Recent Science Matters

What fetal tissue actually looks like; how humans inbreed dogs to the point of their inability to survive in the wild; the discovery of the enormous universe and who did and didn’t get credit.

NY Times, Erika Bliss, Joan Fleischman, and Michele Gomez, 22 Jan 2023: Early Abortion Looks Nothing Like What You’ve Been Told

Primary care clinicians like us who provide early abortions in their practices have long known that the pregnancy tissue we remove does not look like what most people expect. […] So much of the imagery that people see about abortion comes from abortion opponents who have spent decades spreading misleading fetal imagery to further their cause.


Dr. Jeffrey Levine is a professor of family medicine and director of reproductive and gender health programs at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. He’s been teaching abortion care to fellows, residents and medical students for nearly two decades.

“When we examine the tissue after a procedure, everyone is consistently surprised. They expect to see an embryo, fetus or at least some body parts,” he told us, describing the students’ experience as “underwhelmed.”

The photo at the top is “pregnancy tissue after an abortion at seven weeks.”

The key point here is that abortion opponents mislead by implying that every abortion is about an embryo, no matter how young, as a little tiny person.


Salon, Matthew Rozsa, 22 Jan 2023: Thanks to inbreeding, bulldogs and pugs may not exist much longer, experts say, subtitled “‘The breed couldn’t continue this way for another century. Its members wouldn’t survive,’ one expert told Salon”

The perils of inbreeding for the sake of features people think are cute.

Refering to the subtitle above,

Kovac echoed that view, writing to Salon that “they’re already at a point where they would be unable to sustain themselves in the wild and can only exist because of the support humans give. If the selective breeding continues to get even more extreme features, I predict shorter and shorter lifespans and more miscarriages due to genetic problems.”

Mader pointed out that, regardless of his own economic interest, he likewise could not anticipate a bright future for brachycephalic breeds.

“I hate to say it from a veterinarian’s perspective — we love them because they’re like hitting the lotto, you know — but the poor animals suffer from the day they’re born,” Mader explained. “They’re never normal. And even if you go in surgically and fix them, they’re never normal. They’re just fixing a broken dog.”

If there is any good news for pet lovers who wants all dogs to be happy, it is that these matters are primarily shaped by economic considerations. As such, those interested in breeding healthier canines can vote with their dollars and avoid buying dogs who were deliberately bred through incest, in order to discourage breeders who practice inbreeding.


Vox, Brian Resnick, Byrd Pinkerton, and Amanda Northrop, 19 Jan 2023: How scientists discovered the universe is really freaking huge, subtitled “Edwin Hubble’s name is everywhere in astronomy. Henrietta Leavitt’s should be too.”

Basic science history lesson about how our understanding of the universe has hugely expanded over the past 120 years, since we perceived the idea of the Milky Way and thought that’s all there was. Then came a series of discoveries, beginning with the notion of parallax to calculate the distance to the nearer stars.

The theme here though is that, as was true until recent decades, women participating in research got short shrift. In this case one Henrietta Leavitt — a “computer” from the days when that word meant a woman who did calculations by hand, in service of male scientists — who studied Cepheid variables and so deduced that their relative brightness was directly correlated to their distance from Earth. Edwin Hubble picked up on the idea to show that the Andromeda nebula (now understood to be a galaxy) was actually far outside the then-understood boundaries of the Milky Way.

Hubble got all the credit, Leavitt none, until recently, as these stories are being uncovered. (The other famous example is of Rosalind Franklin, who worked closely with Francis Crick and James Watson, and also Maurice Wilkins, to discover the structure of DNA, for which only Watson and Crick are widely remembered.)

Here’s the graphic with this Vox article:

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