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Weekly Digest: Sperm Counts Down 50% in 50 Years
Welcome to my weekly digest for June 30, 2023, with the best articles from around the web and a roundup of my recent writings and appearances.
Falling Sperm Counts
The Financial Times ran a big story last weekend about a scientist who argues that endocrine disrupting chemicals are responsible for a large drop in sperm counts.
Since the late 1930s, sperm counts around the world appear to have dropped significantly. While the decline was initially observed in western countries, there is evidence of the same phenomenon in the developing world, and it seems to be accelerating. Swan, a Berkeley-trained statistician-turned-epidemiologist, believes she knows why.
For more than two decades she has devoted her life to studying the effects of “endocrine disrupting” chemicals (EDCs), which can interfere with the body’s natural hormones. These include pesticides, bisphenols, which harden plastic so it can be used in food storage containers and baby bottles, and phthalates, which soften plastic for use in packaging and products such as garden hoses. In recent years, traces of EDCs have been found in breast milk, placental tissue, urine, blood and seminal fluid.
Then Swan got to the “ass-ball connector”. A slang term for ano-genital distance (AGD), the span from the anus to the base of the penis, it is “also known as ‘the taint’, ‘the gooch’ and ‘the grundle’”, she told the crowd in Copenhagen. She enunciated the words with an innocence that stripped them of prurience. The audience listened intently as she described one of her pivotal discoveries: that AGD can act as a predictor of a man’s ability, years later, to conceive a child. It has provided evidence for her thesis that inadvertent exposure to EDCs in utero can inflict harm on a developing foetus.
In Missouri, she set out to examine whether sperm quality varied in different environments. For her “Study for Future Families”, she enrolled expectant parents in four US locations, while Danish colleagues selected another four in Europe. Male participants in a semi-rural Missouri area were found to have half as many moving sperm as those in the urban centres. (Poor sperm motility is a known factor in male infertility.) Hypothesising that some aspect of modern agriculture, particularly pesticides, might be affecting semen quality, Swan launched a pilot study, sending the Missouri men’s urine samples to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The participants with poor semen quality were found to have significantly higher levels of eight pesticides compared to their counterparts in urban Minneapolis, whose semen quality was above average.
Determining whether a short AGD was a predictor of later fertility problems meant leaping forward in time to forecast how men would be affected in adulthood. In 2009, while working for the University of Rochester, Swan launched the Rochester Young Men’s Study, involving 126 volunteers aged 18-22. It provided the missing link to show that the shorter the AGD, the lower the sperm count. (College students were paid a small fee to undergo the intrusive measurements, said Swan, who recalled one young man telling her: “I’ll do anything for $75.”) The research has been backed up by others. Around the same time, Michael Eisenberg, professor of urology at Stanford University School of Medicine, undertook a number of studies involving men in their thirties and forties, and similarly found an association between a shorter AGD and infertility.
The FT has a very hard paywall, hence the generous excerpts, but you can try clicking through to read the whole thing.
Best of the Web
Rob Henderson: On Social Status and Differences in Desire and Attainment - This article provides a very nice primer on a few key subjects in psychology, including IQ, the “big five” personality traits, and the “dark triad” traits of psychopathy, narcissism, and Machiavellianism. Very much worth a read if you aren’t already familiar with them.
NYT: Emily Morse Wants You to Think Seriously About an Open Relationship - The NYT has been pushing polyamory and non-monogamy hard for multiple years now.
First Things: Conservatives Don’t Get the Porn Crisis
American Mind: Inked Nation - 38% of 18-29yos have a tattoo and women account for 59% of tattoos in the US.
Although I am not exactly a Kim Kardashian fan, she deserves a great deal credit for her refusal to be tattooed, and her explanation should be drilled into the heads of all young people—“You wouldn’t put a bumper sticker on a Bentley.”
WSJ: Magic Mushrooms. LSD. Ketamine. The Drugs That Power Silicon Valley - Silicon Valley culture is degeneracy culture.
Ryan Burge: Religion Has Become a Luxury Good - “The most likely to be non-religious? Those who didn’t finish high school. As education increases, so does religious affiliation. The group with the highest level of religious affiliation are those with a master’s degree.” This is contrary to what most people seem to believe. Here’s one of Burge’s charts.
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New Content and Media Mentions
My podcast this week is on how conservatives prefer to have proxies speak on their behalf.
Paid subscribers can read the transcript.
New this week:
My latest column in Governing magazine is about why office employment remains critical to the future of downtowns.
Weaponizing Virtue Against Young Men (paid only) - Young men are encouraged to adopt an ethos of service and self-sacrifice, but these noble behaviors are often exploited. Some things should not be served or sacrificed for.
Creating a New Elite - Answering a question posed by Ross Douthat in response to Patrick Deneen’s new book.