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Where in the world is Portsea?
This map of Europe's 20 most populous islands holds a few surprises and unlocks a truckload of trivia.
- Great Britain (pop. 61.5 million) is Europe's most populous island.
- But where exactly is Portsea, number 20 on the list?
- If you're not afraid of a truckload of trivia – read on.
The opera house in Palermo, the capital of Sicily – Europe's third-most populous island.
Credit: Miguel MEDINA/AFP via Getty Images
Maps are rabbit holes. Where they lead depends on how you fall into them. In this case, the trap door was Portsea.
This is a map of Europe's 20 most populous islands. The largest ones are familiar, and not difficult to guess. Yes, Great Britain is Europe's most people-rich island. And many would have gotten number two right as well: Ireland.
As the ranking continues, familiar islands alternate with less familiar ones, and it's interesting to see how some smaller or more obscure ones out-populate others, larger and better known. Spanish island Mallorca has the edge over Cyprus, even though the latter is an entire nation unto itself. And Vendsyssel-Thy, arguably Denmark's least familiar larger island, may be a lot smaller than Iceland but it has slightly more inhabitants.
The kicker, though, is the island at the end of the ranking. Portsea. Never heard of. Is that some kind of magical place that appears only once every century? (No, that's Brigadoon). So we looked it up. But hunting for a single piece of information is like buying a single piece of candy. It can't be done.
Here you have it, then: a truckload of trivia, on Sardinia's black-clad female assassins, a gothic cathedral that faces Mecca, and the tragic fate of Corsica's first and last-but-one king.
Not that there's much else to do during lockdown, but in the time it took us to gather all this info, we could have learned a really easy language or acquired a fairly dumb skill. Thanks a lot, Portsea!
How Britain became ‘Great’
A Top 20 of Europe's most populous islands.
1. Great Britain: 61.5 million
- Great Britain is not just Europe's most populous island (and the third-most populous in the world, after Java, Indonesia and Honshu, Japan), it is also the continent's largest (and the world's ninth-largest).
- There are two explanations for how Britain got the prefix 'Great'. In his Almagest, second-century geographer Ptolemy differentiated between the islands of Great Britain and Little Britain, by which he meant Ireland. In his Historia Regum Britanniae however, 12th-century historian Geoffrey of Monmouth distinguished between Britannia major and Britannia minor, by which he meant Brittany, the now-French region on the European mainland.
- Although the terms are often used interchangeably, Great Britain is not the same as the United Kingdom (which consists of Great Britain and Northern Ireland). However, the terms were synonymous between the Acts of Union of 1707 (uniting England and Scotland) and of 1800 (between Great Britain and Ireland).
- The four countries of the British Isles are closely identified with their patron saints: St George for England, St David for Wales, St Andrew for Scotland and St Patrick for Ireland. Strangely, the island of Great Britain itself has no patron saint. In the past, St Alban–the first-recorded Christian martyr (a.k.a. protomartyr) on the island–had this role. More recently, St Aidan, an early Irish apostle to the Britons, has been proposed.
2. Ireland: 6.4 million
- The most iconic Irish beverage is Guinness, but the Irish are only the second-largest consumers of the famed Black Stuff; in first place are... the Brits. The next-biggest markets are Nigeria, the U.S., and Cameroon. In all, about 4 million of the 10 million glasses of Guinness consumed daily are downed in Africa.
- Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church in Dublin contains a shrine with the relics of St Valentine, donated by Pope Gregory XVI in 1836. It's a popular destination for couples to ask the saint to bless their life together.
3. Sicily (Italy): 5 million
- Sicily is the biggest island in the Mediterranean, and home to Europe's tallest active volcano, Mount Etna. That's the one hogging the limelight; there are at least 10 other volcanoes on or near Sicily, including two active ones – Stromboli and Vulcano (in English: Vulcan). Each is one of the Aeolian Islands, just north of Sicily. The Romans believed the fire-spewing mountain was the chimney of their fire god Vulcan's smithy, hence the latter island's name, which became the generic term for 'fire-spewing mountain'.
