Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

Are Pubic Lice Really Going Extinct?

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

On Sunday, Bloomberg ran a story on its website linking the supposed decrease and disappearance of pubic lice (Pthirus pubis, a.k.a. “crabs”) with the popularity of bikini waxes. It’s kind of a feel good story: an expensive, painful grooming ritual paying off with the eradication of an annoying and embarrassing parasite. It’s also pretty much pulled out of thin air. 

The whole premise of the story—crabs are disappearing—dead-ends pretty quickly as far as evidence goes. The Bloomberg story pegs its thesis almost exclusively on the fact that the Sydney Sexual Health Centre in Australia “hasn’t seen a woman with pubic lice since 2008,” and one of the doctors there chalks it up to “better grooming.” 

That’s one clinic, a pretty small data set from which to extrapolate and declare a species endangered. The Bloomberg piece finally acknowledges that there’s really no other data to be had about halfway into the story: 

Incidence data aren’t kept by the World Health Organization in Geneva because the gray, six-legged, millimeter-long louse doesn’t transmit disease, and national authorities such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta and U.K.’s Health Protection Agency don’t collect the information.

So no one actually knows if there are less lice out there or not. You can track cases in a single hospital or group of hospitals, maybe, but no one’s recording the data on a large scale. Good for the story’s authors for coming clean on that, but it feels like a bait and switch, and after the story went viral, this important point got lost in lots of other pieces that riffed on it. What’s more, no one is pointing the finger at bikini waxes as the cause of any lice die-off—if there is one—except that one doctor, and the story doesn’t even make a case for his assertion. 

Data deficiency exposed, the article also cites a letter from the journal Sexually Transmitted Infections, in which two doctors at a Leeds, England clinic muse on a drop in lice cases at their office and connect it to waxing. The problem, again, is little to no data, and trying to pull a trend out of observations from a single site. Here, the observers admit they don’t even know the waxing rates or habits of the patients behind their numbers. All they can say is that the downward trend “coincided with the introduction of extensive waxing techniques, such as the 'Brazilian,' in women in the United Kingdom.” 

If you’ll step with me into the Speculation Zone, I don’t think we need to worry about the total loss of pubic lice. For one thing, they also take up residence in eyebrows, and aren’t completely reliant on our nether regions to make their homes. And let’s not forget that not every man and woman in the world has the luxury of being able to wax or shave their naughty bits, or even wash them regularly with soap and water. If grooming is a threat to louse-kind, it's one that stops at the edge of the industrialized world.

However, neither I nor the writers at Bloomberg, nor a doctor in Sydney or Leeds, can say anything definitive about whether the lice are out there or not, because the empirical evidence definitely isn't. 

Courtesy of October Films
This Scientist's Idea of the 'Perfect' Human Body Is Kind of Terrifying
Courtesy of October Films
Courtesy of October Films

The perfect human body has the legs of an ostrich, the heart of a dog, and the eyes of an octopus, according to anatomist Alice Roberts. And it’s utterly terrifying.

With the help of anatomical artist Scott Eaton and special effects designer Sangeet Prabhaker, Roberts created a life-size replica of herself that fixes many design flaws inherent to the human body, Motherboard reports. Roberts unveiled the sculpture on April 23 at the Science Museum in London. On June 13, the BBC released a documentary about the project.

Among the flaws Roberts’s sculpture corrects are humans’ inferior ears, spine, and lungs. Roberts borrowed anatomy from reptiles, birds, and other mammals to create a Frankenstein-esque creature straight from the island of Dr. Moreau.

The sculpture of Alice 2.0, left, with Alice Roberts, right
Courtesy of October Films

The sculpture has legs like an ostrich because, as Roberts says on her website, the human knee is complex and prone to failure. Like humans, ostriches are bipedal, but they are far better runners. Bird-like lungs that keep air flowing in one direction, not two, make running and other aerobic activities easier for the perfect human to manage. And a chimpanzee’s sturdier spine and a dog’s heart (which has more connected arteries, leading to lower heart attack risk) make Roberts’s alternate self more resistant to injury and disease.

Roberts’s ideal human body also has skin like a frog that can change shades based on the environment, and large, bat-like ears that amplify sound. Roberts also fixed humans’ backwards retina, which produces a natural blind spot, by borrowing from octopus eye anatomy.

Perhaps most disturbing of all is the baby head poking out of the sculpture’s marsupial pouch. Roberts says marsupial pregnancy would be far easier on the human body and more convenient for parents on the go.

“This could be a human fit for the future,” Roberts says at the end of a trailer for her BBC documentary.

[h/t Motherboard]

Employees at Antarctica's McMurdo Station Are Throwing a Party for Pride Month

Employees at Antarctica's McMurdo Station are gearing up to celebrate Pride month in one of the world's harshest environments. On Saturday, June 9, the station will host what Hannah Valian, who deals with the center's recycling efforts, calls "one of the larger parties ever thrown" at the station.

McMurdo Station is an Antarctic research facility owned and operated by the United States. The station is more sparsely populated during Antarctica's colder autumn and winter seasons (which run from March to September), but employees tell us there's still a decent-sized LGBTQ scene to celebrate this June.

About 10 of the 133 people currently at McMurdo identify as LGBTQ, says Rachel Bowens-Rubin, a station laboratory assistant. Valian said the idea for a Pride celebration came up in May at one of the station's regular LGBTQ socials.

"Everyone got really excited about it," she tells Mental Floss via email. "So we ran with it."

Ten individuals are wearing coats while holding a rainbow-colored Pride flag. They are standing in snow with mountains in the distance.
"I hope when people see this photo they'll be reminded that LGBTQ people aren't limited to a place, a culture, or a climate," McMurdo's Evan Townsend tells Mental Floss. "We are important and valuable members of every community, even at the bottom of the world."
Courtesy of Shawn Waldron

Despite reports that this is the continent's first Pride party, none of the event's organizers are convinced this is the first Pride celebration Antarctica has seen. Sous chef Zach Morgan tells us he's been attending LGBTQ socials at McMurdo since 2009.

"The notion is certainly not new here," he says.

To Evan Townsend, a steward at the station, this weekend's Pride event is less a milestone and more a reflection of the history of queer acceptance in Antarctica.

"If anything," Townsend says, "recognition belongs to those who came to Antarctica as open members of the LGBTQ community during much less welcoming times in the recent past."

This week, though, McMurdo's employees only had positive things to say about the station's acceptance of LGBTQ people.

"I have always felt like a valued member of the community here," Morgan tells us in an email. "Most people I've met here have been open and supportive. I've never felt the need to hide myself here, and that's one of the reasons I love working here."

Saturday's celebration will feature a dance floor, photo booth, lip sync battles, live music, and a short skit explaining the history of Pride, Valian says.

"At the very least, I hope the attention our Pride celebration has garnered has inspired someone to go out and explore the world, even if they might feel different or afraid they might not fit in," Morgan says. "'Cause even on the most inhospitable place on Earth, there's still people who will love and respect you no matter who you are."


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