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Sperm Count Dropping in Western World (scientificamerican.com)
232 points by infodroid on July 26, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 269 comments

My belief is that the primary cause is environmental chemicals, specifically Phthalates and BPA (and related chemicals). The science on this is fairly conclusive. We can show that these chemicals bind to estrogen receptors, that they're present in everyone's body, and that if you're acutely exposed to a higher dose, your testosterone goes down. In my opinion, these chemicals are having social and cultural effects beyond sperm counts. As individuals, there are some things you can do, but some studies have shown that about the best you can do with personal actions is a 50% reduction. The most effective things are to try not to handle store receipts on thermal paper, and wash your hands after you do, and avoid anything that has been microwaved in plastic. Generally reducing heavily processed and fast food is next, because you can't know about things like ingredients flowing through PVC tubing that leaches Phthalates.

Ultimately we are in dire need of regulation of these substances, especially where there is food contact. I'm not very optimistic under trump. Someone clever though might be able to come up with a campaign about chemicals stealing your manhood that might resonate with conservative voters.

The linkage between consumption of these chemicals, and their exact nature of harm, is not well established- it's not "fairly conclusive" at all. What we have is a bunch of in vitro and in vivo studies, but not actual epidemiological evidence of the quality required to make rational policy decisions.

If you believe otherwise, I'm happy to ready any high quality studies you can find. Pleaes don't just cherry pick a few studies, be careful in doing your review.

The burden of proof should obviously be reversed! Complex, synthetic chemicals in our water, food, packaging, or furniture should be assumed harmful and disallowed until it there is sufficient evidence that they are safe. Escalating trials basically. This is what we do for pharmaceutical drugs that we ingest or contact, why don't take this approach with other man-made chemicals we are adding to our immediate ecosystem and bodies.

the history of flame retardants is instructive https://ww2.kqed.org/science/2013/11/21/its-official-toxic-f... if industry/government had been required to prove these things safe beforehand we would have never exposed the population them in the first place.

Our diet is full of fruits and vegetables containing thousands of complex chemicals, indistinguishable from "synthetic" chemicals, that have entered our diet far too short a time ago to have had evolutionary impact.

If one wanted they could surely distill many chemicals in isolation from these naturally occurring fruits and vegetables that in concentration would have many concerning health effects. The fact that many don't worry about this is largely because this research program has not been attempted.

Point being, there is no reason to hold any of these chemicals to a standard higher than that of a strawberry - that is, we can give people a bunch of strawberries and say any negative effect is below some acceptable level. And, in fact, we have found many "natural" foods containing absurdly high levels of arsenic and other dangerous compounds, and that has affected their preparation for consumption. The scientific process has in this way even outperformed the naturalism heuristic.

> Point being, there is no reason to hold any of these chemicals to a standard higher than that of a strawberry - that is, we can give people a bunch of strawberries and say any negative effect is below some acceptable level. And, in fact, we have found many "natural" foods containing absurdly high levels of arsenic and other dangerous compounds, and that has affected their preparation for consumption. The scientific process has in this way even outperformed the naturalism heuristic.

That's incorrect. We've coevolved with many of the foods we eat. Things like strawberries and broccolli have been, more or less, with us for thousands of years. While it may be true that there are harmful components of those foods, we know that eating them is at least not making us worse off than we were. When introducing some new chemical, we really have no idea what its effects might be. And we have no, in principle, reason to assume those effects are benign. We've had a very very long time to adjust to the organic components of most foods.

"that have entered our diet far too short a time ago to have had evolutionary impact"

This is, I’ve found, a good way to start a dialogue with people about chemophobia.

If you ask someone “Which do you think is safer: artificial vanilla or vanilla extract?” they’ll often prefer the “natural” one. But vanilla extract contains exactly the same chemical (vanillin) in addition to hundreds of other compounds, many of which are known to be irritants, hepatotoxins, and carcinogens—in high enough doses.

Of course, it’s much harder to break people of the misconception that the provenance of a chemical (synthetic or natural) matters. There seems to be some kind of innate protective disgust reaction at work. For instance, I’ve had conversations with people who say they wouldn’t be able to bring themselves to drink a glass of water if they knew it was purified from sewage. By the same token, they will drink some water that’s been imbued with some healing power by a homeopath.

A better example might be Tang versus cold-pressed orange juice, or Wonder Bread versus Dave's Killer Bread. Tang won't kill you, but one is clearly better.

Vanilla is definitely a trick question that exploits a blindspot - tell people about the difference and then ask the question, that's the interesting discussion.

Also, to be fair to that homeopath... their axioms are flawed but disgust at purified sewage is self-consistent with their beliefs ("less is more" and all that). I'd probably refuse too, but on the basis of numerous studies showing sewage treatment doesn't adequately remove pharmaceutical waste.

I don’t think it’s terribly tricky, and as I said in another reply, it’s not about “nyah, I’m right and you’re wrong” but having a concrete example to branch out from. So I agree that giving the information up front would probably be better.

And there are definitely a lot of good examples to choose from—I’ve tended to go with vanilla because a lot of people are familiar with the fact that it comes in synthetic & extract forms, but aren’t clear on the difference, and may just as well prefer the synthetic because it’s cheaper or the extract because it tastes better to them.

>Of course, it’s much harder to break people of the misconception that the provenance of a chemical (synthetic or natural) matters.

If one uses contrived arguments like the one about vanilla extract, then I can see why.

Well…of course it’s contrived. Like I said, it’s a conversation starter to make people think more critically about what they mean by “natural”, “synthetic”, “safe”, and “dangerous” chemicals.

What I was getting at is that in my experience, people are generally pretty open to rational discussion about that, but not about the underlying visceral squeamishness and distrust.

> If you ask someone “Which do you think is safer: artificial vanilla or vanilla extract?” they’ll often prefer the “natural” one.

This feels like an accidental trick question :-)

For me personally, I know I'll prefer vanilla extract (or rather, actual vanilla shoots) simply because it tastes much better -- precisely because of the impurities. I know it isn't what you asked at all, but since the question is meant to uncover emotions: I'm having a hard time taking my emotional preference for natural vanilla aroma out of my reply.

It would be better to use an example where people don't have a strong preference for one of the choices for unrelated reasons. Unfortunately I can't think of an example right now.

So here's the deal. There are lots of people who don't understand enough about science to have a real opinion that spout off, but you also get people in the skeptic community that rail on about "chemophobia", when they know just enough to be smug. The reality is that there is a significant practical difference between natural and artificial substances. Specifically, organisms on earth have evolved to be able to tolerate substances commonly found in the natural environment. When we introduce new chemicals, organisms may be able to deal with them, or there may be negative effects. If I pick two random chemicals, one natural, and one artificial, and I'm forced to ingest one of them with no other information, I'm going to pick the natural one, because it's much more likely that ancestors of mine have seen them, and survived. Those organisms that didn't survive didn't get to become my ancestor.

Now of course this is just an indicator and not a rule, but it's a pretty good indicator if you've got nothing else to go on. If you told me that humans have been ingesting some particular chemical as food for millions of years, I'm going to feel fairly safe, whereas if you told me that some artificial chemical just passed FDA trials, I'm going to be much more skeptical. Many substances that have appeared even in full FDA drug trials to be benign had very negative consequences.

BPA is a perfect example. It has a very strong affinity for estrogen receptors. If BPA had been in the environment for millions of years, the estrogen receptor would have changed shape to not bind to BPA, but BPA is a new substance, so evolution hasn't had time to adapt to an environment with BPA in it.

Now, we get to how to rationally deal with all of this. We get a lot of benefit from artificial substances, but they can also cause harm. We have to have reasonable cost/benefit calculations. The FDA at least has something like a reasonable framework, where you go from phase I to II to III, and then postclinical surveillance, each step having a greater potential risk with more people under less supervision, and a greater potential reward, after we have data for a smaller group.

