea lampreys (Petromyzon marinus) and have long been puzzled by the observation that some adult populations are mostly male, and others female. The fish begin their lives as larvae with undifferentiated sexual organs. After a year or so, they develop gonads, and after a few more years — the timing can vary — they metamorphose into adult sucker-mouthed parasites. A team led by biologist Nick Johnson, at the US Geological Survey in Millersburg, Michigan, identified lamprey habitats in and near streams leading to the Great Lakes. Some areas were productive, with lots of food, whereas others were unproductive sites with little food. After taking measures to ensure no wild lamprey were present, they released between 1,500 and 3,000 wire-tagged larval lamprey into each of the study sites. The researchers recaptured the tagged lamprey and checked their sex after the larvae had metamorphosed into adults and migrated upstream. They found that lamprey in productive streams with lots of food were larger, reached maturity earlier and were more likely to be female. But in unproductive sites, smaller, male lamprey dominated, Johnson’s team reports in a paper published on 29 March in Proceedings of the Royal Society B1. © 2017 Macmillan Publishers Limited
By Catherine Offord | Recognizing when you’re singing the right notes is a crucial skill for learning a melody, whether you’re a human practicing an aria or a bird rehearsing a courtship song. But just how the brain executes this sort of trial-and-error learning, which involves comparing performances to an internal template, is still something of a mystery. “It’s been an important question in the field for a long time,” says Vikram Gadagkar, a postdoctoral neurobiologist in Jesse Goldberg’s lab at Cornell University. “But nobody’s been able to find out how this actually happens.” Gadagkar suspected, as others had hypothesized, that internally driven learning might rely on neural mechanisms similar to traditional reward learning, in which an animal learns to anticipate a treat based on a particular stimulus. When an unexpected outcome occurs (such as receiving no treat when one was expected), the brain takes note via changes in dopamine signaling. So Gadagkar and his colleagues investigated dopamine signaling in a go-to system for studying vocal learning, male zebra finches. First, the researchers used electrodes to record the activity of dopaminergic neurons in the ventral tegmental area (VTA), a brain region important in reward learning. Then, to mimic singing errors, they used custom-written software to play over, and thus distort, certain syllables of that finch’s courtship song while the bird practiced. “Let’s say the bird’s song is ABCD,” says Gadagkar. “We distort one syllable, so it sounds like something between ABCD and ABCB.” © 1986-2017 The Scientist
By Kate Yandell In a 1971 paper published in Science, biologist Roger Payne, then at Rockefeller University, and Scott McVay, then an administrator at Princeton University, described the “surprisingly beautiful sounds” made by humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae; Science, 173:585-97). Analyzing underwater recordings made by a Navy engineer, the duo found that these whale sounds were intricately repetitive. “Because one of the characteristics of bird songs is that they are fixed patterns of sounds that are repeated, we call the fixed patterns of humpback sounds ‘songs,’” they wrote. OCEAN SONGS: Humpback whales make diverse, broadband sounds that travel miles through the ocean. Their function, however, remains somewhat murky.PLOS ONE, dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0079422, 2013 It’s now clear that, in addition to simpler calls, several baleen whale species—including blue, fin, and bowhead—make series of sounds known as song. Humpback song is the most complex and by far the best studied. Units of humpback songs form phrases, series of similar phrases form themes, and multiple themes form songs. All the males in a given population sing the same song, which evolves over time. When whale groups come into contact, songs can spread. But why do whales sing? “The short answer is, we don’t know,” says Alison Stimpert, a bioacoustician at Moss Landing Marine Laboratories in California. Humpback songs are only performed by males and are often heard on breeding grounds, so the dominant hypothesis is that these songs are a form of courtship. The quality of a male’s performance could be a sign of his fitness, for example. But female whales do not tend to approach singing males. Alternatively, whale researchers have proposed that the male whales sing to demarcate territory or to form alliances with other males during mating season. © 1986-2017 The Scientist
By RONI CARYN RABIN Television ads for “low T” have sparked a rise in the use of testosterone gels, patches and injections by older men in recent years, according to a new report. But anyone hoping that a dose of testosterone will provide an easy antidote for sagging muscles, flagging energy and a retiring sex drive may find the results of recent government studies of the sex hormone sobering. The latest clinical trials, published over the past year, are the first rigorous ones to assess the potential beneficial effects of testosterone treatment for older men with abnormally low levels of the hormone. Scientists followed 790 men age 65 and older who had blood testosterone levels below 275 nanograms per deciliter of blood, well below the average for healthy young men and lower than would be expected with normal aging. The men also had symptoms reflecting their low hormone levels, like loss of sex drive. Half the participants were treated with testosterone gel, and half were given a placebo gel. The studies reported mixed results, finding that over the yearlong study period, testosterone therapy corrected anemia, or low levels of red blood cells, which can cause fatigue, and increased bone density. But a study to see if testosterone improved memory or cognitive function found no effects. Meanwhile, a red flag warning of possible risks to the heart emerged from the studies: Imaging tests found a greater buildup of noncalcified plaque in the coronary arteries of men treated with testosterone for a year, an indicator of cardiac risk, compared with those who were given a placebo gel. The findings of plaque were not a complete surprise; many reports have tied testosterone use to an increase in heart attacks, and the Food and Drug Administration already requires testosterone products to carry warnings of an increased risk of heart attacks and stroke (men at high risk of cardiovascular disease were not allowed to participate in the latest trials). But observational studies, which are weaker, have yielded mixed results over all, with one study published last month finding that men taking testosterone actually had fewer heart problems. © 2017 The New York Times Company