- Three Sicilian firsts: it was where pi was first calculated (in the 3rd century BC, by Archimedes), where the first sonnet was written (in the 13th century, by Giacomo da Lentini), and where ice cream was invented (in the 17th century, by Francesco Procopio dei Coltelli).
A canal planned by Nero
The MS Turanor PlanetSolar, the world's largest solar-powered boat, squeezes through the Corinth Canal, which turned the Peloponnese into an island.
Credit: VALERIE GACHE/AFP via Getty Images
4. Zealand (Denmark): 2.3 million
- Zealand (in Danish: Sjælland) is the largest island of Denmark proper and the most populated, home to the capital Copenhagen and other major cities.
- It is home to the oldest and second-oldest amusement parks in the world still in operation, called Bakken and Tivoli, respectively.
- Despite the similarity, Zealand is not the toponymic parent of New Zealand; the antipodean nation was named after the Dutch province of Zeeland.
Of the three larger islands in the western Mediterranean, Sardinia somehow always gets the least attention. Quite undeservedly so, because beaches, nature, old buildings. Etcetera, of course. Here, however, are three standout facts that are truly unique about the island.
- Sardinia contains the first of five 'Blue Zones' discovered across the world, where life expectancy is exceptionally high. The area has about 10 times more centenarians per capita than the U.S. One village called Seulo (pop. 750) has had 20 centenarians in the 20 years preceding 2016, a world record.
- The island's penchant for longevity is actually quite surprising, considering another Sardinian tradition, the Femmina Accabadora, or 'Finishing Woman'. If someone suffered from an intolerably painful illness, they (or their family) could request a visit from one of these folk euthanizers. Dressed in black and with covered faces, they would dispatch their victims swiftly and painlessly by suffocating them with a pillow, hitting them over the head with a heavy wooden hammer, or strangling them with the victim's neck between their legs.
- The capital of Argentina was named after a hill in Sardinia. Bonaria (Italian for 'good air', or 'fair wind') is the name of a hill overlooking Cagliari, as it was free from the foul smell prevalent in the Sardinian capital's swamp-adjacent old town. On top of the hill stands an abbey dedicated to the Virgin Mary, who was venerated by sailors praying for fair winds. The first Spanish sailors to land where the Argentinian capital now stands, gave thanks to her, and Our Lady of Buen Ayre eventually gave her name to the city.
6. Peloponnese (Greece): 1.1 million
In 67 AD, the emperor Nero broke ground on a canal to connect the Ionian and Aegean seas. He wielded a pickaxe and personally carried away the first basket of soil. The mean fiddler then handed over to 6,000 Jewish prisoners of war, who managed to dig across one-tenth of the narrow Istmus of Corinth before the project was abandoned.Only in 1893 was the Corinth Canal completed – finally separating the Peloponnese from the Greek mainland, turning the peninsula into Greece's largest island. The canal is 6.4 km (4 mi) long and just 21.4 m (70 ft) wide, making it impassable for large ships. It has little economic value and is mainly a tourist attraction. 7. Tenerife (Spain): 890,000
Next time you're in Trafalgar Square in London, look up at the statue on top of Nelson's Column: it has no right arm. Next time you're in Tenerife, you can go see the cannon what did it. In the remains of the Castle of San Cristobal, now a museum, in the capital Santa Cruz, you'll find El Tigre, a 3-m-long bronze cannon cast in Seville. This is the weapon that wounded Horatio Nelson during the Battle of Santa Cruz de Tenerife in 1797. Each year on July 25th, Tenerife stages a full-costume re-enactment of the battle. Each year, Nelson loses both the battle and the arm. That's why it's not called Tenerife Square!
A wedding in Cyprus
Berengaria, wife of king Richard I Lionheart.
