Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Guest Post: Why did humans evolve big penises but small testicles?

by Mark Maslin, UCL

Humans have a much longer and wider penis than the other great apes. Even the largest of gorillas, more than twice as heavy as a human, will have a penis just two and half inches long when erect.

However our testicles are rather small. A chimpanzee’s testes weigh more than a third of its brain while ours weigh in at less than 3%. The relative size of our penis and testes is all down to our mating strategies, and can provide some surprising insights into early human culture.

Primates exhibit all sorts of mating behaviour, including monogamous, polygynous – where males have multiple mates – and multimale-multifemale. One indicator of which behaviour occurs in a species is the size difference between males and females. The greater this sexual dimorphism, the more likely the mating is either polygynous or multi-male to multi-female. This can be shown by observing chimpanzees and gorillas, our closest living relatives.

Male chimpanzees are much larger than females, and they have a multi-male to multi-female mating system. Essentially, male chimps have sex all the time with any female and with any excuse. A female therefore may contain sperm from multiple partners at any one time, which puts the sperm itself – and not just the animals that produce it – into direct competition. For this reason, chimpanzees have evolved huge testicles in order to produce massive amounts of sperm, multiple times a day.

Male gorilla are also much larger than females, but they have a polygynous or harem-style mating system where many females live with a single male. With little or no competition actually inside the uterus, gorillas have had no need for a testicular arms race to facilitate the production of more and more sperm. Their testes, therefore, are relatively small. This is similar to modern humans, whose testes are also of very modest size and produce a relatively small amount of sperm. In fact human sperm count reduces by more than 80% if men ejaculate more than about two times a day.

chimpanzee penis genitalia

Chimps have huge testicles for their size.
Steffen Foerster / shutterstock

The human penis is large when compared with those of our closest relatives: chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans. However, primatologist Alan Dixson in his wonderfully detailed book, Primate Sexuality, suggests that if we look at all primates, including monkeys, this is just wishful thinking.

Comparative measurements show the human penis is not exceptionally long. The Hamadryas baboon, for instance, a native of the Horn of Africa, has an erect penis that is five and half inches long – slightly shorter than an average human male, but they weigh only a third of our weight.

penis size genitalia primates monkeys chimps gorillas

Some of the complex penises found in multi-male to multi-female mating primates such as chimpanzees (h), brown lemurs (a) or macaques (d, e, f).
Alan F. Dixson, Primate Sexuality

The human penis is in fact extremely dull – it does not have lumps, ridges, flanges, kinks or any other exciting feature that other primates have. In primates, this lack of penis complexity is usually found in monogamous species.

Monogamy mystery

This observation clashes with the fact that men are significantly larger than women. This suggests our evolutionary background involved a significant degree of polygynous, rather than exclusively monogamous, mating. This is supported by anthropological data showing that most modern human populations engage in polygynous marriage. Anthropologists Clellan Ford and Frank Beach in their book Patterns of Sexual Behaviour suggested that 84% of the 185 human cultures they had data on engaged in polygyny.

penis shape size matters dick cock primate pee-pee

Primates with simpler penises tend to be monogamous like cotton top tamarins (a) or polygynous like gorillas (g).
Alan F. Dixson, Primate Sexuality

However, even in these societies most people remain monogamous. Polygynous marriages are usually a privilege reserved only for high status or wealthy men. It is worth noting that hunter-gathers around the world practice only monogamy or serial-monogamy which suggests that our ancestors may have used this mating system.

At first sight, however, it would seem sensible for males to reproduce with as many females as possible. Human monogamy has long puzzled anthropologists, and lots of effort has gone in to working out what keeps males hanging around.

Three main theories have been put forward. First is the need for long-term parental care and teaching, as our children take a long time to mature. Second, males need to guard their female from other males. Third, our children are vulnerable for a long time and infanticide could be a risk from other males. So to ensure that children are able to reach maturity the male is likely to stay to protect them, both socially and physically. This may be why males have maintained their larger relative size.

baboon sexuality penis genitals

Hamadryas baboons have unusually long penises.
المُصوّر: مُعتز توفيق إغباريّة, CC BY-SA

If we view the evolution of monogamy mating systems in humans through the lens of human society it is clear that it takes a huge amount of social effort to maintain and protect more than one mate at a time. It is only when males have access to additional resources and power that they can protect multiple females, usually by ensuring other males protect them. So monogamy seems to be an adaptation to protect one’s mate and children from other males. This monogamy is reinforced by the high social cost and stress of attempting to do this for multiple partners, and it has become supported by cultural norms.

