Faking it – the science of pretend orgasms

One of the greatest insecurities many men have is that their lady might not be as pleased in the bedroom as she actually seems. In essence – she might be faking it. It is the women, however, who are the insecure ones , as new research shows faked orgasms are much more likely to occur when the women is afraid her partner might leave her.   Over 50% of women report having faked an orgasm at least once in their life, usually to satisfy their partner. Why should a pretend orgasm be pleasing for the man? The current belief about the female orgasm is that it evolved as a way for women to separate the men from the boys. Men with good genes – who were more attractive in other words – give more orgasms. Muscle contractions that take place during the orgasm help move sperm around to where it can more easily fertilise the waiting egg. This idea has become delightfully known as  the …

Dinosaurs in bed – the cigarette after

In my last post, I wrote about the biomechanical issue surrounding sexual activity amongst the saurpod dinosaurs (the really big, long necked ones) and those with spiny backs. In today’s post, I’s like to consider some of the solutions which have been offered. Of those who have considered the problem, as we have seen, many initially suggested that they did it doggie-style, but copulating in this position, as we saw last time presents all manner of biomechanical and hydraulic problems. Some animals, particularly birds, do not engage in penetrative sex, but rather perform what is anthropomorphically known as a cloacal kiss: that is to say, no penis is, strictly speaking, necessary, and the sperm is exchanged during a brief period at the climax – as it were – of the mating ritual. The big problem here is trying to work out how Mr. Dino manage to get his cloaca anywhere near that of Mrs. Dino, since they both had great big fat and rather stiff tails? It has even been suggested …

The Biology Of Bigotry

The House of Commons may have passed draft legislation, but the UK debate surrounding gay marriage continues to rumble on. So why do some people persist in defending opinions that promote the segregation of certain social sectors? Of course, the environment an individual is exposed to, particularly during the early years, is bound to leave a cultural and memetic imprint that will determine how they view certain subjects in later life. But is there a deeper reason, a more intrinsic evolutionary or biological factor to determine why those who are different are often treated with such mistrust? Quite simply, are people pre-programmed to be bigots? Well it seems that the answer is, at least in part, yes. When examined logically there are actually plenty of evolutionarily acceptable reasons for the prevalence of bigotry, or, as it is termed in scientific circles, ‘in-group favoritism’. Psychologist Catherine Cotrell suggests that group living offered ancestral man numerous selective advantages, including an increased ease …

Australia’s Moo-st Wanted

A guilty TV pleasure of mine, much to my housemates’ dismay, are those documentaries focussing on the exciting* world of border security and customs control. Border Security: Australia’s Front Line, Passport Patrol – you name it, give me a Sunday afternoon and I’ll watch hour after hour of disgruntled international travellers being separated from their dried meat delicacies and Kiwis climbing into the hulls of luxury yachts to seek out illegal immigrants hiding below deck. However, wild plants and animals tend to roam much more freely between destinations rather than spending their time queuing at airports. That’s why the DAISIE database exists. Set up to prevent the invasion of alien species, it aims to limit the damage caused to native fauna by invading species. These unwanted immigrants have the ability to displace species from their natural environment, steal their food and disrupt entire ecosystems. DAISIE – Delivering Alien Invasive Species In Europe – was funded by the sixth framework programme …

A defence of the RI

In such times of economic instability and government cutbacks, the sad news of institutions having to close due to funding problems is becoming a more harsh reality.  Along with many other science enthusiasts and professionals alike, I was dismayed recently to hear of the possibility that the Royal Institution (RI), the place where “science lives”, may be forced to close its doors for good. Subsequently, I was a little taken aback by an editorial response to the news – from Nature, no less. It’s certainly a thought-provoking read. The author of this editorial does make a good point: science, and how we communicate about it, is evolving. With new technologies and widespread internet access providing more exciting opportunities to educate and inform than ever before, arguing that fact is futile. Additionally, with many global issues that we face, including over-population, climate change and pollution, effective science communication has arguably never been more important. However, I firmly believe that increasingly widespread …

Dinosaurs in bed – foreplay

What do dinosaurs getting it on have to do with engineering one might well ask? The answer is: surprisingly, rather a lot actually. In fact, all structures, including living things, are subject to engineering principles. Like all structures, animals too are to a large extent optimized for the stresses and strains of their daily lives, and surprisingly, to a certain extent, because they are living things, their structures can adapt to changing conditions. This is why astronauts, once they get into the microgravity of space for example, start losing bone and muscle mass as their bodies adjust to the changed demands placed upon their bodies by their new gravitational regime. Of course, there are tolerances built in, and overall the bodies and skeletal structures of animals are extremely well adapted to deal with the physical stresses of the environment they evolved to live in. In a way, this is why when engaged in normal physical activity like running and jumping, …

Poor old Pluto

Two things happened in 1930 (well, ok, more than two things to be precise): Disney gave Mickey Mouse a big floppy, friendly puppy-friend; and a young astronomer, Clyde W. Tombaugh, 22 years old, and working at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff Arizona, assigned to a meticulous task, after much arduous work, identified a new planet. Neither had a name at first. A few months after Tombaugh discovered it, an 11 year old British school girl (Venetia Burney), with an interest in classical mythology, suggested the name Pluto for it because the Roman god Pluto could disappear at will, and was thus as elusive as his namesake planet which had proved so hard to find; I’m not sure when and how Mickey’s dog acquired its name. It was all so simple then, any large body orbiting the Sun was a planet, and there were 8 of them until Pluto came along. New discoveries since however, seem to have rewritten the rules …

A new spin on computing

Spin, as anyone who has ever heard Alistair Campbell speak, is a tricky thing to figure out. Quantum spin – a property many subatomic particles have – is equally confounding, but, if understood, could lead to a powerful new breed of computer technology called spintronics. Despite its name, quantum spin does not actually refer to a rotating ball such as the Earth. “The electron is not physically spinning around but it has a magnetic north pole and a magnetic south pole,” says Professor Philippe Jacquod, a researcher in spintronics at the University of Arizona. “Its spin depends on which pole is pointing up. It can point in either of two directions which we usually term up and down.” This property has aroused the attentions of computer engineers who recognise the similarity with traditional electronics, which use either the presence or absence of an electrical charge to represent binary data. Magnetic spin, with its similarly dual character could, if harnessed, allow …

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