Credit: Kean Collection/Getty Images
8. Mallorca (Spain): 860,000
Palma de Mallorca's Gothic cathedral, known as La Seu, has one of the world's largest stained-glass windows. Famous architect Antoni Gaudí is responsible for some of the more recent restorations. The iconic building has one even more unique peculiarity. Whereas Christian churches generally face east, this one points towards Mecca. That's because it rises on the foundations of a mosque, which was built when the Moors also ruled this part of Spain.
9. Cyprus: 860,000
- Cyprus is the only place outside Britain ever to stage an English royal wedding. On May 12, 1191 in Limassol's Chapel of St George, King Richard I ('Lionheart') married princess Berengaria, daughter of King Sancho VI of Navarre. From there, the newlyweds proceeded to the Holy Land for a bit of light crusading.
- Present-day Cyprus is the only country in the world with a divided capital. The northern part of Nicosia is run by the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, a country recognised only by Turkey. The southern part of Nicosia is run by the Republic of Cyprus, an EU member state. The two sides are separated by a UN-administered Green Line, which divides not just Nicosia, but the entire island.
10. Gran Canaria (Spain): 850,000
- Neither Gran Canaria nor the Canary Islands as a whole were named after canary birds. It's rather the other way around: the birds derive their names from the islands, where they are endemic.
- The islands were in fact named after dogs. Insulae canariae is Latin for 'Islands of the Dogs'. But it's rather unclear how the name came about.
- One theory is that large dogs roamed the islands when the Ancients first visited (Pliny the Elder mentions this).
- Another theory claims the 'dogs' are in fact 'sea dogs', i.e. seals.
- Or: the native Guanche people worshipped and mummified dogs, a practice perhaps related to the cult of the dog-headed god Anubis in Egypt.
- Canarians have made their mark on the Americas. They founded the cities of San Antonio in Texas, and Sao Paulo in Brazil, among others. And they brought over the peppers, chilis, and salsas familiar in Tex-Mex cuisine.
- In 1936, Francisco Franco was General Commandant of the Canaries, stationed in Las Palmas, on Gran Canaria. This is where he plotted his insurgency against the left-wing Republican government. So you could say that the Spanish Civil War started on Gran Canaria.
11. Södertörn: 800,000
Södertörn is a vaguely triangular peninsula south of Stockholm, separated from the mainland by canals cut at Södertälje and Hammarby. Since 2014, it has been reclassified as an island and is now considered Sweden's third-largest island, after Gotland and Öland. The northern part of the island is a heavily populated southern extension of the Swedish capital region.
Pete Buttigieg, currently the most prominent Maltese-American.
Credit: Stefani Reynolds - Pool/Getty Images
12. Crete (Greece): 620,000
Cretans take their salads seriously. In 2010, the Guinness-attested world record for largest Greek salad ever was set in Ierapetra, Crete. The salad weighed in at 13 tons and 417 kg.
Unfortunately for Ierapetra, the record was broken in 2016, on Moscow's Red Square of all places, where no less than 1,200 volunteers prepared a Greek salad weighing 20 tons.
But if you can take the record-breaking salad out of Crete, you can't take the Cretans out of the record-breaking salad. So to speak. The Muscovite Greek salad was prepared under the direction of Petros Lambrinidis, a chef from Crete.
13. Fyn (Denmark): 450,000
Fyn, in between Zealand and Jutland, is Denmark's third-largest island. In English, it's known as Funen. (The Latin name is Fionia).
The New Little Belt Bridge (Ny Lillebæltsbro, 1970), connecting Fyn with Jutland, is Denmark's oldest suspension bridge.
Since 1997, Fyn and Zealand are linked via the Great Belt Fixed Link (Storebæltsforbindelsen), a combination of road bridge and rail tunnel and bridge. The eastern part of the bridge is formed by a 2,694m long suspension bridge, the longest such bridge in Europe (and the third-longest in the world).
