I've decided to inject some popular science into the blog mix. I'll try to choose subjects that are of general interest and not too specialised. Feedback will help me to get the balance right.
What's up with Males?
There is something of a spate of learned and media articles both sides of the Atlantic on the suggested relationship between violent crime, mainly committed by young males, and levels of lead in petrol. More particularly have crime levels fallen because tetraethyl lead has been removed from petrol and hence the environment or is this merely an incidental association?
The arguments for a positive correlation are persuasive and published in peer reviewed journals. These correlate levels of lead in petrol (or air) with a reduction in violent crime (murder, manslaughter and burglary), allowing for a time lag of between 18 and 24 years between exposure and effect. The work has been extended internationally and holds true for most so called advanced nations. Previous work had already shown a correlation between lead exposure and lower IQ in children and it is well understood that lead can affect the nervous system as a neurotoxin.
This environmental explanation for the reduction in crime rates casts doubt on the claims of politicians (notably New York Mayor, Rudi Giuliani) that crime reduction is a direct result of their policies. In the same way we need to take with a pinch of salt, police claims that reducing their budgets will lead to more crime. So be sceptical of vested interests in the crime debate.
What other explanations are possible for an apparent decline in male aggression? Many other studies point to an attack on the essential features of maleness. In a major study, sperm count, a key indicator of male fertility, has been shown to have fallen by one third between 1989 and 2005, a very dramatic decline. In the same period testosterone levels have also fallen. Testosterone is the most important male hormone, high levels of which define the aggressive so called alpha-male, a frequent inhabitant of romantic novels but possibly an endangered species. Many different explanations are cited, both lifestyle degradation leading to obesity, diabetes etc and more insidious effects from chemicals called endocrine disrupters which have the potential to feminise males.The most apocalyptic prediction comes from bio geneticist Professor Bryan Sykes, who predicts in his book, Adam's Curse, that human males will disappear completely in the next 200,000 years, a mere evolutionary blink. This results from the deterioration in the male sex defining Y-Chromosome, which is passed on theoretically unchanged from father to son. However minor errors of transcription are accumulating at such a rate as to make the chromosome non-functional at some point in the future. No doubt science will find a way of keeping the species going, but at that point all romantic novelists will be writing historical romances!
Alan Calder is the author of two novels.
The Glorious Twelfth published by Museitup
The Stuart Agenda published by Willowmoon