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Silent Sperm

Hal Harris's picture
Wed, 01/03/1996 - 02:00 -- Hal Harris

In the novel "The Children of Men" by P. D. James, set in the year 2021, mankind is faced with extinction due to the worldwide sterility of human males. Is there a basis for fear that this is actually happening? Or is the reported decline in sperm counts, over the past half-century, even a fact? Given that most people think that overpopulation remains mankind's biggest challenge, the idea that limited fertility could also be a threat is contrarianism at its best. This very provocative article appealed to me as a teacher of science because it is packed with questions of science, not because they are resolved. First of all, how do we know that sperm counts have declined? If they have, does it make any difference since, ultimately, only one sperm is required for insemination? Are men's testes actually getting smaller, and what could possibly account for these apparently universal phenomena? For students old enough to discuss these questions without smirking (too much), "Silent Sperm" provides superb grist for the STS (Science-Technology-Society) mill. I found it to exhibit an anti-chemical bias, but that seems to be inevitable these days. Read it, even if just to find out what an orchidometer is, and about "The Mystery of the Finnish Testicles".

Pick Attribution: 

L:awrence Wright

Publication Date: 
Monday, January 15, 1996
Price: 
$4.50