This sort of thing doesn't exist with industrial chemicals that aren't specifically designed to be ingested, and that's reasonable. If every industrial chemical had to go through FDA approval, we wouldn't have a modern world. However, even chemicals that aren't designed to be ingested do get ingested. For things like endocrine disruptors, even tiny quantities can have significant biological effects, and it's easy to ingest microgram quantities of any chemical we make millions of tons of per year. There should be a lot more scrutiny on chemicals that have endocrine effects, there should be a lot more scrutiny on chemicals that have contact with food or children are likely to put in their mouths, and there should be more scrutiny on chemicals that are produced in very large quantities. Chemicals like BPA and Phthalates hit all three.

The problem is that most of the people publicly involved in the debate are either the crazy hippie type that thinks everything should be banned, or the American Chemistry Council that thinks nothing should be restricted in any way. There is a large silent majority that wants reasonable regulation so that their boys don't have deformed penises.

A "good way to start a dialogue" is by starting with a trick question and likely putting the other person on the defensive?

…No? I wouldn’t consider it a trick question, since I’m not trying to “catch” them or anything. The answer doesn’t even really matter. If we’re talking about “chemicals”, I think it’s a reasonable example to bring up.

That is, it’s not about being right or wrong, but making people think more deeply about a topic that I care about.

Something I used to do that did make people defensive & dismissive was to try to be technically correct, shit like “everything is chemicals”—which is true, but that’s not the meaning of “chemicals” under discussion, so it’s just smug and pedantic.

The scientific process has also led to chemicals such as Thalidomide to be given to pregnant women, resulting in 10000 babies born with phocomelia. The point is not to be overly confident with what you think a chemical can do to your body, even if it is approved by the FDA.

Imperfect information and lack of tools/knowledge to perform adequate analysis, and perhaps selfish motivations might have caused Thalidomide to be given to pregnant women, but the scientific process did not.

Unless you can pinpoint all the causal factors of a relationship, there is no other option I have heard of other than the scientific process, i.e. testing, calculating, re-testing, calculating, retesting...etc that could provide us with knowledge about the relationship between cause and effect. And obviously, it will be wrong sometimes, hence the need to re-test, but there is no better option.

If anything, we need more actual scientific process, meaning using our newfound computing capabilities to open up data so that all experiments can be vetted for accuracy and differing populations tested, etc.

I agree there is no better option but that is not sufficient to no longer doubt the state of the art knowledge of biomedicine or effects of chemical on the body.

The scientific process is all about doubting what you "know"...obviously to be pragmatic, it's useful to assume certain things such as gravity, time, that a chemical reaction yesterday will do the same today under the same conditions, etc. But the whole purpose of testing and retesting (which is the scientific process) is because you're always doubting.

That's why data should be free, in order to let this testing happen. Of course we have limited resources to do testing, so there must be some triage involved somehow, but that has nothing to do with the scientific process.

Note that thalidomide is still given as a drug, because it is phenomenally effective. I don't think that the medical testing system when thalidomide was approved necessarily had the sophistication to make the right determination.

The US response to the thalidomide crisis was largely to give the FDA increased power to regulate drugs:


This is after the FDA blocked approval of thalidomide, pointing to insufficient testing:


the FDA approved thalidomide in 1998: https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/nda/98/020785...

In refusing to approve thalidomide earlier, many thousands of patients died horribly agonizing deaths. Thalidomide was actually tested quite intensively however the company that did it "lost" the records that showed harm to pregnant women.

The whole story is far more complicated, and involves chiral mixtures, pregnancy tests, and a lot more subtleties that belie the simple narrative.

>Our diet is full of fruits and vegetables containing thousands of complex chemicals, indistinguishable from "synthetic" chemicals, that have entered our diet far too short a time ago to have had evolutionary impact.

Our diet of fruits and vegetables has been refined through thousands of years of trial and error, and the result is that we eat a tiny fraction of available plants. It's arrogant to dismiss that history.

your argument seems to be "chemicals are numerous & complicated, therefore all new complex chemicals are okay"

the compounds that've been in strawberries for thousands of years are somewhat known items and lower risk than ones invented yesterday or even 20 years ago in a Dupont/Monsanto laboratory. The issue is that we have a business and political system that is highly incentivized to start adding contrived and novel substances to the environment at a massive scale and speed never before seen in nature. In recent times it's all to easy to introduce excess carcinogens and endocrine-disruptors into most homes or kill off large number worlds of honeybees. The effects merit careful consideration and regulation.

>Point being, there is no reason to hold any of these chemicals to a standard higher than that of a strawberry - that is, we can give people a bunch of strawberries and say any negative effect is below some acceptable level.

ah yes, the logic that brought us Silent Spring and the children happily playing and breathing in clouds of "safe" DDT gas.

if it's from a plant or animal, it can still be plenty harmful, but at least there's a history of use without major effects. not the case with industrial chemicals...

Freedoms Markets™ trumps the Hippocratic Oath.


As I get older, more grumpy: The single most disappointing, surprising thing to me has been the persistent, tenacious, aggressive, recurring amnesia, credulity, and willful ignorance.

Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me 1,000 more times, yes please, sir, may I have another. (h/t frat hazing scene in Animal House.)

I really thought people would get smarter over time. From operant conditioning, if nothing else.

Lead in gasoline, cigarettes, BPA, CO2, freon, etc, etc. With every new outrage, the peanut gallery pipes up with the same old dumb ass excuses. And inevitably, the perpetrators KNEW, for DECADES, they were doing harm and actively suppress the knowledge. Merchants of Doubt. Rinse, lather, repeat.

But, no, not this time. You can't just assume the same bad guys with the same incentives would LIE to us. Again.

I'm shocked, shocked you'd suggest anyone would put profits before people.

I completely agree with you, but since we have all these materials used in a myriad ways, and it's not practical to just stop using all of them cold turkey, it would really be useful to figure out exactly which stuff is doing what harm and how.

"be careful in doing your review." Says the lazy poster who just made a bunch of claims himself and didn't cite anything!

The burden of proof is on the one making unsupported claims, not on the one questioning the unsupported claims.

(It's tedious to post supporting studies on every post, so there's nothing nefarious about claims being initially unsupported.)

I do agree that the "be careful..." comment is perhaps open to being interpreted as snarky, though it's always hard to infer the intent in a forum such as this.

the reason I said "be careful" is that I'm a staff scientist who already has done his due diligence, and often, when I ask people to provide refuting studies, they just go on Google Scholar and return with papers whose titles match their pre-existing conclusion. If you try to do that in an academic setting, you'll be laughed out of the room (and nobody will trust what you say any more).

I'm just working to save time by making people who make outrageous claims do the work to produce supporting evidence. I'm really tired of people (especially non-scientists) citing articles they haven't read or aren't qualified to evaluate.

Absolutely fair.

>The burden of proof is on the one making unsupported claims, not on the one questioning the unsupported claims.

When public health issues are concerned, the burden of proof is on the ones saying exposure does not present any risks worth worrying about. The FDA doesn't usually come in with the approach that we should just try everything out and see how it goes.

It's low frequency radio waves from submarines. No, wait, it's copies of Jane Austen novels, that's what causing the problem. Hang on; it's headphones being worn by people near you. That's what doing it. Wait one; it's the after-effects of that landfill of ET game cartridges.

If you disagree, have you got any proof that these aren't the causes? Otherwise I guess it's start removing Jane Austen novels from the libraries.

Since you’re so comfortable with it, just go ahead and dose yourself with everything you can get your hands on. Here in the real world people express some hesitation before shoveling suspicious new products down their gullets.

Ever since I switched my entire diet to Soylent my diarrhea has never been better!

the FDA is actually very permissive when it comes to food - generally, things are allowed to be in it unless there is strong evidence it's harmful. It's the opposite with drugs.

It’s permissive about foods that are derived from things that are already generally regarded as safe.

If you come up with some kind of new petrochemical food-item to mimic tofu they’ll want you to get some pre-market approval first. If you’re starting up a new large food business, you’re also going to be subject to inspection to make sure your processes are safe and you’re not adulterating your products, intentionally or unintentionally, with stuff that might not be safe.

Wouldn't "Miracle Fruit" be an example of the FDA not being permissive when it comes to food?

What? What exactly do you expect dekhn to cite? You expect them to prove a negative? How do you propose they do that?