By Sam Wong It takes brains to choose a good partner. In one of the first experiments to look at the cognitive demands of choosing a mate, female guppies with big brains showed a preference for more colourful males, while those with smaller brains showed no preference. In guppies, like most animals, females are choosy about who to mate with, since they invest more in their offspring than males, which don’t help care for them. They tend to prefer males with striking colour patterns and big tails, traits that have been linked to good foraging ability and health. By choosing a male with these qualities, female guppies give their offspring a good chance of inheriting the same useful traits. Despite this, females often go on to make different choices. Alberto Corral López and colleagues at Stockholm University wanted to find out if brain size could account for this. Corral López and his team tested 36 females bred to have large brains, 36 bred to have small brains, and 16 females similar to guppies found in the wild. Previous studies have shown that large-brained guppies perform better in cognitive tests, suggesting that they are smarter. Each female was given the opportunity to associate with two males, one more colourful than the other. Females are known to spend more time close to males they would prefer to mate with, so the team timed how long they spent with each male. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd
Cris Ledón-Rettig Picture a lion: The male has a luxuriant mane, the female doesn’t. This is a classic example of what biologists call sexual dimorphism – the two sexes of the same species exhibit differences in form or behavior. Male and female lions pretty much share the same genetic information, but look quite different. We’re used to thinking of genes as responsible for the traits an organism develops. But different forms of a trait – mane or no mane – can arise from practically identical genetic information. Further, traits are not all equally sexually dimorphic. While the tails of peacocks and peahens are extremely different, their feet, for example, are pretty much the same. Understanding how this variation of form – what geneticists call phenotypic variation – arises is crucial to answering several scientific questions, including how novel traits appear during evolution and how complex diseases emerge during a lifetime. So researchers have taken a closer look at the genome, looking for the genes responsible for differences between sexes and between traits within one sex. The key to these sexually dimorphic traits appears to be a kind of protein called a transcription factor, whose job it is to turn genes “on” and “off.” In our own work with dung beetles, my colleagues and I are untangling how these transcription factors actually lead to the different traits we see in males and females. A lot of it has to do with something called “alternative gene splicing” – a phenomenon that allows a single gene to encode for different proteins, depending on how the building blocks are joined together. © 2010–2017, The Conversation US, Inc.
By Jenny Rood To human ears, the trilling of birdsong ranks among nature’s most musical sounds. That similarity to human music is now inspiring researchers to apply music theory to avian vocalizations. For example, zebra finch neurobiologist Ofer Tchernichovski of the City University of New York, together with musician and musicologist Hollis Taylor, recently analyzed the song of the Australian pied butcherbird (Cracticus nigrogularis) and found an inverse relationship between motif complexity and repetition that paralleled patterns found in human music (R Soc Open Sci, 3:160357, 2016). Tchernichovski’s work also suggests that birds can perceive rhythm and change their calls in response. Last year, he and colleague Eitan Globerson, a symphony conductor at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance as well as a neurobiologist at Bar Ilan University in Israel, demonstrated that zebra finches, a vocal learning species, adapt their innate calls—as opposed to learned song—to avoid overlapping with unusual rhythmic patterns produced by a vocal robot (Curr Biol, 26:309-18, 2016). The researchers also found that both males and females use the brain’s song system to do this, although females do not learn song. But these complexities of birdsong might be more comparable to human speech than to human music, says Henkjan Honing, a music cognition scientist at the University of Amsterdam. Honing’s research suggests that some birds don’t discern rhythm well. Zebra finches, for example, seem to pay attention to pauses between notes on short time scales but have trouble recognizing overarching rhythmic patterns—one of the key skills thought necessary for musical perception (Front Psychol, doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00730, 2016). © 1986-2017 The Scientist
By Timothy Revell Who would you get to observe differences in how men, women and children interact? A robot in a fur-lined hat, of course. Experiments using a robotic head, called Furhat, aimed to uncover inequalities in people’s participation when working on a shared activity, and see if a robot could help redress the balance. They revealed that when a woman is paired in conversation with another woman, she speaks more than if paired with a man. And two men paired together speak less than two women. But this only holds for adults. “Surprisingly, we didn’t find this same pattern for boys and girls. Gender didn’t make much difference to how much children speak,” says Gabriel Skantze at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden, who is also one of the robot’s creators. Furhat interacted with 540 visitors at the Swedish National Museum of Science and Technology over nine days. Two people at a time would sit at an interactive table with a touchscreen opposite the robot. They were asked to play a game that involved sorting a set of virtual picture cards, such as arranging images of historical inventions in chronological order. The people worked with the robot to try to solve the task. During this time, the robot’s sensors tracked how long each person spoke for. “This turned out to be a really nice opportunity to study the differences between men and women, and adults and children,” says Skantze. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.