14. Malta: 400,000
On the campaign trail last year, Pete Buttigieg joked that he was the only "left-handed Maltese-American, Episcopalian, gay, millennial war veteran in the race." A pretty impressive rainbow coalition, but not one broad enough to earn him the Democratic nomination.
Nevermind: as Joe Biden's pick for U.S. Secretary of Transportation, Buttigieg may yet remain the nation's most prominent public figure of Maltese descent. Unless Britney Spears makes a comeback, that is.
Yes, the Princess of Pop–a month and a half older than Buttigieg, by the way–also has Maltese ancestry, albeit only one-eighth, via her mother. But that's okay: the Maltese are an inclusive people, happy to celebrate anyone with as much as a drop of Maltese blood.
Other prominent Maltesers? Actor Jason Bateman, Canadian rocker Bryan Adams, U.S.-British royal Meghan Markle, and Scottish singer Sharleen Spiteri.
15. Vendsyssel-Thy (Denmark): 300,000
What's the northernmost island of Denmark proper, and the second-largest Danish island after Greenland? Quite a few Danes won't know the right answer either. It's Vendsyssel-Thy, the northernmost part of Jutland.
It doesn't feel like an island, perhaps because it consists of distinct regions (Vendsyssel, Thy and Hanherred), and its name derives from those parts rather than reflects its geographic distinctiveness (see also the Delmarva Peninsula in the U.S., the name of which derives from DELaware, MARyland and VirginiA).
Or perhaps because it hasn't been one for very long. Only after the disastrous Great Hallig Flood of February 1825 breached Agger Tange, the land link that separated the North Sea from the Limfjord, did it become entirely detached from the rest of Jutland.
The first part of the name Vendsyssel, by the way, may refer to the Germanic tribe of the Vandals.
16. Iceland: 300,000
Iceland is a country of extremes. Of, if you're into lists, 'Best Ofs'. Here's our personal Top 10.
- Reykjavik is the northernmost national capital in the world.
- Around 11 percent of the country is covered by glaciers, 8 percent alone by Vatnajökull, the world's largest glacier outside the polar regions.
- Iceland's parliament is called the Althingi. It was founded in 930, making it the oldest one in the world.
- About two-thirds of children in Iceland are born outside of marriage, the highest rate in the world.
- In 2009, Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir became Iceland's first female Prime Minister and the world's first openly lesbian head of government.
- About 30 percent of Iceland's electricity is of geothermal origin, the highest percentage in the world.
- Iceland is the only country in the world without mosquitoes.
- According to the Global Peace Index, Iceland is the most peaceful country in the world.
- Iceland has the world's smallest overall gender gap, a position it has held since 2009. The pay gap is decreasing, but so slow that parity would be reached only in 2068.
- In a recent survey of 35 countries worldwide, Iceland came out as the best place in the world to raise a family. The U.S., incidentally, finished 34th.
Part of Portsmouth
The Spinnaker Tower, the icon of Portsmouth, and by extension also the most famous landmark of Portsea.
Credit: Finnbarr Webster/Getty Images
17. Corsica (France): 300,000
The first king of Corsica is buried in the churchyard of St Anne's in Soho, London. Theodor von Neuhoff (1694-1756) was a German-born adventurer who helped Corsican rebels rid the island of the Genoese, but only for about eight months in 1736. The last 20 years of his life, he vainly tried to regain his throne. 'Theodor the First' was got out of debtors' prison in London, by signing over his elusive kingdom to his creditors. His epitaph, written by his friend Sir Horace Walpole, reads:
The grave, great teacher, to a level brings
Heroes and beggars, galley slaves and kings.
But Theodore this moral learn'd ere dead:
Fate poured its lessons on his living head,
Bestow'd a kingdom, and denied him bread.
In 1768, Genoa sold the rebellious island to France. In 1794, the British conquered the island and established a short-lived Anglo-Corsican Kingdom, making George III the second (and last) king of Corsica. Two years later, the French were back – for good, for now.