So when living in complex human societies the largest and most important sexual organ is the brain. Somewhere in our evolutionary past how smart and social we are became the major control on our access to sexual partners – not how big or fancy a male’s penis is.

The Conversation

Mark Maslin, Professor of Palaeoclimatology, UCL

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

From the Archives: Belafonte criticizes Barack Obama on civil liberties in Charlottesville

Publisher's note: This article was originally published on Examiner.com on January 24, 2012. The Examiner.com publishing platform was discontinued July 1, 2016, and its web site went dark on or about July 10, 2016. I am republishing this piece in an effort to preserve it and all my other contributions to Examiner.com since April 6, 2010. It is reposted here without most of the internal links that were in the original.

Belafonte criticizes Barack Obama on civil liberties in Charlottesville

Harry Belafonte in Charlottesville - January 2012
Harry Belafonte – actor, author, singer, and political activist – appeared in Charlottesville on January 24 at a screening of his autobiographical film, Sing Your Song, as part of a community celebration of the life of Martin Luther King, Jr., who was a close friend and colleague of Belafonte’s in the civil rights movement of the early 1960s.

In a discussion led by University of Virginia history professor Julian Bond at the historic Paramount Theatre, Belafonte reflected on his life and career, offered his thoughts on politics, culture, education, and other topics, and criticized President Barack Obama’s record on protecting civil liberties.

‘Critical of the president’

Replying to a question posed by a member of the audience, Belafonte prefaced his remarks by promising that he would vote for Barack Obama’s re-election and would campaign for him this year.

“But recent utterings,” he cautioned with a smile, “have unsharpened my dance card to come to the White House for the next ball.”

Turning more serious, he added, “I’ve been critical of the president and I’ve let that go public.”

Referring to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which had been drafted by his friend, Eleanor Roosevelt, in the 1940s, Belafonte pointed out that the human rights record of any country “becomes the first litmus test of how we create policy in relationship to the country under examination.”

That litmus test, he suggested, has to be applied to the United States as well as any other country.

‘Patriotic treason’

Paraphrasing Theodore Roosevelt, Belafonte argued that “if a citizen finds himself at the crossroads of a moment when the people, who have been invested with the power to lead this nation, begin to betray the Constitution of this country and betray the citizens of this country, it is not only the right but the responsibility of any citizen and all citizens to raise their voice against this evil, and anyone who does not do that should be charged with patriotic treason.”

In that context, he said, Barack Obama had “laid out his mission, not with complete clarity” but with enough substance “for us to linger with hope.” Obama had promised, upon taking office, that he would end the wars – yet they continue.

In addition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Belafonte identified something else of concern.

“More important,” he said, are “the homeland security laws, which were written to such extremes that they defied imagination that anyone could have thought of those laws.”

That those laws made their way through Congress and were signed by the President, he said, “was an absolutely stunning experience for all of us, and certainly for some of us who saw it in the depth of its villainy.”

Looking out over the audience, Belafonte painted a darkly dramatic picture of the effect of laws like the USA PATRIOT Act and the recently passed National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), signed on December 31 by President Obama.

“Anyone who is sitting in this room tonight,” he said, “could walk out of that door and be whisked away by strangers, people who you’ve never met [and] don’t know, whose task it was to apprehend you and never tell you why you’re being apprehended, never tell you what you’re being charged with, never ever give you the right to make a phone call or get the benefit of a lawyer.”

‘Deeply wrong’

If someone is willing to surrender his rights, he said, or “willing to surrender all that is precious” under the framework of the Constitution, then “something’s wrong. Something is deeply wrong.”

Belafonte then explained the importance of the system of checks and balances found in the American constitutional system.

“The House watches the Senate, the Senate watches the House, both watch the Executive, the Executive watches the House and the Senate,” and the Supreme Court is “the final arbiter” for what becomes “the law of the land.”

When that system is out of balance, however, it needs “a leader who is made of such moral courage and strength to step into this frame and put himself on the line.”

