The Washington Post has just published a delightful story revealing that "a team of American and Irish researchers have discovered that some female sharks can reproduce without having sex". However the presence of Irish researchers in the team is not reassuring. Now, I've got nothing against the Irish in general, and Irish science in particular. I've even, myself, inherited a good dose of Irish genes. And I'm sure that, if ever I were to set foot in Ireland, I would be perfectly at ease in a pub conversation on the question of virgins and sharks. But frankly, listening to Irishmen talking about the virginity of sharks is, to my mind, a little like asking Eskimos to tell us what they think of sandstorms.
It all started when a female hammerhead shark was born in an Irish zoo in 2001, where there were simply no male sharks. The lead author of the scientific paper on the virgin shark tale, Demian Chapman, is quoted as saying that, during his research in Belfast, he bet various local scientists that the shark mystery would turn out to be something other than parthenogenesis (the scientific name for virgin birth). In Chapman's own words: "I lost so many pints of Guinness over that one." I would be less suspicious if he hadn't encouraged the theme of beer to drift into this otherwise plausible story. Full of grace? Or full of Guinness?
A young lady is examined by her gynecologist.
Gynecologist: Lady, I have excellent news for you and your husband.
Lady: I don't have a husband. I'm not married.
Gynecologist: Well, it'll be good news for your male friend.
Lady: I've never had any male friends.
Gynecologist: What I mean to say is that it'll be interesting news for the last man with whom you had a sexual union.
Lady: But I've never had a sexual union with any man.
The gynecologist strolls over to the window of his surgery, draws the curtain aside and stands there in silence, peering up into the sky. After a while, the young lady becomes impatient and asks the gynecologist what he's doing.
Gynecologist: The first and last time this happened, they say a bright new star came into existence and moved slowly across the sky. This time, my young lady, I don't want to miss the show.