Quickies: Victim blaming, WWII chemical experiments, and synthetic rhino horn

  • How victim blaming led to the rape kit backlog – “Investigators’ unwillingness to push past the superficial appearance of a “he said, she said” case has also frustrated federal lawmakers who have appropriated more than $1 billion trying to reduce rape kit backlogs. Additionally, researchers say that police attitudes toward sexual assault are lagging social and scientific understanding of evidence in sexual assault cases.”
  • John Oliver: Internet threats on women are out of control – “I’m talking about the kind of direct threats that can make people fear for their safety. And if you’re thinking, well come on, that doesn’t seem like that big a problem, well, congratulations on your white penis.” (Bonus video about women appearing on US money.) From Arturo.
  • Secret WWII chemical experiments tested troops by race – “All of the World War II experiments with mustard gas were done in secret and weren’t recorded on the subjects’ official military records. Most do not have proof of what they went through. They received no follow-up health care or monitoring of any kind.” From Ray.
  • Biotech firm creates fake rhino horn to reduce poaching – “Pembient, based in San Francisco uses keratin — a type of fibrous protein — and rhino DNA to produce a dried powder which is then 3D printed into synthetic rhino horns which is genetically and spectrographically similar to original rhino horns.”


Amanda works in healthcare, is a loudmouthed feminist, and proud supporter of the Oxford comma.

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  1. I’ve been an advocate of fake rhino horn for decades. Before there was such a thing as cheap DNA testing, I thought flooding the market with ground up cow horn (obtained essentially for free from slaughter houses) or toenail clippings (it’s all just keratin) would make the rhino poaching business unsustainable. Adding artificially created rhino DNA to the mix would just make it more effective, plus you can now sell whole fake horns, not just powder.

    I have no ethical problem with defrauding greedy, self-deluded, ignorant, sexist assholes (the primary market for rhino horn, tiger penises and other “male enhancement products”) to save an endangered species from horrific extermination.

    As for the objections of people like Susie Ellis of the Rhino conservation group (who is, I’m sure, a conservationist, not a conservative), fraudsters selling the fake (and genetically indistinguishable) horn would have vastly higher profit margins than those selling the real thing. The people who already know it is unscientific bullshit aren’t going to be buying either the real or the fake, and the fact that there is no difference in effectiveness between the real and fake rhino horn means that any fake purveyors who could convince their customers they were selling the real deal would soon drive out of business the people selling the real rhino horn.

    1. It’s alternative medicine. The poachers will just start an anti-GMO whisper campaign; lying is hardly the most unethical thing they’ve ever done.

      1. Well, yeah, but the fraudulent products will be sold exactly the same way.

        Remember, the whole thing is illegal and underground, so there is no labeling enforcement. Since there is no (and can be no) objective test of effectiveness (since it doesn’t actually do anything), if you just have to trust your local seller, who has to trust their dealer, who has to trust the importer, who has to trust the smuggler, who has to trust the exporter (who is probably the head of an organized crime ring) who has to trust his consolidators who have to trust their poachers, and there is no objective verification for any of this (not even DNA for the new stuff), the whole scheme is bound to collapse as soon as someone, any where in the chain, cheats.

        1. Remember the movie The Freshman?

          The basic premise was the same, offer something that is illegal and unethical for an exorbitant price and then switch it out with something mundane at the very end. Then find another sucker; lather, rinse, repeat.

  2. There actually was the military equivalent of an urban legend that Black soldiers were somehow immune to at least some poison gasses.

    I recall J.B.S. Haldane made some plea for re-introducing poison gas after WWI. He had been gassed, as well as shot, stabbed, buried, and blown up, during HIS service in the trenches. He felt that gas wasn’t ‘all that bad’ among the alternatives…. I THINK Stephen Jay Gould included a reference to this appalling passage in ‘The Mismeasure of Man’ or an essay in Natural History.’

    I wonder if Haldane himself influenced the military in these deranged experiments?

  3. I remember a while back when the Pashmina scarf first appeared we were told that the reason it was so expensive was that it was made from the hair of a rare species that was dying out as a result of the trade.

    So of course a certain type of person flocked to the store to buy them when they saw the $5000 items on sale for a mere $150. Turned out that the whole story was pretty much B/S and most of the $150 scarfs were made from ordinary sheep wool and so were the $5000 ones.

    Then there were those enterprising types who persuaded people that coffee tastes much better if its been through a rodent’s intestinal tract first.

    Oh and apparently the amount of ginko being sold in the US each year is an absurd multiple of the amount of genuine stuff produced.

    So there really should be no problem passing off fake horn. In fact it would give the people in charge of the trade an incentive to protect the species as it would obviously disappear completely if the rhino died out.

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