By his tone of voice, Belafonte implied that Barack Obama lacks that courage and that strength.

“It is said by some,” the activist pointed out ruefully, “that Barack Obama’s second term as President will reveal all these mysteries [and] will reveal all these good deeds. He just needs to get the second term.”

Unfortunately, Belafonte added, “I’m not quite that optimistic. I’m not too sure that what we saw in the first term will not be” much different from “what we see in the second term.”

Even with that note of pessimism, he concluded, he is “infinitely more prone to devote all of my resources into his camp” than he would be willing to support any of the potential Republican candidates seeking to unseat Obama.

With that, Belafonte left the stage so he could autograph copies of his new book, My Song: A Memoir, for several dozen local fans.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Big Lie and How It Travels

After White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer audaciously lied, in his first news media briefing, about the attendance estimates at Friday's presidential inauguration, a friend on Facebook posted an analysis that has since gone viral on social media, particularly on Twitter.  For instance, Oscar-winning composer John Legend, Helen Hayes award-winning actor Will Gartshore, and Republican political consultant Ana Navarro all tweeted a screenshot of the mini-essay to their thousands of Twitter followers.

The provocative analysis has caused a stir -- a real conversation about facts, lies, and propaganda -- so, since the original author gave his permission to "copy and paste" his status as long as his name was removed and the originator remained anonymous, I'm offering it here to expand its reach. It deserves to be read, reposted, restated, and challenged.

White House tourists police propaganda Trump
The White House
If you are puzzled by the bizarre "press conference" put on by the White House press secretary this evening (angrily claiming that Trump's inauguration had the largest audience in history, accusing them of faking photos and lying about attendance), let me help explain it. This spectacle served three purposes:

1. Establishing a norm with the press: they will be told things that are obviously wrong and they will have no opportunity to ask questions. That way, they will be grateful if they get anything more at any press conference. This is the PR equivalent of "negging," the odious pick-up practice of a particular kind of horrible man (e.g., Donald Trump).

2. Increasing the separation between Trump's base (1/3 of the population) from everybody else (the remaining 2/3). By being told something that is obviously wrong—that there is no evidence for and all evidence against, that anybody with eyes can see is wrong—they are forced to pick whether they are going to believe Trump or their lying eyes. The gamble here—likely to pay off—is that they will believe Trump. This means that they will regard media outlets that report the truth as "fake news" (because otherwise they'd be forced to confront their cognitive dissonance.)

Capitol Washington tulips propaganda
U.S. Capitol
3. Creating a sense of uncertainty about whether facts are knowable, among a certain chunk of the population (which is a taking a page from the Kremlin, for whom this is their preferred disinformation tactic). A third of the population will say "clearly the White House is lying," a third will say "if Trump says it, it must be true," and the remaining third will say "gosh, I guess this is unknowable." The idea isn't to convince these people of untrue things, it's to fatigue them, so that they will stay out of the political process entirely, regarding the truth as just too difficult to determine.

This is laying important groundwork for the months ahead. If Trump's White House is willing to lie about something as obviously, unquestionably fake as this, just imagine what else they'll lie about. In particular, things that the public cannot possibly verify the truth of. It's gonna get real bad.

The point is, if the Trump administration and the President himself are willing to lie about such petty things as the number of people who were or were not on the National Mall on January 20, what will they do when they want to send American soldiers into battle in some far-off place? What will they do when the Bureau of Labor Statistics issues a monthly unemployment figures that is unflattering to the Administration? What will they do when the number of anti-Administration protesters far outnumbers the guests at the inauguration?

A final note: Doonesbury cartoonist Garry Trudeau proves himself amazingly adept at interpreting Donald Trump. His comic strip today, which had to have been drawn days before the inauguration, as the President in the White House challenging the news media's reports on the inauguration's attendance numbers. You can't make this stuff up.

Update: Russian chess champion and political dissident Garry Kasparov made a similar, and pithy, point on Twitter:

Friday, January 20, 2017

A Quick Transition: Inauguration 2017

This is what the White House web site landing page looked like at 11:59 a.m. on January 20, 2017:

Barack Obama WhiteHouse.gov Inauguration Day

And this is what it looked like at 12:01 p.m. on January 20, 2017:

Donald Trump Inauguration Day WhiteHouse.gov

Proof positive that Donald J. Trump is the 45th President of the United States.