GP asserted that some scary chemicals cause problems (no sarcasm intended; I find phthalates and bisphenols a bit scary myself), but provided no supporting evidence. dehkn asked for evidence. Pretty simple right?

>You expect them to prove a negative? How do you propose they do that?

they do this all the time in the pharma space.

just arrange experiments on mice where they're subjected to higher and higher levels of whatever chemical until they're subjected to a level several orders of magnitude beyond any realistic hypothetical human exposure. then you cut up all the mice and see if they're different from unexposed mice.

I've had 6 pet rats in my life and each one had tumors at the end. I wonder if that effect is properly controlled for as well.

...yes, it is controlled for. Read the comment above you again. They compare exposed rats to unexposed rats. That accounts for your concern.

I'm not being lazy. I am saying there is no evidence showing what the person claims. Do you want me to cite a non-existent paper?

Welcome to HN.

As someone who's been here for over a decade (and had this account nearly that long), I can assure you this is normal behavior for the forum.

The site doesn't encourage citing or critical thinking, although it does attract people who're interested in that. If you wish for a community like this, open a new thread and try discussing communities that do succeed at promoting critical and well-cited discussions like Reddit's /r/askhistorians.

I'm not sure if you're criticizing me for my reply above in which I ask the poster to provide data to support their claim. I'm a critical thinker, and when writing papers or making claims, can back up my claims with strong evidence. In this case, I am saying I have been unable to find a single paper that is high quality and supports the assertion that there is a detectable health effect in the population (excluding people who receive massive dosages, far beyond the dosages a regular person is going to get from eating food). I have seen many low quality papers purporting this, but in each case, I found either an invalidating error (failure to use bonferroni correction is most common, but there are many), or it was clear the author was being selective with their data reporting, or made an error in their procedure. That's pretty common, especially in the human health and nutrition sector, unfortunately.

It looks like you may have mistakenly replied to the wrong comment

I didn't say anything about my wishes. I just welcomed a new(ish) user.

I would think unlimited access to high definition porn in any variety for completely free would be more responsible for lowered sperm count than chemical exposure.

That sounds like an excellent reason to throw a lot of money at doing epidemiological studies then, doesn't it? I must say I'm very tired of naysayers with no positive proposals of their own who invoke the scientific method as a way of waving away problematics rather than engaging with their evaluation or mitigation.

Good epidemiology is a great investment. I wouldn't use the term "throw a lot of money"- we want a few good studies with unambiguous conclusions.

Quality costs.

Yes, but unfortunately, cost is not a reliable correlate of quality. And you can get quality for low cost (typically through sweat equity or engineering)

And remember 50% of published scientific studies can't be successfully reproduced! 100% confidence.

50% of studies can't be reproduced, and 90% are outright false (which makes you wonder about the percent that can be reproduced, but are false) :-)

"can be reproduced" means true.

If you can reproduce the experiment, so that approximately the same data comes out, but the paper turns out false, that can only be because the paper makes a flawed interpretation of the data.

But that has nothing to do with reproducibility; you can tell that a flawed conclusion is made from some data without reproducing the process which produces the data.

If the analysis is correct and the empirical results can be reproduced, then the research is true. Or something like that.

> "can be reproduced" means true.

Not really.

I know what you mean but that's not the same as what you are saying.

You mean consistently and reliably over a large number of studies.

I don't know what would convince you that at minimum, these chemicals should be taken out of food contact applications or heated up and volatilized in thermal printers, and then handed to a customer.

Just picking articles at random, I don't have time for a full literature review for Hacker News, but the evidence taken in totality is overwhelming:

1. BPA (and related chemicals) activate estrogen receptors, causal study: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28407500 This has been repeatedly demonstrated.

2. Direct human effects, correlational study: Working in a factory with BPA makes you impotent: http://www.oxfordjournals.org/news/dep381.pdf

3. Direct human effects, correlational study: BPA exposure by parents, especially mothers leads to reduced anogenital distance in children: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21987463

4. Direct human effects, correlational: BPA and other EDCs are associated with penile defects: http://www.acmt.net/_Library/PEHSU_Webinars/Is_Hypospadias_A...

5. Human ingestion routes, correlational: Blood BPA levels are highest occupationally among cashiers (thermal receipts), and people who eat a lot of canned vegetables (plastic can liners): https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21205581

There are loads more where that came from. You've got a very direct mechanism of action, clear effects in animal models, and correlational studies showing people who are exposed to larger quantities show clear medical problems. You have clear, understandable routes of ingestion, and correlational data that shows that people who are exposed more to those routes of ingestion have more in their blood. I suppose you can complain that the human studies are correlational, but you can't legally perform a blinded study on this, because we know that BPA is harmful, and you won't get it past an IRB. Maybe you formed your opinion on this in the nineties or 2000s when only the hippies were trading out their nalgene bottles, but the science has come a long way, and the hippies were right. Phthalates are a very similar story.

Want an interesting read? Go to your city water providers website and read up on all the pollutants they are over recommended levels on. Then look at the pollutants they are over the legal limit on.

We assume that the water in our taps is safe to drink but there are often a myriad of tests that our utility companies are failing.

For example, I live in a relatively well to do suburb and my utility is over the recommended limit on 2 carcinogens, and chlorate which damages the thyroid. In addition they have been over the legal limit for Trihalomethanes, another carcinogen since 2014

Even worst is all the extra female hormones coming from birth control pills and livestock (mostly milk cows) that are not getting filtered out of by water providers.

If I may pick a nit: there are no pills in sewage streams. We're talking drugs in solution or suspension (the term "dissolved solids" is used in the water treatment industry).

Drugs can very difficult to remove, and water treatment facilities are only able to remove roughly half [https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/only-half-of-drug...].

Urine, not pills. Urine is filled with hormone and from what I've heard most water processing plants can't remove those completely.

In fact, one of the pills is made of urine: "The estrogen-replacement drug Premarin, prescribed to menopausal women, is made from horse urine; in fact, the drug's name is short for PREgnant MARes' urINe".

Since that the majority of female in the West are on birth control pills[1] that means that a lot of the urine in our water systems is in fact "pregnant urine".

1: "In the United States 98% of women have used birth control at some point in time and 62% of those of reproductive age are currently using birth control." - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prevalence_of_birth_control

Your conclusion isn't quite what your reference says. Hormones in the water supply are definitely a problem but the majority of women in the West are not on birth control pills. The 98% and 62% stats include all forms for birth control. The next line makes that explicit: "The two most common methods are the pill (11 million) and sterilization (10 million)."

About 16% of childbearing aged women in the US use the pill [1]. Even if you add all methods that can be hormonal (some IUDs are, not aren't), it's only 27.8%. Almost 40% of childbearing aged women in the US use no birth control at all.

For this discussion it doesn't matter that much. The quantities in the water supply that aren't being removed are a problem. In other contexts it might not be useful to think that nearly every woman who isn't a child or elderly is on the pill.

[1] https://www.guttmacher.org/fact-sheet/contraceptive-use-unit...

Sorry. You are right. That should have read "are on birth control" without the word "pills".

PRE MAR IN, that is tooooo hilarious. Reality really is stranger than fiction. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Premarin

I'm intrigued, but I suspect that the dilution of whatever millions of women can pee out is still in our favor luckily.

I thought a lot of pharmaceuticals wind up in water supplies because when we take pills only part of the mass is used in the body, the rest stays in the blood stream, passes the kidneys, and is removed fairly intact into the urine thereby entering our water supply at the next voiding of the bladder.

I think the parent was pointing out that you can't just run the resulting urine through a sieve to filter it.

I'm curious: if you run that substandard tap water through a reverse-osmosis system, how clean is the resulting water?

What if the water evaporates and eventually rains back down? We should all drink rainwater or pure grain alcohol, just to be extra safe.

That's disturbing indeed.

What's the best approach to replacing drinking water to avoid all of this?

I think the best you can do in regards to tap water is some kind of filter. Effectiveness probably improves with cost.

I have recently switched to getting 5 gallon water jugs delivered. Costs me about $60 per month. Not an optimal solution but I have no other real cure.

