How Did I Not Know About This??!!

How I do enjoy browsing IFLScience in my free time.

Apparently, it has been common knowledge for years amongst children that crunching on mints with your mouth open in the dark is a very fun practice. IFLScience assumed that many people already new this, and so went on to explain the scientific principles behind why this is amusing.

[C]rushing a Wint-O-Green Lifesaver mint with a hammer can produce an optical phenomenon known as triboluminescence. This roughly means “friction-light” and refers to the light that is generated due to the breaking of chemical bonds when materials are smashed, rubbed, or scratched.

Waait a minute. Mints light up in the dark??!! How did I not know about this! This sounds exactly like the kind of thing I would do as a kid.

OK so now that we’re on the subject, why does this happen?

“When the sugar is cracked, electrical charge is separated, positive from negative, and when there is a big enough charge accumulation (electric field) the electrons jump through the air in the crack, colliding with and exciting the nitrogen molecules as they do.”

IFLScience follows this explanation up with a super slow motion video of smashing mints, which pretty much just blew my mind.

OK, that settles it. I may be fast approaching my 30th birthday, but I am gathering up a few friends, buying every kind of hard mint available in the supermarket, going home and turning off all the lights. This has got to be investigated, personally.

Maybe I should tell my friends what I’m up to though… they might get a little worried without some context.

Bad Science: Say That Twice, With A Straight Face

Some bad science writers just make it too easy.

The other day, I come across an article that someone posted on Facebook. It was entitled Science Finally Confirms That People Absorb Energy From Others!

Of course you do not have to be a scientist to know that is complete bullshit. Oh dear, I thought, this is one of those rabbit holes that I cannot resist falling into. What new study has been twisted and perverted to fit this narrative today, I wonder? Will they name the scientist that “made the discovery”? Will they just give the name of an institute, and I’ll have to comb through their publications to find the culprit? Or perhaps is the aforementioned “science” performed by just some quack in a yurt in Arizona somewhere?

Where is this article going to fall on my 1-10 Bad Science Bullshit-o-Meter? So, I clicked on it. Of course I did.

If you don’t want to click on it I get it, so let me just quote the first two lines, because that’s the absolute best part.

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This Week In Zoology: What Causes Irukandji Syndrome?

For decades, a mysterious illness cropped up in the Australian summer months. People would fall prey to Nature’s Cruciatus Curse, an indescribable pain, a feeling like you are burning from the inside out and, at times, a conviction that you’re going to die that is so strong that you beg those around you to just kill you. This syndrome would last anywhere between 12 hours and 3 days, and then it would pass. While Irukandji syndrome was very rarely fatal, it was still scary enough that no one much wanted to have to go through it.

This mystery persisted until the 1960s, when physician and toxinocologist Jack Barnes told the world that this devastating syndrome was caused by the sting of a tiny, barely noticeable jellyfish.

1200px-Irukandji-jellyfish-queensland-australia

 

As you can imagine, this was a tough sell. How do you convince the country and the world that this incredibly painful day from Hell could come from a little creature that you barely even notice when it stings you? So, how do you prove this far-fetched theory?

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Kids Who Die For Ignorance

There has been another deadly outbreak of a preventable disease in Europe. This time, it is the measles which is spreading rapidly across Romania, and so far, 17 children have died.

Romania has seen nearly 2,000 cases of measles since February 2016, World Health Organization data shows.

The country’s vaccination rate is 86 per cent, well below the 95 per cent recommended for “herd immunity” against infectious disease.

Romania’s measles outbreak has killed 17 children there, none of whom were vaccinated.

Romania’s vaccination rate has fallen sharply over the last decade, driven in part by a vocal anti-vaccination movement there. The country now has Europe’s highest measles infection rate, and its fifth-lowest vaccination rate.

These stories are becoming more and more frequent, and I cannot stand it when another one comes out. When people spew this anti-vaccination nonsense on social media, I can’t let it go. I will engage that person and explain why they are wrong, and how their beliefs are destroying lives. It is not the same as when someone posts a quote from Mother Teresa, or a belief that nature is sacred and spiritual or what have you. Those are personal, relatively benign opinions. The anti-vaxx movement, on the other hand, is one of the most dangerous campaigns of misinformation in existence.

If you’re not yet convinced, the article goes on to explain how Europe’s protection against preventable disease is falling rapidly.

Of 32 European countries that have had measles cases since February 2016, 22 had measles vaccination rates below 95 per cent.

