Posts Tagged ‘Scientific American’
The CEO of Enron – now in prison – happily applied ‘selfish gene’ logic to his human capital, thus creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. Assuming that the human species is driven purely by greed and fear, Jeffrey Skilling produced employees driven by the same motives. Enron imploded under the mean-spirited weight of his policies, offering a preview of what was in store for the world economy as a whole…
As we concentrate on cooperation, we might spare a thought for Martin Gardner; he died on this date in 2010. Though not an academic, nor ever a formal student of math or science, he wrote widely and prolifically on both subjects in such popular books as The Ambidextrous Universe and The Relativity Explosion and as the “Mathematical Games” columnist for Scientific American. Indeed, his elegant– and understandable– puzzles delighted professional and amateur readers alike, and helped inspire a generation of young mathematicians.
Gardner’s interests were wide; in addition to the math and science that were his power alley, he studied and wrote on topics that included magic, philosophy, religion, and literature (c.f., especially his work on Lewis Carroll– including the delightful Annotated Alice— and on G.K. Chesterton). And he was a fierce debunker of pseudoscience: a founding member of CSICOP, and contributor of a monthly column (“Notes of a Fringe Watcher,” from 1983 to 2002) in Skeptical Inquirer, that organization’s monthly magazine.
Danish duo Mikael Wulff and Anders Morgenthaler create visuals depicting the everyday struggles, irritations, and insights of their fellow Westerners. Their official-looking graphs illuminate the unofficial statistics of our daily lives, offering insights that are at once unexpected and glaringly obvious.
They publish their work every day on Wumo, their webcomic and newspaper cartoon strip (formerly known as Wulffmorgenthaler); they’re archived at Kind of Normal.
* Friedrich Nietzsche
As we exult in explication, we might send consoling birthday greetings to Rufus Porter; he was born on this date in 1792. A visionary and prolific inventor, Porter had painfully little business sense. He held over 100 patents, including a fire alarm, a signal telegraph, a fog whistle, a washing machine, and a revolving firearm… He sold his patent for the lattermost to Samuel Colt for $100 in 1844. With those proceeds, Porter published the first issue of Scientific American (on August 28, 1845)– but sold that business 10 months later.
From Collectors Weekly:
These days, “snake oil” is synonymous with quackery, the phoniest of phony medicines. A “snake oil salesman” promises you the world, takes your money, and is long gone by the time you realize the product in your hands is completely worthless. But… the original snake oil actually worked.
In the 1860s, Chinese laborers immigrated to the United States to work on the Transcontinental Railroad. At night, they would rub their sore, tired muscles with ointment made from Chinese water snake (Enhydris chinensis), an ancient Chinese remedy they shared with their American co-workers.
A 2007 story in Scientific American explains that California neurophysiology researcher Richard Kunin made the connection between Chinese water snakes and omega-3 fatty acids in the 1980s.
“Kunin visited San Francisco’s Chinatown to buy such snake oil and analyze it. According to his 1989 analysis published in the Western Journal of Medicine, Chinese water-snake oil contains 20 percent eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), one of the two types of omega-3 fatty acids most readily used by our bodies. Salmon, one of the most popular food sources of omega-3s, contains a maximum of 18 percent EPA, lower than that of snake oil.”
However, it wasn’t until several years after Kunin’s research that American scientists discovered that omega-3s are vital for human metabolism. Not only do they sooth inflammation in muscles and joints, but also, they can help “cognitive function and reduce blood pressure, cholesterol, and even depression.”
So why does snake oil have such a bad rap?
Well, hucksters that sold patent or proprietary medicine caught wind of the miraculous muscle-soothing powers of snake oil. Naturally, they decided to sell their own versions of snake oil—but it was just much easier to forgo using actual snakes…
As we give credit where credit is due, we might recall that it was on this date in 1721 that John Copson of Philadelphia became the first insurance agent in the Americas, and took out the first advertisement for insurance (in the American Weekly Mercury); he opened the first insurance office several days later. While there’s no record of how Copson fared, his initiative was sufficiently precedential that four years later the first book printed by Benjamin Franklin contained a long passage extolling the virtues of indemnification.
Happy Towel Day!