How do to test and validate the quality of the delivered bottled water?

My understanding – and it's a shallow understanding – was that bottled water was less regulated and monitored than tap water. Is there a source you can use to get the testing done on the bottled water you're having delivered?

The vendor I use is Zephyrhills. They have a report online.


Cool, thanks!

This sounds like living in a Third World country.

It is. People who have to resort to drinking bottled water because the tap water is unsafe do live in a third world country.

Draw whatever conclusion from that that you like.

To be fair even in a first world system it's a good idea to filter drinking water again before consuming it. A countertop filtration system is much less expensive than one month of OP's bottled water. $80-200 for the initial setup, $30 every six months to replace the filters... cheaper than $60/mo, probably produces cleaner water in most cases.

That is due to coliform contamination, though. Those countries have feces in their water supply directly and in huge amounts.

What first world country is free of this type of water contamination?

Antarctica. You drill down into some millions-of-years-old chunk of ice and drink that.

Draw whatever conclusion from that you like.

Install a reverse osmosis system in your house. However, not sure what to do about the pex piping though... Maybe run copper? Maybe there is an inert plastic?

Reverse osmosis can be also problematic cause it removes chemicals from water that are also useful. Maybe a less aggressive filtering method will do.

There are inline units you can buy that add minerals back into the water, if thats what you mean by helpful chemicals.

What chemicals could you possibly need in your water? There aren't any; the only thing you'd reasonably want in there are some minerals to make it taste good (totally pure water tastes pretty nasty actually). If you're talking about fluoride, the answer is simple: brush your teeth regularly and use dental rinse. You don't need it in your water. The only reason they ever did that was because too many people had terrible oral hygiene habits decades ago; people are a lot better about this these days, with quality toothpastes, motorized toothbrushes, flossing every day, fluoride rinses, etc.

> Someone clever though might be able to come up with a campaign about chemicals stealing your manhood that might resonate with conservative voters.

Have you heard Alex Jones? He is telling his listeners that the government puts chemicals in the water that are turning the Frogs gay. It is funny, but ultimately might make them more receptive to real environmental cleanup legislation.

That was a typical embellishment by Alex Jones. The actual story was that the males of a certain species of frog became transsexual when exposed to Atrazine weedkiller.

There was also a story going around some years ago about the same thing happening to a species of fish, but I don't recall the details.

The point is that some of the chemicals we use have an effect on biology and we need to pay more attention to what is going on. Alex Jones might be hyperbolic, but he's touching on an important topic that many supposedly more kosher news outlets barely discuss.

I'm personally disappointed on HN that this comment would receive more upvotes than downvotes.

This is a typical anti-vaxxer style of argument. It even mentions trump (sic). Which on top of that irrelevance, seriously this is the level of maturity we are at, not capitalising his name?

There 'might' be some interesting science here but point blank this comment is wrong. Like all good scaremongering there are some things worth investigating but this is leaps and bounds beyond current reality.

Not only those chemicals but https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xenoestrogen and endocrine disruptors generally.

Palm Oil and Triclosan are everywhere.

Why do you rate that above being overweight and not exercising, both of which are known to depress testosterone and are known to be reaching epidemic levels in our population?

Would like to hear your thoughts.

It is fine to super size your value meal as long as you don't touch the receipt.

And all the flame retardants and anti-stick coatings on practically every surface we touch and interact with all day, every day. These are all hormone disrupters.

Not everyone does and there would be much higher variance if so. (Different building codes, food handling practices etc.)

Im imagine this as quite a nice service, especially in the US where food safety and ingredients are basically non- or only half-existant.

You stick some sample of air/ or a product into a vial, stick that vial into a drone, and that drone flies it to a fully automated labratory, providing with time wise close to consumption information on what your produce contains.

Before you jump to there, you might consider taking a look at the methodology of the study itself. On the face of it, it seems like too broad of a claim. There's been nothing wrong with my sperm counts, for example. So maybe painting with such a broad brush isn't a good idea here. Besides that, "the west" doesn't contain the majority of the world's population and yet there were breathless articles in the press predicting "the end of the human race." Uh, what?

Not that toxic load isn't an interesting subject. But you "Trump's fault" comment is juvenile. A lot of the status quo in DC is why we have all these problems--government not working for the people. I stand with anyone who wants to reform that bad system where a corporation can spend a bunch of money lobbying so that the government turns a blind eye to their pollution or "socializes" that cost while privatizing their profits.

Alright, so what should we do? Should we daily take DHEA/GABA/Zinc etc. to compensate effect of these chemicals? Eat only food we grow/kill ourselves? Move to mountains shielded from airborne pollution?

Ruthlessly eat healthy whole foods , limit junk media, daily muscle/tendon/bone strengthening exercise regime on a 'religious' level of importance. Develop a level of body intelligence to combat the dullness learnt from sitting in front of screens for most our developing and adult lives. Learn to feel the inside of your body, the tensions in your head/cranial sacral nerves, inside your tendons, feel the bone marrow at the core of your bones (this last one comes only after decades of practice( if you don't have genetic boost from athletic/physically gifted bloodline) but apparently it's worth it in terms of willful relaxation and awareness of where the days stress has deposited itself). Fast regime in springtime to give liver a chance to rest and clean out system instead of being overloaded with digestive tasks. When everyone worked on the farm years ago, t'was slim pickings come spring, and you didn't get a lot to eat , sugar was a godsend , everyone was poor and you were more 'forced' to eat healthy and pure during springtime. Now it's more of a hard mode hallenree to enter into fasting phase, but usually a HN-reader has the intensity required..' Being socially isolated or lacking a network/community is as bad if not worse than smoking, so, hard as it is in our modern life, seek out a social group to hang out with, esp. important for men as they let these skills diminish as they grow older , letting their wives take up the burden of connecting outwards and setting up social events. You can drink alcohol but don't let alcohol drink you. Get out into nature more on the weekends, shinrin yoku, trees and plants release stress reducing chemicals for us -- if that's too hard to do -- put a plant in your bedroom.

Have any links for all this? Would love to read more.

Can we have an executive summary?

Exercise, practice discipline, socialize, and "eat food, not too much, mostly plants."

I don't have access to YouTube at work. What is the video you're linking to? What are you trying to say by linking to that particular video?

General Jack D. Ripper talking about water fluoridation and the purity of our bodily essences in Dr. Strangelove.

>Ultimately we are in dire need of regulation of these substances, especially where there is food contact.

We don't need regulation. We need consumer education (and in this gov funded programs can help) and entrepreneurship to provide the market with what it demands.

I think you need good regulation and that is difficult to achieve. Seriously you can ask the consumer to be a little knowledgeable but you can't ask all consumer to have the equivalence of master in Biology, Chemistry, Material science ... and conduct testing on their food, water, car ... when you have sophisticate actor with huge budget and can make profit by tricking consumer.

Consumers don't need to be experts to discover organizations that use experts to create standards for safe food, and only buy products certified by said organization.

Regulation is about controlling what other people buy, which I find to be absolutely unjustifiable. If you don't want unsafe food, you should deliberately avoid it. The problem is no government or private company provides any kind of certification on this.

We have already plenty of certification companies that take your money in exchange for a nice logo/label on the packaging. You still need an expert to tells if they do it right. I think the difficulty is to find a source of 'Authority' that can control the controller. I don't believe that the State is always doing the right think (Flint water ...) but the private sector has already been caught doing very nasty thing (Asbestos, Cigarette ...). I believe the democratic can provide a last resort authority most of the time. In fact the Courts are sometime used in this capacity.

Also we need to take in account that you cant only take in account the consumer point of view. Other aspect like geopolitics or pollution or security need to be addressed: Japan still try to support agriculture because they don't want to have starvation in case of a maritime blockade. We still have states secure maritime transport and fight piracy.

The difficulty, is to see what need to be regulated and what can be let to the market force. And there is no definitive answer because the market react to regulation and regulation are adapted according to market behavior. But ideology and culture background are determinant to define what proportion you want. It is clearly the opposition between collectivism and individualism. I think both to the extreme are wrong.