18. Madeira (Portugal): 270,000
- The Portuguese island of Madeira–closer to Africa than to Europe–is famous for the fortified wine that carries its name. The Founding Fathers in particular were big fans. Madeira wine was used to toast the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the inauguration of George Washington, the launch of the U.S.S. Constitution, and the signing of the Louisiana Purchase.
- Madeira's second-most consequential contribution to global culture is the ukulele. Although now entirely associated with Hawaiian music, the instrument (whose name means 'jumping flea' in Hawaiian) was introduced to the islands only in 1879, by Madeiran sugar cane cutters. It is based on similar small guitar-like instruments they knew from home, such as the cavaquinho and the rajao.
- Soccer fans will beg to differ. They would argue that Madeira's most famous export is Cristiano Ronaldo, hailed by many as the greatest soccer player of his generation. Local authorities seem to agree. In 2017, the capital Funchal's airport was renamed Cristiano Ronaldo International Airport.
19. Euboea (Greece): 220,000
'Euboea' means 'land of the well-fed oxen', but throughout history, it's had more aliases than that shifty-looking character on the next street corner.
In ancient times, it was known as Dolicche or Macris (because it is so narrow), and Aonia, Ellopia or Abantis (after the tribes that called it home). The Byzantines called it Chalcis (the name of its capital) or Euripios (after the strait that separates it from the mainland). Under Venetian rule, it was known as Negroponte (a folk etymology, after the 'black bridge' across the strait).
One of the most notable natives of the island is St Porphyrios (1906-91), a Greek Orthodox monk famous for his gift of clairvoyance, which he called 'spiritual television'.
20. Portsea Island (UK): 210,000
Portsea is the third most populated of the British Isles, after Great Britain and Ireland. And the most densely populated one. Yet you've probably never heard of it. That's because Portsea is subsumed by the city of Portsmouth, which covers the entire island.
Portsmouth often calls itself the only island city in Britain. But that's not entirely true, as the city also covers an adjacent part of the mainland, on the southern coast of England.
Map seen here on Reddit. Reproduced with kind permission.
Strange Maps #1066
Got a strange map? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Inventions with revolutionary potential made by a mysterious aerospace engineer for the U.S. Navy come to light.
- U.S. Navy holds patents for enigmatic inventions by aerospace engineer Dr. Salvatore Pais.
- Pais came up with technology that can "engineer" reality, devising an ultrafast craft, a fusion reactor, and more.
- While mostly theoretical at this point, the inventions could transform energy, space, and military sectors.
The U.S. Navy controls patents for some futuristic and outlandish technologies, some of which, dubbed "the UFO patents," came to light recently. Of particular note are inventions by the somewhat mysterious Dr. Salvatore Cezar Pais, whose tech claims to be able to "engineer reality." His slate of highly-ambitious, borderline sci-fi designs meant for use by the U.S. government range from gravitational wave generators and compact fusion reactors to next-gen hybrid aerospace-underwater crafts with revolutionary propulsion systems, and beyond.
Of course, the existence of patents does not mean these technologies have actually been created, but there is evidence that some demonstrations of operability have been successfully carried out. As investigated and reported by The War Zone, a possible reason why some of the patents may have been taken on by the Navy is that the Chinese military may also be developing similar advanced gadgets.
Among Dr. Pais's patents are designs, approved in 2018, for an aerospace-underwater craft of incredible speed and maneuverability. This cone-shaped vehicle can potentially fly just as well anywhere it may be, whether air, water or space, without leaving any heat signatures. It can achieve this by creating a quantum vacuum around itself with a very dense polarized energy field. This vacuum would allow it to repel any molecule the craft comes in contact with, no matter the medium. Manipulating "quantum field fluctuations in the local vacuum energy state," would help reduce the craft's inertia. The polarized vacuum would dramatically decrease any elemental resistance and lead to "extreme speeds," claims the paper.