In January, 84 per cent of Europe’s measles cases happened in seven countries, all of which had vaccination rates under 95 per cent.

About 10 per cent of children with measles get ear infections, which can lead to hearing loss, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control warns. About five per cent will get pneumonia, and one in 1,000 will die.

When I talk about these stories, I usually get two main questions.

  1. Why do you bother engaging with anti-vaxx people? Don’t you know that you will never convince them?
  2. Why do you keep bringing these stories up? Aren’t you preaching to the choir? We all agree here that vaccinations are important.

So, let me answer those questions.

  1. I engage with people who post anti-vaxx beliefs on social media because allowing this misinformation to go unchallenged is precisely what has gotten us into this mess. While I understand that someone firm in their beliefs is very unlikely to change their mind, perhaps people who are on the fence and see the post will be less persuaded to become an anti-vaxxer if they see a reasonable exchange, rather than a one-sided pile of bad science and lies. Also, even if it is extremely hard to change someone’s firm belief, they are endangering innocent children with their ignorance, and so I have to at least try.
  2. I bring these stories up for one simple reason. A study was conducted on people who were “skeptical” of vaccine safety. This study, and many others, found that reiterating the science behind why anti-vaxx is bullshit did nothing to change their beliefs, if anything it made things worse. The only thing that made the slightest impact was to show them how bad these diseases can be. In other words, reminding people of the real risks of not vaccinating their children is the only thing that has a hope of bringing those numbers of vaccinations back up.

So, please, share this story. You don’t need to share this post, but share that article, and every other article that you come across which talks about the children that are getting sick and dying because of this nonsense. Maybe, just maybe, you know a new parent who is being swayed by the anti-vaxx argument, and that parent might see those images of those sick kids and think better of it.

It is important to remember that not everyone is iron clad in their convictions, nor is anyone born convinced of anything. You can persuade people if you share information before they become absolutely convinced of falsehoods. You could save a life.

 

 

 

Flat is the New Black

You may recall the excellent face-off between rapper B.o.B. and Neil DeGrasse Tyson over B.o.B’s insistence that the Earth is flat. It was fun, partially because it was hilarious that we are still having this conversation, and partly because it caused Neil DeGrasse Tyson to make this video

I did not react to the feud in the same way that I did when Creationists get into it with popular scientists, mostly because flat-Earthers are extremely rare and do not try to teach their “alternative theory” in public schools. They are so rare, in fact, that I was partly convinced that B.o.B. had simply picked the most ridiculous thing he could think of and said it on Twitter in order to get his name on TV for a few days, rather than because he actually believed it.

Even if he did believe it, I thought, I’m not going to lose my shit because one rapper slept his way through elementary school science and now thinks he’s being clever. I can just enjoy these short clips, and move on with my life.

Unfortunately, B.o.B. seems to have sparked something of a fashion. Not amongst other rappers, but rather amongst American athletes. It seems that being a flat-Earther has become very in.

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When Catholic Fake Science Saved Lives

I think I’ve railed on bad science and woo enough on this blog to make my views on the matter perfectly clear. I think it is exploitative, dangerous, and contributes largely to the dumbing down of our society. However, in an almost “the exception that proves the rule” kind of way (though I never really understood why that phrase makes sense), I have come across an interesting story that I had never heard of before, despite the fact that it took place in my hometown of Rome. In this ironic twist fake science, perpetrated by Catholic doctors, actually saved a good many lives.

In the fall of 1943, German soldiers in Italy began rounding up Italian Jews and deporting them—10,000 people were sent to concentration camps during the nearly two-year Nazi occupation. Most never returned. But in Rome, a group of doctors saved at least 20 Jews from a similar fate, by diagnosing them with Syndrome K, a deadly, disfiguring, and “contagiosissima” disease.

You have probably never heard of this highly infectious and contagious disease. Don’t worry, it has been eradicated, by which I mean that it never actually existed.

The disease did not exist in any medical textbook or physician’s chart. In fact, it didn’t exist at all. It was a codename invented by doctor and anti-fascist activist Adriano Ossicini, to help distinguish between real patients and healthy hideaways. (Political dissidents and a revolutionary underground radio station were also sheltered there from Italy’s Fascist regime.)

The fake illness was vividly imagined: Rooms holding “Syndrome K” sufferers were designated as dangerously infectious—dissuading Nazi inspectors from entering—and Jewish children were instructed to cough, in imitation of tuberculosis, when soldiers passed through the hospital.

OK, so now you’re probably thinking wait, that doesn’t count! They didn’t really believe that there was such a thing as Syndrome K, that’s not fake science! And yes, you have a point there.