The certification programs on the market are excellent. The problem is there is no certification program for the problem elucidated by the parent comment. This is an entrepreneurial opportunity.

>We have already plenty of certification companies that take your money in exchange for a nice logo/label on the packaging. You still need an expert to tells if they do it right.

I think you're underestimating how reputation and communication lead to consumers gaining reliable information in the marketplace. Apple didn't develop a reputation for quality and customer service for nothing. It earned that reputation, and the marker rewarded it for it. Consumer knowledge is often times far more sophisticated than voter knowledge. If consumers are too ignorant to solve this problem, then I have no faith voters will solve it. This comes down to a problem of ignorance, and once that problem is solved, then marketplace solutions can be introduced, whether through cookie-cutter mandates imposed by government that reduce our freedom, or through a diverse array of products/services provided by entrepreneurs that expand our options.

This idea that since you need an expert, it must be done through regulations imposed on everyone, is nonsensical. Experts can work for nongovernmental organizations too, and can have a contractual obligation to serve the public interest, just as government officials do. Moreover, the government can appoint experts to the task, and provide its own certification of what products meet its standards, without making said standards mandatory.

Frankly I find this insistence that only a government appointed body, that imposes standards that no one in society is allowed to opt out of (even if they like BPA in their food), would work, because of an almost religious like faith that market mechanisms, meaning people interacting through voluntary exchanges and contracts, can't work, to be immature.

Assuming no pollution-related concerns affecting non-participants, there is absolutely no moral justification for prohibiting people from buying/selling food containing some hormone disrupting chemical. What society needs is the information with which to make informed decisions. But that decision should be each individual's to make.

I think I fear that marketing forces are stronger than consumer knowledge. I spend too much time debunking facts on Facebook posted by relatives to think that people in general want to spend time looking for the truth. Also we have studies that shows that doctors doesn't understand enough statistic to understand medical studies and make good choice. I also see that ordinary folk don't discern the difference in knowledge between a TV pundit a TV-star and an expert.

I don't believe that government are perfect and the only solution but I think they can be part of it. You have classes of problem where regulation is an answer, one of them is when the condition of a fair market are not met: Monopoly, information asymmetry (You don't have the same resource as GS to understand the market condition ). So some regulation are in place to allow a market to work for all.

The state is there to define the boundaries of acceptable behavior because he is the only one that is allowed to use violence to enforce rules. I think we need to have a minimal level of regulation because we need some liberty to have innovation. This minimum is difficult to agree on and I suspect the level of regulation i would accept is higher than yours but I think you accept certain level. Most people would reject slavery, experimentation on human, kidnapping, extortion ... as normal behavior. But they were accepted at some point.

>I think I fear that marketing forces are stronger than consumer knowledge.

I fear regulations for that reason. If political marketers convince voters to elect some puppet for special interests, who imposes regulations mandating I use some inferior product, by prohibiting all other options, I have no way to opt out.

I trust the ability of people to see through marketing lies when it's in the context of an organic market with multiple options, mediated my consumer interest, more than when it's relating to politics and proposed regulations to mandate one solution for the entirety of society.

There is a lot of propaganda out there to make people fear the market, and to believe that its advocates are the bad guys (unsuspecting dupes for corporate interests), and I believe that this is by design, and the originators of these memes are in fact projecting. They represent a powerful elite who stand to extract economic rent when the state eliminates choice from market in the name of consumer protection, and they have created an elaborate ideology to convince the population to support their policies. Don't fall for it.

>Monopoly, information asymmetry (You don't have the same resource as GS to understand the market condition ).

The government can address monopolies without prohibiting consumer choice. It can simply fund a public option. For example, it can provide publicly owned roads, so that people aren't stuck with a private road network. It doesn't need to prohibit private roads.

As for information asymmetry, this is effectively dealt with in the market. See my microprocessor example I brought up earlier.

>Most people would reject slavery, experimentation on human, kidnapping, extortion ... as normal behavior.

These are all qualitatively different than buying food with hormone disrupting chemicals. In fact, the law you're advocating is more like these things, as it reduces personal autonomy by restricting the right to engage in voluntary interactions. It is clear when a legal remedy is appropriate, and when it is not. This can be deciphered by considering the nature of the law:


I think you are quite correct to point that law and regulation reduces personal autonomy and that the law is violent in is nature. I agree 100% that the impact of marketing on the result of election and it scares me a lot the new trend to use social mass data to win election. I m more and more in favor of sortition for this reason. I agree also that you have regulation set up by people that seek rent above everything.

I think I fear also the harm that powerful people or corporation do right now and I think someone need to take action. What is difficult is to have the right balance between liberty and regulation.

We see a division between continental Europe and Anglo-saxon country; In Europe we have more regulation and I think less economical growth and less innovation and the US where it seems you have less regulation but often more meant to create rent and crazy companies behavior but you have growth and more innovation.

Thanks for your comments, it s nice to have a good conversation :)

Beyond the intellectual debate on net economic effect, we should have the humility to not punish people with legal penalties for actions that are fundamentally voluntary.

As an educated, consumer, it's freaking exhausting reading ingredients labels for every single yogurt on the shelf, and then every single ice cream, and then every single cheese, and every tortilla, repeat ad-nauseum. I do it, but most people don't.

If companies are allowed to bury the lede enough, customer choice can become ineffective at influencing the market, because it may not be exercised widely simply due to sheer pain-in-the-ass factor.

Consumers can rely on certification labels to simplify product assessment. The certification can even be provided by the government! It just doesn't need to be mandatory. Those who want [private-market-label/government-certified/etc] foods, can look for the seal, and only buy foods with it, and those who don't care, or who want to disrupt their hormones, can ignore it.

People offering human-centric explanations like cell phones: Note also that the sperm quality of dogs has decreased 30% since 1988.



This suggests its more environmental, chemical, diet-based, etc.

Dogs often mimic the lifestyles of their owner, therefore building off of rsync's comment it would suggest that could also be linked to rising obesity rates. Although chemical and environmental causes likely also play a factor. I'm thinking along the lines of "all of the above"; poor health regardless of what causes it will lead to lowered fertility

I dunno. Just on the face of what you're saying, it's probably worth pointing out that dogs also spend a lot of time around devices used by humans. So what about e.g. wild dogs?

laptops can make your balls overheat and cause problems, I remember that being an actual problem.

My dog won't use a laptop

Yeah, they're traditionally Mobile

Do people actually put laptops in their laps?

My 12" ultra-portable sits on my desk at home/office. When commuting if I'm using it, it will sit on my backpack on my lap.

My 17" laptop that is heavier than my desktop, stays on the kitchen table.

Yes, people do. I use my laptop on the couch all the time.

You should use a cushion or wood tablet in that case, e.g. Ikea has them for a couple bucks.

Mine is currently right on top of my bits & pieces, so yes?

You never take your laptop to the couch?

Sure, but if I'm on the couch, I use a throw pillow.

To expand upon diet-based -- how about food preservatives from processed foods. For example: Propyl parahydroxybenzoate[0][1]

[0] https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/Propyl_4-hydroxybe...

[1] The dirt: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12419695

Perhaps global warming could play a role. It affects reptiles a lot (limiting fertility, making it so that there are more females than males, turning males into females, etc.)

From the article:

>In contrast, no significant decline was seen in South America, Asia and Africa.

Presumably on average these regions are also seeing similar temperature increases. I'd think that whatever the cause is, it's not something that is affecting people on a global scale.

Also, temperature-dependent sex determination is only seen in a few species, and not in mammals as far as I know: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Temperature-dependent_sex_dete...

But aren't there human inhabited parts of the world which are warmer than the western world...

Unless this is adjusted for activity levels (western folks are extremely sedentary - especially in the US) and weight I am not sure it is interesting. Obesity is negatively correlated with male fertility[1] and 3/4 of the US is obese or overweight[2].

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3521747/

[2] https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-statisti...

Countries with low obesity levels show the same trend [1]; just look at e.g. Denmark (18.2%) [2].

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10655308 [2] (PDF) http://www.euro.who.int/__data/assets/pdf_file/0006/243294/D...

The thing to look at wouldn't be the country's current obesity level, but its trend there too.

