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Are Pubic Lice Really Going Extinct?

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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. 

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Animals
Watch a Rogue Pet Dog Interrupt a Russian News Anchor on Air
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Last week, a Russian news broadcast briefly went to the dogs after its host was startled by a surprise co-anchor: a friendly black canine that wandered on set, announced its presence with a loud bark, and climbed onto her desk.

 

As TODAY reports, Mir24 TV anchor Ilona Linarte went off script for a few minutes, telling viewers "I've got a dog here. What is this dog doing in the studio?" After the initial shock wore off, she gave her furry guest a tepid welcome, patting its head as she gently pushed it off the desk. ("I actually prefer cats,'' Linarte remarked. "I'm a cat lady.")

Linarte’s query was answered when the TV station announced that the dog had accompanied another show’s guest on set, and somehow got loose. That said, rogue animals have a proud tradition of crashing live news broadcasts around the world, so we’re assuming this won’t be the last time a news anchor is upstaged by an adorable guest star (some of which have better hair than them).

[h/t TODAY]

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Falcon Heavy and Dragon. Image credit: SpaceX via Wikimedia Commons // CC0 1.0
SpaceX Is Sending Two Private Citizens Around the Moon
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Falcon Heavy and Dragon. Image credit: SpaceX via Wikimedia Commons // CC0 1.0

Two members of the public are set to take an historic trip around the Moon, according to an announcement from SpaceX CEO Elon Musk. As The Verge reports, the anonymous private citizens have already placed substantial deposits on the commercial space flight.

The private spacecraft company SpaceX revealed on Monday that the Falcon Heavy rocket will be launching with its Crew Dragon spacecraft in late 2018. The mission will consist of a circumnavigation of the Moon, passing over the body’s surface before traveling farther into space and returning to Earth. In total, the trip will cover 300,000 to 400,000 miles and take a week to complete.

A noteworthy part of the plan is the human cargo that will be on board. Instead of professional astronauts, the craft will carry two paying customers into space. The passengers, who’ve yet to be named, will both need to pass several fitness tests before they're permitted to make the journey. According to The Verge, Musk said the customers are “very serious” and that the cost of the trip is “comparable” to that of a crewed mission to the International Space Station. The goal for SpaceX is to eventually send one or two commercial flights into space each year, which could account for 10 to 20 percent of the company’s earnings.

[h/t The Verge]

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