Still, they did manage to convince the Nazis of the existence of this deadly disease, contributing to and relying upon their ignorance of medicine and science. Furthermore, these were in fact Catholic doctors, working in a Catholic hospital, risking their lives to save these people not in order to convert them, or because of a Vatican mandate, but relying on their own sense of human decency. I shit on Catholicism a lot for what it has done around the world, but I will certainly acknowledge good Catholic people doing brave and heroic things when they do.

While the overall tally indicates that the world would be better off without both fake science and Catholicism, I still can’t help bringing this story up as the exception to the rule. It was a stroke of brilliance, and it really did work. While it is impossible to say exactly how many people were saved by a Syndrome K diagnosis, it is also true that 9,000 of the 10,000 Roman Jews managed to evade arrest, and the doctors at Fatebenefratelli definitely played their part in that.

You Are Not Alone

I mentioned that, recently, I was helping a friend of mine deal with a mental health crisis. As someone who deals with an anxiety disorder myself, I know what it’s like to feel overwhelmed, to see no way out, to feel ripped by remorse and worst of all, to feel completely and utterly alone in my suffering. Our society deems mental illness as something rare, secretive and uncommon. Unless you have a “real” mental illness, like schizophrenia, you feel like you are weak, plagued with #FirstWorldProblems, and that if you cannot function in your day to day privilege that the vast majority of the world only dreams of having, then you really should be embarrassed of your pain, and you should hide it from everyone.

Luckily, this antiquated mentality is being challenged, and it is important that as many people as possible know that these thoughts are complete and utter bullshit. A recent study conducted in New Zealand found that a whopping 83% of people experience at least one episode of mental illness from age 11 to 38. These could be either transient, recurring or long-lasting, were of varying severity, but it is becoming ever more clear that having these episodes is not only common, but rather should be dubbed “the new normal”.

Coinciding with ongoing studies, we see an ever increasing number of celebrities who have spoken openly and candidly about their struggles with mental illness. Most recently Wentworth Miller, most famously known for his role in Prison Break, gave a speech about his struggles with depression from childhood to the present day.

 

Given the stigma which is still associated with admitting to mental illness, I applaud Wentworth Miller and all of the public figures who have had the courage to speak openly of their struggles. I think that their honesty, combined with the medical research into this field, will be what finally condemns this stigma to the barrel of yet another embarrassment of our history. I think that these messages, from many different sources, will provide comfort to those who still think that they are weird, weak, abnormal or foolish for being depressed, or riddled with anxiety.

The sheer statistics dictate that many of you reading this have struggled or are currently struggling with a mental illness. I want to remind all of you, you are not alone. What you are feeling is both normal and not founded in reality. Seeking help is not an admission of weakness, it is not the ultimate sign of defeat, any more than seeking antibiotics for your sore throat is. It is simply seeking the help you need to get back to your day-to-day life as quickly, healthily and happily as possible. Don’t despair, don’t blame yourself, and don’t give up. You deserve support, and you deserve to be happy.

This Week In Zoology: Weirdo Caterpillars

When it comes to extremely odd looking creatures, marine life is usually our best source of inspiration, especially those found in the deep sea. This is partially because the support that water gives allows for more extravagant body plans than land does, and partially because we don’t see marine creatures every day, and so they have not had as much chance to become “normal” to our eyes.

When it comes to terrestrial creatures, however, I think that caterpillars are strong contenders for the “weirdest looking critters” award. This video gives some examples, and many of you might be asking yourselves, WTF are those, and WHY THOR WHYYY do they look like that?

 

 

Well, here goes. I’ll identify for you those caterpillars that I recognize from this video, and give you a short explanation as to why evolution allowed them to become the fuzzy little weirdos you see in this video today. Sorry Creationists, the answer is not “God predicted the existence of viral videos and wanted to have a laugh”.

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That Includes You, Milo

Yet another article that has made me define 2016 as April Fool’s Year. True, I do not usually hate myself enough to put myself through regularly reading things written by Milo Yiannopoulos, nor much of anything that is posted on Breitbart, and I am sure that there are many things there that I would find ridiculous enough to double check the date on my calendar. But when I saw a shared article entitled Animals That Are Not Delicious or Useful Deserve to Be Extinct, I simply couldn’t help myself.

Step 1: Source check. It is not the Onion, nor the Daily Mash, but rather Breitbart. O.K.

Step 2: Date check. It was originally posted in August. Oh well… here goes.

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