This suggests an environmental factor or a different dietary one. Probably not BPA or such, there would be more of a difference between western countries. Plus Asia would show it too. (Heck, they make and use a lot of these plastics.) Not atmospheric pollution either apparently (see French result).

Electromagnetic wave pollution perhaps?

>Probably not BPA or such, there would be more of a difference between western countries.

Why do you say that? Most western countries use plastic and receipts (thermal paper), which are the main sources.

And BPA isn't the only xenoestrogen. PCBs, dioxins, and many agricultural biocides are too.



I've personally become concerned recently with the abundance of BPA and it's effect on the endocrine system of men. Between disposable water bottles, aluminum can liners, and food stored in plastic containers, there's a huge amount of exposure to this endocrine disruptor. The article doesn't mention it in particular, but I think it's worth being cautious over.

For what it's worth, the limited research on that shows a tenuous relationship, and the reduction in sperm count is not apparently occurring in the same way in non-western countries which are exposed to as much (if not more) Bisphenol A.

In addition, the analysis appears to deal with the mid 1970s onward, whereas Bisphenol A has been used commercially to cure resins and plastics since 1957, with a quick uptake in usage. We would have to look at the trend further back to have a lede on that, because the recent clinical data are not sufficient to support the claim that normal Bisphenol A exposure (and this is assuming it increased dramatically over this period) can be linked directly with a fifty to sixty per cent reduction in sperm count and/or quality.

There are studies linking overweight and obesity to reduced sperm count, and overweight/obesity rates have increased dramatically and steadily over the measured period of time. Unfortunately, this meta analysis did not appear to address these factors.

All of that said, Bisphenol A is very risky stuff, we should be very careful with the amount of it in the environment and our bodies.

What do you mean when you say that non-western countries are "exposed" to BPA as much, or more, than the US?

There is a large difference between merely touching a product that has BPA in it and consuming BPA. Plasticizers in general are fat soluble and dissolve from a container into food quickly when heated. Which is why you shouldn't reheat anything, especially fatty foods, in plastic containers.

In the West we re-heat everything in plastic containers. I didn't think this was as big of a thing in non-western countries.

> In the West we re-heat everything in plastic containers. I didn't think this was as big of a thing in non-western countries.

I live in the West and I do not have a recent memory of anyone reheating anything in a plastic container or treated can. I think I saw somebody heat up one of those Kraft Dinner individual portion cups once. How many plastic containers are even considered microwave safe?. I know there are things like TV dinners.

I would think the more likely vector would be drink cans, and maybe laminated food cans after that. I see receipt paper mentioned a lot, but it's hard to tell if they mention that just for show, or because it's actually an important form of exposure. And as you mentioned, plasticizers are fat soluble; most canned beverages (aside coconut water) are not fatty, and most canned food isn't fatty either (because they don't want the fats to go rancid from the oxygen in the headspace), so I'm not sure how much leeching actually goes on with those vectors.

Ever ordered food in a deli or gone to a restaurant in the U.S.? They're re-heating your food in plastic containers, guaranteed.

Also: many people use "microwaveable" plastic containers/Tupperware in lieu of ceramic or glass, as it's cheaper and easier to store.

If you're specifically worried about BPA, perhaps a larger exposure is handling cash register receipts. Don't take em if you don't need em, and wash your hands before you eat anything if you do need to handle them.

That might explain why I've watched almost all newcomer cashiers in our local supermarket gain weight quickly after starting their job. Of course, the stress might also be to blame.

> perhaps a larger exposure is handling cash register receipts. Don't take em if you don't need em

That sounds a but vague. Can you please post some links where I can read about this?

BPA is apparently easily absorbed through the skin. For example: http://blogs.edf.org/health/2014/10/23/more-than-skin-deep-h...

whoa, I never thought about chemical contact from receipts. Would love to see things go the way of Square where my itemized receipt is just emailed to me.

My favorite part about the BPA fiasco is how it is mitigated on an industrial level by introducing BPS. BPS is totally safe for food-grade products because it's more stable at high temperatures. Also, it hasn't been shown to be actively deleterious to our health. And as in law, food-grade plastics are innocent until proven guilty. So done with industrial food ...

I don't think it is juts about BPA, but a whole myriad of "chemicals" that we're surrounding ourselves with each day.

There are even chemicals in our brains!

I put the word "chemicals" in quotation marks because, of course, everything is a chemical. I just wanted to point out that we shouldn't pick just one chemical (e.g. BPA) and heap all the blame onto it. As a society, we have to be concerned about the potential dangers of every synthetic chemical

> potential dangers of every synthetic chemical

I wouldn't put too much importance on the synthetic / natural distinction.

Lead, tobacco, and various radioactive elements (uranium, radium, thorium, and radon) are all perfectly natural. If you were harmed by chemicals in the last century, it was probably one of them.

There are also thousands of lab-made chemicals that never make the news because they're just not harmful.

The UK-based non-profit Sense About Science has produced some literature trying to combat what they call "chemophobia," the fear of man-made chemicals:


Scientific American has tried to debunk myths about synthetic chemicals as well:


I mean, yeah, don't drink DDT. But don't try to make your drinking water "more natural" either, thank your city for treating it with a little bit of synthetic (and toxic in large doses) chlorine, and enjoy a day free of all-natural additives like cholera.

"natural" is in some ways a proxy for "understood". We know lead, tobacco, and radiation are toxic. We have hundreds of years of evidence. On the other hand brand-new man-made chemical X that was just invented yesterday has no track record whatsoever. We just don't know.

I try to read food labels, and it's exhausting trying to keep up with all the new chemicals they put in food (or in furniture, or plastics, or whatever) so rough heuristics become useful and help avoid spending six hours at the grocery store.

I'm not opposed to proxies, I just think "anti-synthetic" is a particularly bad one. Synthetics are so frequently protective that avoiding them is more likely to do harm than good.

A better heuristic might be:

Humans worry too much.


Don't invent heuristics that scientists working in the relevant field think are unnecessary.

Toxicology is full of smart people learning things on our behalf. They have models and simulations and labs to scrutinize new chemicals for us, or even just to avoid massive class action lawsuits.

Among their findings is the fact that we can't seem to make anything nearly as toxic as nature can. Even when we try we come up short by a factor of like a freaking million:


If you want simple guidelines to save time with groceries: avoid lunchmeats to reduce your risk of (natural) listeria, cook your chicken to avoid (natural) salmonella, don't can your own food to avoid (natural) botulism, and call it a day.

Or maybe don't worry about toxins at all, because they kill statistically almost no one, and instead: work out, eat some leafy greens, avoid obesity, smoking, drinking, guns, and unnecessary car trips.

At that point you're so far in the lead that if you die from a random chemical, just shake your fist at the gods and die knowing you did far more than most people. If you do die from a chemical, you didn't die from not being smart, you died from not being lucky, and could have easily been crushed by a meteor.

I think your use of it is pretty clear, but it's interesting to note that quotation marks are also used for scare quotes. Two possible usages in this case with almost entirely opposite meanings.

If it is some sort of chemical, it was introduced around 70s (later than most plastics) and is still in widespread and increasing use. Few such targets.

BPA in plastics is polymerized, but BPA in thermal paper is free molecules, which are easier absorbed. Thermal paper didn't become widespread until the 70s, so BPA is still a possible candidate.

Or the chemical had to reach a threshold concentration in the environment and/or our bodies before having a noticeable effect, which could have taken 20 years..

I realize, you know, just being a jerk on the internet.

Completely agree and to that end I try my best to avoid eating, drinking or storing consumables in any plastics (I just don't trust them), which is really hard. Especially avoiding heating or reheating anything in plastic.

There was an excellent video/documentary that I watched a while back, in which a woman spent a month COMPLETELY avoiding plastics.

Sadly, the BPA levels in her blood did not drop significantly. It seems that even if YOU don't come into contact with these chemicals, chances are your food already has.

It informed me that if I really wanted to avoid plasticizers, I could never eat out, and would likely need to purchase my food from organic farmer's markets. A tough bill to swallow.

