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New Project: Science in the Developing World

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It’s hard to talk about science. It’s really hard to talk about science outside of the US and Europe. I’m studying for my Master’s in Science Journalism at City University, London and as part of the program, some other graduates and I have started a website dedicated to science in the developing world. Check it out at http://www.science151.co.uk

 
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Posted by on December 14, 2014 in Uncategorized

 
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Sawbones

This show is delightful.

 
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Posted by on June 28, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

Gorgonopsids Are Awesome

I know you’ve never heard of gorgonopsids, but let me assure you, they are awesome. They are badass proto-mammals from beyond the dawn of time. Why have you never heard of them? Because you were too busy ogling those dinsoaurs. I know. I saw you. I used to be like you too. Those scales, those teeth – so enchanting, so alluring – but you, my friend, are missing out on a world-shaking plethora of amazing extinct things that make dinosaurs look like wimps. So why are gorgonopsids so great?

1. They Look Like Sabre-Toothed Wolves – I mean, just look at them. That’s awesome rolled in a shell of terrifying topped with crazy sprinkles.

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2. Some Were Huge – This guy? This guy above? This is Inostrancevia alexandri. He was the size of a rhinoceros. What does Inostrancevia eat? Whatever Inostrancevia wants to.

3. They’re Older Than Dinosaurs – The earliest dinosaurs are about 230 million years old. These guys? Inostrancevia up there is 260 million. Gorgonopsids were already some of the largest predators on earth 30 million years before dinosaurs were a twinkle in some lizard’s eye. Looking good, big guy.

4. It Took The Earth Dying to Kill Them – The only reason these guys weren’t around to eat those puny dinosaurs? A little something called the Permain-Triassic Extinction, also known as the worst thing to ever happen to life on Earth. We’re not sure what caused it, but 96% ocean species and 70% of all land vertebrates died because of it. What might have happened? The best theories are multiple meteor strikes, the oceans drying up, or India exploding. That’s what it took to kill the gorgonopsids.

5. They Were Related to UsThe Earth blue-screening might have killed the gorgonopsids, but you know who survived? Their cousins, the eutheriodontia, a group that eventually evolved into all modern mammals. Oh, sure, they had to take a back-seat for a while as some trumped up lizards started running around, but you know what they did? They waited. They knew. The world used to be theirs.

And it would be again.

 
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Posted by on May 21, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Grab Bag

I’m going to Iceland! But I don’t want to leave without posting at least a little something-something, so here are a few interesting links I’ve been looking at.

How about breaking news about a 500-million-year-old sea monster?

Or how a group of homeless people turned an abandoned construction project into the tallest slum in the world?

Perhaps this astronomical curiosity will pique your interest. Why isn’t the Earth a giant ball of ice?

Quadruple helix DNA? Yup, that’s a thing.

And finally one of the most amusing articles I think I’ve ever read. Human pubic lice may soon become an endangered species. The reason? Habitat loss.

Hope you enjoy and I will see you all next week!

 
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Posted by on February 27, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

The Jake Leg Blues

Jake leg blues may be one of the oddest musical jags ever recorded. At the height of the Great Depression a sudden rush of lame-leg songs hit the music scene, all referring to the same mysterious disease that appeared and disappeared all within a decade.

The disease in question, known colloquially as jake leg or jake foot, was first clinically recorded by an Oklahoma City doctor named Ephraim Goldfain. On February 27th, 1930, a man stumbled his way into Dr. Goldfain’s clinic. The man walked with a funny, slapping rhythm – he told the doctor that his feet had gone numb the week before and eventually just gave out completely. An examination confirmed what the man had said – he had lost nearly all muscle control in his lower legs. It wasn’t polio; though the was still a common threat at the time, the man was far older than the typical polio patient and he seemed comfortable enough. He didn’t have a fever and he was in no pain. The man thought he might have strained something lifting a car earlier that week.

Dr. Goldfain originally suspected lead poisoning, but before he could get any tests results other cases began to pour through his door. Four more men presented with limber leg in the first day alone. One of Dr. Goldfain’s contacts gave him a list of over sixty affected patients in Oklahoma City alone. Within a few months, thousands of similar cases were identified.

The identity of the patients contained a clue to the cause. Nearly all of the patients were men, adult, poor, and single. Many of them were veterans and many belonged to ethnic minorities. They usually lived alone, unemployed, killing the days with Prohibition-era bootleg liquor.

It was this liquor that was killing them. Without proper distilleries – they had been banned in 1920 to try to outlaw alcohol consumption – people turned to homemade, illegal, or ‘medicinal’ remedies. Jake, shorthand for Jamaica ginger extract, was a such a ‘medicine’. Sold as a tonic, the medicine was a mixture of ginger solids and alcohol. Its alcohol content could be as high as 85% (170-proof) which made it a very popular legal alternative to moonshine.

However, not all of it was as healthy as its manufacturers claimed. A pair of industrious bootleggers named Harry Gross and Max Reisman, in an effort to further increase the alcohol content, had been replacing the original ginger elements with other chemicals, including one called tri-ortho cresyl phosphate (TOCP). At the time, TOCP was thought to be harmless.

Turns out that drinking TOCP can lead to a host of nervous system problems. The chemical congregates in the drinker’s spinal cord, slowly killing nerve cells, which can lead to paralysis and, most embarrassingly  impotence. Not everyone struck with jake leg recovered. Many were crippled for the rest of their lives

The allure of jamaican ginger died off with the repeal of prohibition and better clinical knowledge of the dangers of TOCP prevented (most) new outbreaks. Today, jake leg only survives in songs – such as this modern version of one by the band Double Decker.

Sources: The New Yorker, http://www.pitt.edu/~super1/lecture/lec2381/001.htm

 
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Posted by on February 12, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Car Park Skeleton IS King Richard III!

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Richard III, King of England, Last Ruler of the House of York

The University of Leicester has announced that genetic and archaeological evidence have definitively proven that remains found under a Leicester parking lot are those off England’s King Richard III.

In March, 2011, an archaeological team set to work uncovering the lost Grey Friars church in Leicester, England. Grey Friars had been a small monastic community famous for being the final resting place of Richard III, but the exact location of the site had been lost to urban development. While finding the monastery was a reasonable expectation, uncovering the exact location of the mortal remains of Richard III was thought to be nigh-impossible. So it was very exciting when, in September 2012, the team discovered not only the old church but also a skeleton buried underneath a council parking lot.

King Richard III was an enigmatic figure in British history, his life story shrouded by politics and fictions. His defeat on Bosworth Field in 1485 ended the Wars of the Roses and ended the rule of the Plantagenet dynasty. Later, Shakespeare would immortalize him as a physically deformed, though charismatic villain in the play Richard III, influencing public opinion for centuries.

The skeleton in question had been buried without honors in a shallow grave, consistent with descriptions of the defeated Richard III’s burial. Radiocarbon dating, isotope analysis, and analysis of the skeleton also supported the identity. One of the greatest pieces of evidence came in the form of mitochondrial DNA testing. DNA from the skeleton was matched to two of Richard III’s known surviving relatives, proving a family relationship. Mitochondrial DNA is passed down from mother to child separate from normal chromosomes and can help determine ancient lineages.

A documentary about the search for Richard III’s remains and his life is currently being shown on the BBC. More information about the history and science behind this project can be found at the University of Leicester’s interactive site: http://www.le.ac.uk/richardiii/history.html.

 
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Posted by on February 4, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Holiday Break

Articles will resume on Jan. 1st, 2013. I’m taking time off to enjoy the holidays with friends.

 
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Posted by on December 23, 2012 in Uncategorized