On This Day – 4th Jan

On 4th January 1900, James Bond was born.

Not the James Bond we know as Agent 007, but rather the inspiration behind the character. James Bond was an American ornithologist. Ornithology is the study of the behavior, ecology and environment of birds. James Bond traveled to as many as 100 different countries in pursuit of his knowledge on birds, eventually publishing a book called Birds of the West Indies. This book was seen by James Bond creator and author, Ian Fleming, who was a keen birdwatcher himself – and the rest as they say is history.


References: here and here.

How to spot bad science

Here at Purplexed Science, we always try to provide references and sources for any claims or information, but with a wide range of information available thanks to the internet, it can be hard to know what to trust.

For example, our first Did You Know? post was about human stomach being able to dissolve razor blades. We discovered this fact via a basic Google search, and it appeared on several ‘science facts’ posts, but there was no citation to the original paper or any kind of research on the vast majority of these posts.

If you are a student or working in the industry, it can be incredibly frustrating to search for information only to be let down when it doesn’t measure up to an acceptable standard.

Luckily, Compound Interest published this infographic (initially in 2014, updated in 2015) detailing a ‘rough guide’ to spotting bad science that is still very much relevant today.

The most important sign is the first – it’s very easy to spot a headline and not read further. It’s something most of us do every day, but when it comes to science – it’s never just about a headline.

Did you know that your stomach can dissolve razor blades?

According to a study carried out by researchers from the Department of Surgery, Meridia Huron and Hillcrest Hospitals, Cleveland, Ohio, razor blades can be dissolved by the acid in your stomach if you (hopefully accidentally) ingest one.

They placed several razor blades and other metal objects in gastric juice and found that after 24 hours, the razor blade size had reduced by 63%!

This was an important development in terms of what actions physicians can take when facing a patient who has ingested similar objects.

The mind is not isolated from the world it lives in.

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The mind is not isolated from the world it lives in.

While writing one of my last posts, ‘The Effect of Coronavirus on Mental Health‘ – I wondered how things would improve. Before the pandemic began, many of us were already struggling. We were already dealing with poor mental health – the virus just put it in a vacuum. Life seemingly ground to a halt, pushing mental health issues to the forefront.

There has been an increase in mental health awareness, with governments and organisations providing guides and online support – but it feels temporary. With the focus on returning to normal as soon as possible, it’s easy to feel like the help won’t be available when that happens.

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Photo by Jude Beck on Unsplash

The above quote is from an article in Nature by Rochelle Burgess titled: ‘COVID-19 mental-health responses neglect social realities‘. It discusses how the spotlight on mental health during the coronavirus pandemic. Burgess argues that these measures don’t take into account what people’s lives were like before and what’s been the main factor in their condition.

Continue reading “The mind is not isolated from the world it lives in.”

On This Day – 12th August

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Joseph Lister

On 12th August 1865, a medical surgeon, Dr. Joseph Lister used phenol (a chemical antiseptic) for the first time during medical surgery. This took place in Glasgow, Scotland at the Glasgow Royal Infirmary where Lister encountered an 11-year-old boy called James Greenlees who’d been in a car accident.

Lister washed Greenlees’ wounds and dressed them with phenol (known as carbolic acid at the time). He continued to change the dressing, causing the wound to scab over and eventually heal. Within weeks, Greenlees was discharged from the hospital.  Continue reading “On This Day – 12th August”

On This Day – June 11th

on this day psOn June 11th, 1998, the genome sequence of the bacterium that causes tuberculosis (TB) was completed and published in the scientific journal, Nature.

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This allowed scientists around the world to understand tuberculosis better and develop effective treatments. This was groundbreaking because TB is multi-drug resistant (meaning that it’s resistant to more than one antibiotic). Continue reading “On This Day – June 11th”

raising awareness vs raising alarm

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Raising awareness versus raising alarm; the public can’t be better informed if the information isn’t better. — T.K. NALIAKA

In the wake of everything happening today, I think this is an important quote (unfortunately, I couldn’t find a source).

People are confused, scared and angry and as far as I can see, no one has really come up with an adequate way to keep the general public informed without regurgitating a series of numbers and data sets that won’t offset their anxiety.

What’s the death count today?” is now common question as opposed to, “what’s the latest information?”

For example, while Wikipedia has an extensive timeline for COVID-19. When you click onto April,  it’s mainly a report of cases and deaths – that’s great for statisticians, but not so much for the general public. The Financial Times has an interactive guide that is much better, but the graphs may be tiresome to people who don’t find them easy to follow.

General members of the public tend to feel at ease when they can understand what is happening. Presenting the information as numbers/data makes it difficult for everybody to follow what’s happening beyond the dark nature of COVID-19. Two months ago, it was unheard of to hear that 20,000+ people had died. Today, after hearing that hundreds have been dying every day – that number loses its bite.

It’s clear that information channels need to be improved in order to prevent alarm and desensitization to what’s happening.

That being said, it’s unsurprising that there are so many resources and not much clarity. A virus of this nature is one that nobody was prepared for. Here’s hoping that in time, the information will be better.

© Purplexed Science 2020

P.S. I’ve compiled a small list of resources here (and will continue to add to it).

Why wearing a mask might not prevent the spread of coronavirus

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What is a coronavirus?

Coronavirus is the scientific name for a group of viruses that cause things like common colds and more serious illnesses like SARS (severe acute respiratory symptom). They can be transmitted from humans to other humans or from animals to humans.


Why is it in the news today?

The coronavirus we’ve been hearing about is a new strain of the virus that nobody had come across before it struck patients in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China last year. It has now been named COVID-19 (Corona Virus Disease 2019), and is classified as a respiratory illness caused by virus strain SARS-COV-2 (severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 and as of yet, there is no vaccine.

It is currently a serious issue because of the rate at which it is spreading and the fact that it can be fatal.

As of writing there has been 1,923,651 reported cases and over 119,595 deaths globally (you can keep up to date with the current figures here).


How is it transmited?

During the initial stages of the outbreak, it was thought that there was animal-to-person spread originating in a seafood and live animal market. However, a lot of patients didn’t have any contact or exposure with animal markets suggesting that there is in fact person-to-person spread.

This has been the case in countries all across the world where it appears to be spreading easily due to a lack of social distancing, limited testing and poor hygiene practices when the first few cases began to appear. This led to a high level of person to person spread first in Italy, which became the new epicentre of the virus, and then the rest of Europe before the number of cases grew in the United States.

Person to person spread comes about when people come within six feet of an infected patient. It is thought that people are most contagious when they’re sick. The virus is spread through droplets produced by sneezing and coughing.

Although, currently the World Health Organisation doesn’t believe that COVID-19 is airborne, a research article in Environmental International states:

National authorities [should] acknowledge the reality that the virus spreads through air, and recommend that adequate control measures be implemented to prevent further spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.


Will wearing a mask prevent transmission?

Much has been made of members of the public wearing face masks with the WHO reluctant to state that it’s a foolproof method of preventing transmission. While local authorities are suggesting that people wear cloth face masks while out and about, there is not yet enough evidence to say that they will stop people from catching COVID-19. 

The question has remained: are masks effective when it comes to preventing droplets from spreading?

In short, no.

That’s the worrying answer a group of researchers in South Korea arrived at when they put surgical masks and cotton masks to the test. Continue reading “Why wearing a mask might not prevent the spread of coronavirus”