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11/05/2004 Archived Entry: "Market interference, color perception, and the "Ig Noble Prizes""

Gordon P returns after an absence due in part to ill health, with a mixed bag of items from The Knowledge Problem and various other sources...

In "One Flu Over The Cukoo's Nest," Mike Giberson writes on the bizarre logical inversion being committed by the people who are blaming the current government-caused shortage of Flu vaccine on a "Failure of the Market." Hmmm... Let's see: Billary Clinton passes an Executive Order that requires vaccine manufacturers to make Flu vaccine at barely more than cost, or possibly even a net loss, regulates its production and sale up the wazoo, and requires that any vaccine produced by new methods designed to speed up production must be tested as if they were a completely new drug (which will take about ten years and will cost roughly a quarter BILLION dollars!) --- and now the media mavens are surprised that there is a shortage? (Now, how exactly is the predictable result of all this government interference a "Failure of the Market," again ???)

In "First Steel, Now Clothing?", Lynne Kiesling writes on the Bush Admin's willingness to ignore conservatism's "free market" rhetoric in order to cater to special interests such as steel production and the Textile Unions by last month "agreeing to consider" imposing limits on cotton textiles imported from China. She speculates that this was a blatant attempt to "buy votes" from textile workers in "swing states," and that it may be overwhelmed by the backlash from textile importers and free-trade supporters, many of whom "are already extremely skeptical of the Bush administration"...

Lynne also writes "Will Nanotech Change Our Energy Future?", which summarizes an article from Reason magazine discussing a recent Foresight Institute Conference on nanotechnology, with links to several other articles relating nanotech to energy production.

On a totally unrelated matter, the news story "Women see scarlet, men see red" discusses a recently published paper which finds that the gene for one of the pigments in the human retina, which helps the the eye detect the color "red," is the most genetically diverse gene so far found in the human genome (it exhibits three times more population variation than the next most variable gene so far found). Furthermore, this gene happens to be located on the "X" chromosome, which means that women get two copies of this gene, whereas men get only one --- meaning that a women's eyes are probably senstive to two different bands of wavelengths in the "red" portion of the spectrum, whereas a man's eyes are only sensitive to a single band of wavelengths in this part of the spectrum. This suggests that women may be able to perceive a greater range of "reddish" colors than men, as well as to distinguish between subtle shades of red that a man could not.

The authors speculate that this may be an evolutionary holdover from the specialization of roles in ancient human societies, with men primarily working as hunters, and women primarily working as food-gatherers. An enhanced range of color-perception might have been useful in distinguishing the ripeness of foods, or between edible and toxic foods.

This is not by any means to say that enhanced female color-vision implies that female vision is "superior" to male vision: It has been known for some time that Red/Green "color-blindness" is a predominantly male trait, and that, far from being a "handicap" to ancient man, Red/Green "color-blindness" confers on hunters and soldiers an enhanced ability to pick out targets against confusing backgrounds, and to see through camouflage. Furthermore, some forms of "color-blindness" also confer enhanced night-vision, which is also useful for a hunter. Hence, the sex-linked differences in male and female color-perception may represent an important clue as to how the human visual cortex and the human genome evolved, as well as to the "division of labor" within ancient human societies.

Finally, on a humorous note, the 14th Annual "Ig Nobel Prizes" to celebrate "Scientific achievments which either could not or should not be reproduced" were awarded last week on Thursday 2004-Sep-30, at "Hahvud" (Harvard) University. Details have not yet been published (they will appear in the 2004-Nov/Dec issue of the Annals of Improbable Research), but Popular Science magazine reports that prizes were awarded for comb-over techniques (Engineering), the invention of karaoke (Peace), and the discovery that herring can communicate by farting (Biology) --- hence the "could not or should not be reproduced"... :-T

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