Saturday, January 07, 2017

From the Archives: Justin Bieber, Gary Becker, and the future of marijuana prohibition

Publisher's note: This article was originally published on Examiner.com on January 7, 2013. The Examiner.com publishing platform was discontinued July 1, 2016, and its web site went dark on or about July 10, 2016. I am republishing this piece in an effort to preserve it and all my other contributions to Examiner.com since April 6, 2010. It is reposted here without most of the internal links that were in the original.

Justin Bieber, Gary Becker, and the future of marijuana prohibition

What do teen heartthrob Justin Bieber and a Nobel prize-winning economist have in common?

It turns out that both, in their own way, have made a strong argument in favor of ending the War on Drugs.

Bieber, the Canadian singer and actor, was allegedly caught on film smoking a blunt (marijuana in a cigar wrapper), as reported by celebrity gossip site TMZ. The incident occurred not long after Bieber was involved in a traumatic accident that resulted in the death of a paparazzo trying to photograph the teen idol in his white Ferrari on a Los Angeles street.

Soon after the photographs surfaced, Bieber tweeted to his fans: “everyday growing and learning. trying to be better. u get knocked down, u get up” – not an apology but a subtle acknowledgment that the allegations may have substance.

Losing the war

The same day that TMZ published the Bieber photos, Nobel laureate economist Gary Becker published an article in the Wall Street Journal asking, “Have We Lost the War on Drugs?

Becker and his co-author, University of Chicago economist Kevin Murphy, point out that the “paradox of the war on drugs is that the harder governments push the fight, the higher drug prices become to compensate for the greater risks. That leads to larger profits for traffickers who avoid being punished. This is why larger drug gangs often benefit from a tougher war on drugs, especially if the war mainly targets small-fry dealers and not the major drug gangs. Moreover, to the extent that a more aggressive war on drugs leads dealers to respond with higher levels of violence and corruption, an increase in enforcement can exacerbate the costs imposed on society.”

Becker and Murphy argue for, at the very least, decriminalizing now-illegal drugs, as Colorado and Washington state voters did with regard to marijuana in last November's election.

“Decriminalization of all drugs by the U.S. would be a major positive step away from the war on drugs,” the economists said in the Wall Street Journal.

“In recent years, states have begun to decriminalize marijuana, one of the least addictive and less damaging drugs. Marijuana is now decriminalized in some form in about 20 states, and it is de facto decriminalized in some others as well. If decriminalization of marijuana proves successful, the next step would be to decriminalize other drugs, perhaps starting with amphetamines. Gradually, this might lead to the full decriminalization of all drugs.”

Saving money, raising revenue

Becker and Murphy are not the first notable economists to argue for an end to the drug war on the grounds that it is economically indefensible.

In 2005, a statement signed by 500 economists, including Nobel laureate Milton Friedman and several from Virginia's George Mason University, argued that ending marijuana prohibition “would save $7.7 billion per year in state and federal expenditures on prohibition enforcement and produce tax revenues of at least $2.4 billion annually if marijuana were taxed like most consumer goods. If, however, marijuana were taxed similarly to alcohol or tobacco, it might generate as much as $6.2 billion annually.”

The absence of a public outcry over Justin Bieber's alleged pot smoking, along with the Colorado and Washington initiatives and the adoption of laws permitting the medicinal use of marijuana in 18 states, suggest that the American people are more open to a rational discussion about ending the drug war. Bieber's non-apology on Twitter itself suggests that he views the incident as uncontroversial and unworthy of further attention.

While Gary Becker and other economists make erudite and logically rigorous arguments against drug prohibition, Bieber's near-silence is eloquent in its own way and equally compelling.

Politicians do not seem to be following expert opinion or public sentiment, however. While two years ago, then-Delegate Harvey Morgan (R-Gloucester) introduced legislation with the effect of decriminalizing marijuana possession, this year the emphasis in the Virginia General Assembly seems to be toward extending the reach of drug laws. Delegate Bill Carrico (R-Grayson County), for instance, has submitted a bill that would require welfare recipients to be tested for cannabis and other drugs. Nobody in Richmond seems to have taken on Delegate Morgan's mantle in the wake of his retirement.

Eventually, as Becker and similar thinkers point out, the law will catch up to public opinion.