Not only that, if the vacuum-creating technology can be engineered, we'd also be able to "engineer the fabric of our reality at the most fundamental level," states the patent. This would lead to major advancements in aerospace propulsion and generating power. Not to mention other reality-changing outcomes that come to mind.
Among Pais's other patents are inventions that stem from similar thinking, outlining pieces of technology necessary to make his creations come to fruition. His paper presented in 2019, titled "Room Temperature Superconducting System for Use on a Hybrid Aerospace Undersea Craft," proposes a system that can achieve superconductivity at room temperatures. This would become "a highly disruptive technology, capable of a total paradigm change in Science and Technology," conveys Pais.
High frequency gravitational wave generator.
Credit: Dr. Salvatore Pais
Another invention devised by Pais is an electromagnetic field generator that could generate "an impenetrable defensive shield to sea and land as well as space-based military and civilian assets." This shield could protect from threats like anti-ship ballistic missiles, cruise missiles that evade radar, coronal mass ejections, military satellites, and even asteroids.
Dr. Pais's ideas center around the phenomenon he dubbed "The Pais Effect". He referred to it in his writings as the "controlled motion of electrically charged matter (from solid to plasma) via accelerated spin and/or accelerated vibration under rapid (yet smooth) acceleration-deceleration-acceleration transients." In less jargon-heavy terms, Pais claims to have figured out how to spin electromagnetic fields in order to contain a fusion reaction – an accomplishment that would lead to a tremendous change in power consumption and an abundance of energy.
According to his bio in a recently published paper on a new Plasma Compression Fusion Device, which could transform energy production, Dr. Pais is a mechanical and aerospace engineer working at the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD), which is headquartered in Patuxent River, Maryland. Holding a Ph.D. from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, Pais was a NASA Research Fellow and worked with Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems. His current Department of Defense work involves his "advanced knowledge of theory, analysis, and modern experimental and computational methods in aerodynamics, along with an understanding of air-vehicle and missile design, especially in the domain of hypersonic power plant and vehicle design." He also has expert knowledge of electrooptics, emerging quantum technologies (laser power generation in particular), high-energy electromagnetic field generation, and the "breakthrough field of room temperature superconductivity, as related to advanced field propulsion."
Suffice it to say, with such a list of research credentials that would make Nikola Tesla proud, Dr. Pais seems well-positioned to carry out groundbreaking work.
A craft using an inertial mass reduction device.
Credit: Salvatore Pais
The patents won't necessarily lead to these technologies ever seeing the light of day. The research has its share of detractors and nonbelievers among other scientists, who think the amount of energy required for the fields described by Pais and his ideas on electromagnetic propulsions are well beyond the scope of current tech and are nearly impossible. Yet investigators at The War Zone found comments from Navy officials that indicate the inventions are being looked at seriously enough, and some tests are taking place.
If you'd like to read through Pais's patents yourself, check them out here.
Laser Augmented Turbojet Propulsion System
Credit: Dr. Salvatore Pais
The symbol for love is the heart, but the brain may be more accurate.
- How love makes us feel can only be defined on an individual basis, but what it does to the body, specifically the brain, is now less abstract thanks to science.
- One of the problems with early-stage attraction, according to anthropologist Helen Fisher, is that it activates parts of the brain that are linked to drive, craving, obsession, and motivation, while other regions that deal with decision-making shut down.
- Dr. Fisher, professor Ted Fischer, and psychiatrist Gail Saltz explain the different types of love, explore the neuroscience of love and attraction, and share tips for sustaining relationships that are healthy and mutually beneficial.
A new study suggests that reports of the impending infertility of the human male are greatly exaggerated.
- A new review of a famous study on declining sperm counts finds several flaws.
- The old report makes unfounded assumptions, has faulty data, and tends toward panic.
- The new report does not rule out that sperm counts are going down, only that this could be quite normal.
Several years ago, a meta-analysis of studies on human fertility came out warning us about the declining sperm counts of Western men. It was widely shared, and its findings were featured on the covers of popular magazines. Indeed, its findings were alarming: a nearly 60 percent decline in sperm per milliliter since 1973 with no end in sight. It was only a matter of time, the authors argued, until men were firing blanks, literally.