And the alternative is.. taking estrogen blockers?

Especially dosing boys with them. /s

You have no idea what kind of harm this could do, BPA being the least of the worries in that case.

Bodybuilders often take estrogen blockers (eg Indol-3-Carbinol), they don't seem to share your concerns.

Got any links to research?

The wikipedia article is extensive and well cited: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bisphenol_A

Are cell phones in our pockets to blame? The effects of radiofrequency electromagnetic radiation on sperm function. – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27601711

More info here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27076112

Also here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26949865

And here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26206279

Here too: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24982785

More fuel for the fire: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24927498

Given that this decline apparently started in 1973, I'd say they're probably not the deciding factor.

1973 was also the year Bruce Lee died. Coincidence?

I feel like something happened in the early 70s that just made progress slow way down. I keep seeing bad trends start in the 1970s - like stagnant wage growth (1971), increased inequality (1971) etc...

Don't forget the dietary recommendations changed telling people to eat loads of carbs and avoid fat (and as a side effect, most natural sources of protein). That might be directly related to this actually.

That wouldn't affect dogs as much.

A lot of cheap dog food is made of largely grains / corn.

ARPANET was created in 1969. Distract all your geniuses with cat pictures and flame wars, and doom is sure to follow.

Did arpanet already have porn? Then i blame men are whacking it more since 1969...

According to Wikipedia, the use of porn as test images for image processing code dates back to at least 1961, so it seems likely: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lenna

...and petrol shock, particularly in Europe. And sexual liberation. Time to study the correlations: http://www.tylervigen.com/spurious-correlations

But actual power lines and other total EM pollution might be. Perhaps at some point local power use (thus LF induction) exceeded safety margins afforded by physical isolation between cables and people?

Power line EM emissions have essentially ~nil power and a human is a very poor antenna for those frequencies (top of the head ~6 orders of magnitude too small), even at very high harmonics (n=20 is just one kilohertz).

Sure, how do you explain the leukaemia rates studies on people living near power lines?

https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/r... Kinda meh on cancer though not quite no effect.

Experiments abound on pubmed and so on, such as http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2305050015...

This would be easy to check by comparing rural and metropolitan areas with control for other pollution...

That link directly refutes your example...

"Numerous epidemiologic studies and comprehensive reviews of the scientific literature have evaluated possible associations between exposure to non-ionizing EMFs and risk of cancer in children (12–14). (Magnetic fields are the component of non-ionizing EMFs that are usually studied in relation to their possible health effects.) Most of the research has focused on leukemia and brain tumors, the two most common cancers in children. Studies have examined associations of these cancers with living near power lines, with magnetic fields in the home, and with exposure of parents to high levels of magnetic fields in the workplace. No consistent evidence for an association between any source of non-ionizing EMF and cancer has been found.

Exposure from power lines. Although a study in 1979 pointed to a possible association between living near electric power lines and childhood leukemia (15), more recent studies have had mixed findings (16–24). Most of these studies did not find an association or found one only for those children who lived in homes with very high levels of magnetic fields, which are present in few residences."

That is for cancer which is much less sensitive to EM field exposure.

You said no effect. I picked the most well researched way to counter that. High field might be cancer risk (by the way comparing to general population could produce a wash if the background level increased), much less for sperm counts.

So you talk about EM fields, but then don't mean them. Ok. Nice shifting the goalposts there.

What's up next? Which "high field" shall it be?

70s would be the start of boomers entering their 30s, where their consumption slows pretty dramatically and affects the economy. Inflation from oil shock too.

I'm gonna go with sitting and stress.

It's one common factor across practically all of the developed world — both sitting and stress have increased harshly for kids and young adults in the last 30-40 years.

Well I would say there the level of stress would be equal if not more in developing countries because of poverty where you dont even know if you might have food the next day or not.

It's tempting to decry how we've disrupted the environment in which we live. (Apparently, since there are roughly 200 comments on that theme...)

A more interesting potential cause of the sperm drop would be the human environment changing in a beneficial way. That is, it might be that sperm production is negatively correlated with other competitive traits. If that were the case, then we would expect the availability of modern medicine to drive a reduction in sperm count, as competitive-but-previously-infertile individuals are now better able to reproduce. After all humans are a K-selected species.

Of course this is silly, because not enough time has passed for these effects to emerge in the human population. However, we do see these effects in livestock. Thoroughbred horses released into the wild would quickly die off, since female fertility has dropped precipitously in a breeding context of "if the mare runs fast enough, we'll spare no expense getting her pregnant".

It would be interesting to see a study that compares the drop in sperm count to the drop in testosterone, to see if the drop is statistically significant or just a symptom of the drop in testosterone.

I just had some funny dark humor thought that men today and increasingly moving forward on average just ain't as manly as those of the past.

Turns out modernity is an extremely unhealthy environment for humans, especially men. Despite the narratives being thrown at you, we live in an incredibly "feminized" society where social stigma/violence/shaming are more powerful for the average person than plain old physical violence.

Why is social pressure necessarily feminine and violence necessarily masculine?

The propensity to aggression, violence and excessive risk taking are biologically related to sex hormone levels, and "masculine/feminine" seem to be quite accurate words to use since e.g. feminine men would actually express this less than average men, and masculine women would express this more than average women.

Men are generally physically stronger than women.

A bit of rambling but anyway.

We are used to way better standard now and I assume that leads to differences being measured differently, like what brand of clothes you have. I am no expert in the building blocks of larger societies, but it sure feels like the feminine side of things (looks, feelings) is the much more differe ting fact instead of how many logs you brought home from the forest. ( comparing very small cities and larger ones )

All the concrete manhood measuring seems to be more and more meta. If we don't have that to measure if we indeed are men, then what are we?

Maybe men as a protector has seen it's purpose through and is automatically being rid of, subdued to an example of what happens when success rate was too good. What we need now is engineers to build the machines and not masculine prepped men.

> Turns out modernity is an extremely unhealthy environment for humans, especially men.

Not modernity. Modern western society may be hazardous to men. For all the talk about male privilege, the society seems to be geared towards keeping men down and lifting up women.

Of course the male elites seem to be doing well, but generation by generation, the non-elite males have had their status/wealth/income/etc drop relatively speaking.

> Despite the narratives being thrown at you, we live in an incredibly "feminized" society where social stigma/violence/shaming are more powerful for the average person than plain old physical violence.

Absolutely agree with you on this. Instead of men physically beating women, now the violence is social/societal/governmental/etc. Where laws are created to favor women over men. Where women attack men by calling men "sexist/bigoted/aggressive/etc".

There probably is an environment component to this issue. But there is probably a social/societal component to this as well. Being attacked by society since birth probably negatively affects the male population in the west.

Certainly, the concerted effort by the elite to effeminize the western male for the past many decades has to have contributed.

It'd be interesting to take those with the highest levels today and look for any lifestyle differences.

Turns out it wasn't commies that were going to corrupt our precious bodily fluids, but rather post cold war end-of-history ennui.

Interested in potential causes for this. Our polluted cities? Just stress? Bad diet?

Not sure if this study was replicated again but it could be one potential reason: http://www.nbcnews.com/id/39888170

Cities in developing countries have 10X the problems you mentioned compared to developed countries.

Environmental pollutants? Endocrine disruptors? Internet porn?!

Most of us are probably eating healthier than 40 years ago (Heart disease is way down), so not sure it's diet. Unless of course its all the chemicals and contaminants that we're getting with our food...

You say eating healthier, but obesity and diabetes are at all time highs in most of the western world, I don't think it's that cut and dry.

We're also a lot more sedentary. I am convinced without being able to produce proof, that this is the biggest problem - the lack of physical work.

I used to believe we eat shit, but my ancestors were really poor and basically ate just a few food types most of their life. I think I've come a long way and am convinced that, even if I were to eat a very occasional McDonalds, it'd still be eating a lot better. It's a lot more diverse and that really makes a difference. Don't know about you but I very rarely eat the same thing two days in a row.