By Michael Price The objects and people children play with as early as toddlerhood may provide clues to their eventual sexual orientation, reveals the largest study of its kind. The investigation, which tracked more than 4500 kids over the first 15 years of their lives, seeks to answer one of the most controversial questions in the social sciences, but experts are mixed on the findings. “Within its paradigm, it’s one of the better studies I’ve seen,” says Anne Fausto-Sterling, professor emerita of biology and gender studies at Brown University. The fact that it looks at development over time and relies on parents’ observations is a big improvement over previous studies that attempted to answer similar questions based on respondents’ own, often unreliable, memories, she says. “That being said … they’re still not answering questions of how these preferences for toys or different kinds of behaviors develop in the first place.” The new study builds largely on research done in the 1970s by American sex and gender researcher Richard Green, who spent decades investigating sexuality. He was influential in the development of the term “gender identity disorder” to describe stress and confusion over one’s sex and gender, though the term—and Green’s work more broadly—has come under fire from many psychologists and social scientists today who say it’s wrong to label someone’s gender and sexuality “disordered.” In the decades since, other studies have reported that whether a child plays along traditional gender lines can predict their later sexual orientation. But these have largely been criticized for their small sample sizes, for drawing from children who exhibit what the authors call “extreme” gender nonconformity, and for various other methodological shortcomings. © 2017 American Association for the Advancement of Science
If I was the late Andy Rooney, I’d say “You know what really bothers me? When science shows some facts about nature, and then someone rejects those facts because they’re inconvenient or uncomfortable for their ideology.” Indeed, when people ignore such inconvenient truths, it not only makes their cause look bad, but can produce palpable harm. Case in point: the damage that the Russian charlatan-agronomist Lysenko did to Soviet agriculture under Stalin. Rejecting both natural selection and modern genetics, Lysenko made all sorts of wild promises about improving Soviet agriculture based on bogus treatment of plants that would supposedly change their genetics. It not only didn’t work, failing to relieve Russia of its chronic famines, but Lyesnko’s Stalin-supported resistance to modern (“Western”) genetics led to the imprisonment and even the execution of really good geneticists and agronomists like Niklolia Vavilov. The ideological embrace of an unevidenced but politically amenable view of science set back Russian genetics for decades. Other cases in point: the denial of evolution by creationists, and of anthropogenic global warming by conservatives. I needn’t belabor these. But the opposition to research on group and sex differences continues. One of its big exponents is the author Cordelia Fine, who has written two books with the explicit aim of showing that there are no reliably accepted evolved and biological differences in behavior between men and women. I read her first book, Delusions of Gender, and found it a mixed bag: some of her targets did indeed do bad science, and she properly called them out; but the book was also tendentious, and wasn’t objective about other studies. I’m now about to read her second book, Testosterone Rex: Myths of Sex, Science, and Society. Judging from the reviews, which have been positive, it’s just as much a polemic as the first book, and has an ideological aim.
By Lindzi Wessel You may have seen the ads: Just spray a bit of human pheromone on your skin, and you’re guaranteed to land a date. Scientists have long debated whether humans secrete chemicals that alter the behavior of other people. A new study throws more cold water on the idea, finding that two pheromones that proponents have long contended affect human attraction to each other have no such impact on the opposite sex—and indeed experts are divided about whether human pheromones even exist. The study, published today in Royal Society Open Science, asked heterosexual participants to rate opposite-sex faces on attractiveness while being exposed to two steroids that are putative human pheromones. One is androstadienone (AND), found in male sweat and semen, whereas the second, estratetraenol (EST), is in women’s urine. Researchers also asked participants to judge gender-ambiguous, or “neutral,” faces, created by merging images of men and women together. The authors reasoned that if the steroids were pheromones, female volunteers given AND would see gender-neutral faces as male, and male volunteers given EST would see gender-neutral faces as female. They also theorized that the steroids corresponding to the opposite sex would lead the volunteers to rate opposite sex faces as more attractive. That didn’t happen. The researchers found no effects of the steroids on any behaviors and concluded that the label of “putative human pheromone” for AND and EST should be dropped. “I’ve convinced myself that AND and EST are not worth pursuing,” says the study’s lead author, Leigh Simmons, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Western Australia in Crawley. © 2017 American Association for the Advancement of Science.