Well… never mind.
It turns out that the impending demise of humanity was greatly exaggerated. As the predicted infertility wave crashed upon us, there was neither a great rush of men to fertility clinics nor a sudden dearth of new babies. The only discussions about population decline focus on urbanization and the fact that people choose not to have kids rather than not being able to have them.
Now, a new analysis of the 2017 study says that lower sperm counts is nothing to be surprised by. Published in Human Fertility, its authors point to flaws in the original paper's data and interpretation. They suggest a better and smarter reanalysis.
Counting tiny things is difficult
The original 2017 report analyzed 185 studies on 43,000 men and their reproductive health. Its findings were clear: "a significant decline in sperm counts… between 1973 and 2011, driven by a 50-60 percent decline among men unselected by fertility from North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand."
However, the new analysis points out flaws in the data. As many as a third of the men in the studies were of unknown age, an important factor in reproductive health. In 45 percent of cases, the year of the sample collection was unknown- a big detail to miss in a study measuring change over time. The quality controls and conditions for sample collection and analysis vary widely from study to study, which likely influenced the measured sperm counts in the samples.
Another study from 2013 also points out that the methods for determining sperm count were only standardized in the 1980s, which occurred after some of the data points were collected for the original study. It is entirely possible that the early studies gave inaccurately high sperm counts.
This is not to say that the 2017 paper is entirely useless; it had a much more rigorous methodology than previous studies on the subject, which also claimed to identify a decline in sperm counts. However, the original study had more problems.
Garbage in, garbage out
Predictable as always, the media went crazy. Discussions of the decline of masculinity took off, both in mainstream and less-than-reputable forums; concerns about the imagined feminizing traits of soy products continued to increase; and the authors of the original study were called upon to discuss the findings themselves in a number of articles.
However, as this new review points out, some of the findings of that meta-analysis are debatable at best. For example, the 2017 report suggests that "declining mean [sperm count] implies that an increasing proportion of men have sperm counts below any given threshold for sub-fertility or infertility," despite little empirical evidence that this is the case.
The WHO offers a large range for what it considers to be a healthy sperm count, from 15 to 250 million sperm per milliliter. The benefits to fertility above a count of 40 million are seen as minimal, and the original study found a mean sperm concentration of 47 million sperm per milliliter.
Healthy sperm, healthy man?
The claim that sperm count is evidence of larger health problems is also scrutinized in this new article. While it is true that many major health problems can impact reproductive health, there is little evidence that it is the "canary in the coal mine" for overall well-being. A number of studies suggest that any relation between lifestyle choices and this part of reproductive health is limited at best.
Lastly, ideas that environmental factors could be at play have been debunked since 2017. While the original paper considered the idea that pollutants, especially from plastics, could be at fault, it is now known that this kind of pollution is worse in the parts of the world that the original paper observed higher sperm counts in (i.e., non-Western nations).
There never was a male fertility crisis
The authors of the new review do not deny that some measurements are showing lower sperm counts, but they do question the claim that this is catastrophic or part of a larger pathological issue. They propose a new interpretation of the data. Dubbed the "Sperm Count Biovariability hypothesis," it is summarized as:
"Sperm count varies within a wide range, much of which can be considered non-pathological and species-typical. Above a critical threshold, more is not necessarily an indicator of better health or higher probability of fertility relative to less. Sperm count varies across bodies, ecologies, and time periods. Knowledge about the relationship between individual and population sperm count and life-historical and ecological factors is critical to interpreting trends in average sperm counts and their relationships to human health and fertility."
Still, the authors note that lower sperm counts "could decline due to negative environmental exposures, or that this may carry implications for men's health and fertility."
However, they disagree that the decline in absolute sperm count is necessarily a bad sign for men's health and fertility. We aren't at civilization ending catastrophe just yet.