Nutritionally I see what you mean and definitely agree, people are taller than they used to be and until recently have lived longer. But all of the benefits a nutritionally diverse and rich diet brings are easily undone (and more) by also consuming enough sugar to become obese. This is why the current generation of obese kids at school have a lower life expectancy than their parents despite better healthcare and nutrition in their early years.

This is why I think that jumping on the "BPA must be the problem!" answer to low count question is a bit ridiculous, especially when people are becoming more unhealthy by the day. People who eat more processed sugary foods and drinks that come in BPA containing packaging are also more likely to be obese and unhealthy too.

Lacking physical work also does not account for all of the weight gain we are seeing at the moment - obesity rates remained stable in the '60s and '70s when we lived similarly lazy lives. (1)

1. http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMsr043743#t=article

McDonalds is nutritionally well-balanced if you don't get a drink or fries.

I don't see how food being diverse makes it healthier though. You diversify against risk, is there risk here?

Food industries have influenced what people think of as 'healthy' so much, even as it's shifted over the years, that people believe they're eating healthier when really they're not.

Protein bars, granola, multigrain, fruit juice, don't have high fructose corn syrup, just have a bunch of sugar instead, it's more natural!, etc and having sugar and wheat and soy and other crap put into almost everything you buy at a supermarket has contributed to this mess.

My general rule of thumb is if you're not having at least 3-4 solid servings of vegetables (not fruits, just veggies), every day, excluding corn (corn should be stripped of its vegetable status), you're probably not eating anywhere near as healthy as you should be. Fruits don't need to be avoided, but you shouldn't think you're eating healthy if you're eating 5+ servings of them every day, since they do have sugar in them (offset a bit by the dietary fiber, but still sugar).

-- Sorry for the comment --

I've deleted it

Having children is just one of many ways you can make an impact and "leave something behind" for the future.

Indeed. The excessive number of people on Earth is currently causing a major extinction event (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holocene_extinction). Some might say that not having a kid is the best way to "leave something behind" for the future.

It's probably preferable to have some negative feedback in the human population explosion, without having to resort to wars.

I suggest you express yourself less harshly.

On the contrary, if the _only_ thing you could leave behind were children maybe that's not the best branch to grow on.

Put another way, the easiest way to leave a legacy is to have children. But there are so many other ways!

> You can buy at home sperm test kits and get results in minutes.

Those only test for the quantity, not for the motility, morphology, antibodies, white blood cell count, etc.

Yeah, really sucks to be someone who can't or chooses not to have children, or who chooses to adopt. Dead ends on the tree of life, the lot of us. /s

Please reevaluate your respect for others, if you view childrearing from your own loins as the only means of being a valuable human being.


This mindset is extremely disturbing, that the only way to make a difference in the world is to reproduce. Really if you want to make the biggest impact on the most people, you won't bring any more consumers into the world.

I've never understood this argument. Nor the "if you really care about climate change you won't have kids" argument. If I have kids and teach them good values that's more future votes for action on climate change among other issues, and more people to spread good values around to others.

Don't get me wrong people who don't want kids shouldn't have kids because they'll resent their kids and likely be poorer parents for it. But claiming they're somehow doing the world a service by "not bringing more consumers into the world" or "reducing their carbon footprint" is just pure rationalization. Kids are not intrinsically a net negative for the environment or society.

If this is true, we have no higher purpose than dogs.

Eat, play, be cute - that's a higher purpose I could get behind.

And if you do leave something behind in the future, to what end are you doing it? You are still dead.

Do you have a kid? A kid is of course a distinct individual, but it is uncanny how much of you just "naturally" appears in them

Why not just compensate by ejaculating more often?


it is biologically connected and nicely correlates with the falling testosterone levels. In addition to environmental chemicals, testosterone levels are very significantly affected by behavioral/social factors. Given that society becoming more civil is at the same time a result and a cause of lowering testosterone levels, i think that despite temporary setbacks, like the recent success of the "Make the sperm count great again" campaign, the writing is on the wall here. Anyway, given the power of current and future technology, the count of 1 is enough, and may be even that would become too unnecessary big.

Why are we to assume this is a bad thing, or that it is even something that won't be sorted out by natural selection?

It's not about just the number of sperms males produce. It is about the most crucial male hormone: testosterone. It's strange that the article doesn't speak about it.

If you read up on the importance of healthy testosterone levels in both males and females you'll see why we should all be very worried about disrupting that endocrine balance.

Why would you not assume this is a bad thing? Sperm are needed for the survival of our species; a significant drop will cause problems to that survival, a drop to zero will cause extinction.

I'm upset with your question. Technology is moving faster than the pace of evolution! We know very little of how evolution works to be certain we will adapt.

Besides, why are you so keen on rendering the people who were not born before the age of current tech as a class unfit in our current context?

Could this just be due to maturation in an environment that prohibits and goes against masculinity to large extent?

We would have to define what is considered "masculinity", but I would say society definitely prohibit aggressivity, especially as more people are educated and can communicate better, more women entered the work force but also the working conditions today are more comfortable.

It would be interesting to compare testosterone levels of inmates versus men of the "outside" population. Inmates live in a much more aggressive environment, and I bet that influence their testosterone level.


Not really. At least, that's not my perception. I would say, however, that the macho attitude is clearly out of date.

As someone watching The Handmaid's Tale right now, this is especially scary stuff.

I guess it's time to finally finish watching The Handmaid's Tale...

Blessed be the fruit.

I think feminism is responsible for this. A man's mental health can drastically affect his testosterone levels.

basic biology, plenty of hormones floating around so you're not so essential to the survival of the species.

yeah right.. evolution observed in the tiny span of time that is recorded modern science?

genetics doesn't have to observe anything for millions of years to observe to results of evolution.

You are downvoted, but I believe science is on your side. Just one recent article on the "Island rule":


The Atlantic tomcod in the Hudson River has evolved immunity to the PCBs dumped in the river by General Electric.


There was an article linked on HN awhile back about getting bacteria to evolve resistance to antibiotics in just a few days.

That is possible because the generation time of many bacteria can be measured in hours or minutes. The generation time in humans is ~25 years (possibly a bit higher in the western countries mentioned) So there could be hundreds of bacterial generations in a few days, but only ~2 human generations in the time period covered by this study. Selection would have to be extremely strong (the strongest ever observed by far) for the sperm count decrease to be primarily related to selection.

The record of human evolution we know of is ~3000 years:


and yet my initial comment makes no mention of evolution, i'm talking about hormones being released or not being released because they are too many of us.

I would not call modern society "Western". It has deviated far too much from its traditions.


Isn't this good anyway? Because of overpopulation?

No. Birthrates have been dropping, but this makes getting pregnant less predictable. There are other forces at work reducing the birthrate, and I think those would be enough without complicating people's lives.

I would say the biggest issue with declining birth rates are social and psychological in nature and NOT physiological. People simply work too much, for just one example.

I'm inclined to agree with you, despite everybody else seeming to fundamentally disagree. I'm not convinced by either of the arguments in response to your comment. We have huge amounts of unemployment in the west and an economy that is tending towards more automation and fewer jobs for humans, so why would a decrease in the size of the labour force matter?

It's clear that people will continue to live longer and that birth rates will continue to fall, either by necessity (overpopulation) or due to factors like this. I hold the view that far too many people unnecessarily have children due to societal norms, family pressure, a bizarre and slightly narcissistic desire to have their genes passed down to future generations (adoption is incredibly important.) Obviously I'm not saying having children is wrong, just far too many people see it as a necessary part of their life when it really shouldn't be. Having children is an inherently selfish decision and unless you're prepared to sacrifice a huge amount of freedom to afford your children the best upbringing, then maybe having children isn't for you.

Maybe I have too much faith in modern medicine (I doubt it, modern medicine is incredible) but I fully believe a trend of dropping sperm count is not apocalyptic. It'll probably result in benefits such as fewer undesired pregnancies. The important thing is to ensure that people of any economic status have access to fertility clinics, and for IVF and related procedures to not be cost prohibitive for non-wealthy people.

No! Low population growth leads to a smaller labour force, and a growing elderly demographic. It's not a solution to overpopulation.

Having an increasing number of kids to ensure pensions are paid doesn't seem good for overpopulation issues either.

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