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Useless trivia item for a Wednesday:

Whether you are choosing 87, 89, or 93-octane rated gasoline, you're not buying octane. Why? Because if you were actually putting octane into your car, it would screw it up big time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The "octane" rating of gasoline actually measures the amount of an additive called isooctane. The two are isomers- they have the same chemical formula but different structures and properties. Octane is a chain of eight contiguous carbon atoms. Isooctane has chain of five contiguous and three "branched" carbon atoms. Both are hydrocarbons. The...

When you write about science and health, it means you spend a lot of time defending safe food, harmless chemicals, good drugs, etc. And that means there are going to be people out there, like supplement peddlers, journalists who are in bed with sleazy environmental groups, and just plain loonies, who insist that someone must have paid you off because you have the unmitigated gall to say that something is safe when it is, and they say it's not. People and companies make a lot money when you're scared, and don't like anyone defending something you're supposed to be afraid of. Then, they start the name calling. It's almost always the same—corporate shill.

Well, am I? I didn't used to think so until recently, but then I had to stop and wonder. I recently wrote about two issues that...

Prion diseases are rare progressive neurodegenerative disorders that affect both humans and animals. They are distinguished by long incubation periods, characteristic spongiform (Swiss cheese) changes in brain and spinal cord tissues associated with neuronal loss, and a failure to induce inflammatory response.

These diseases are 100% fatal; they appear to arise spontaneously in humans (sporadic) or the causative factor is found in family genetics (inheritable). However, these diseases can also be transmitted to humans eating meat contaminated with BSE or human neuronal material harboring prions, or by contact with brain-derived therapeutic factors like human growth factor extracted for pituitary glands harvested from cadavers. 

Surgical instruments used in neurosurgery on...

Bacteria are living infectious microbes that exist in the environment independent of hosts, although some clearly exist in host organisms (the gut microbiome). Some of the truly massive plagues in human history were bacterial in origin. These bacteria include anthrax, TB, cholera, Yersinia (bubonic - pneumonic plague), typhus, syphilis (a gift from the new world native peoples), gonorrhea, tetanus, salmonella, Lyme disease, C. difficile, Legionnaires’ disease, typhoid fever, leprosy, rheumatic disease and various forms of bacterial pneumonia and meningitis. As can be seen from the two lists below, bacterial organisms were the major diseases killing us in 1850. By 1900, sanitation had changed that list considerably, but bacterial infections were still the top three killers prior to the...

Today, it seems that honest disagreement just isn't possible. Social media, which has become a sewage pipe of political hyper-partisanship and unscientific propaganda, magnifies this disturbing trend. If two otherwise intelligent people disagree on something, accusations of being a liar, fraud, or paid shill are quick to follow.

Compounding this problem is the fact that half of Americans believe in at least one conspiracy theory. Instead of ushering in a Second Enlightenment, it appears the Information Age has turned us into paranoid cynics who perceive dark forces controlling world events. Such is the state of our...

In Personalizing Nutrition - Automating The Science of Metabolomics I defined a therapeutic diet as a diet personalized to an individual’s needs. I mentioned a group called Community Serving, which is a blend of Meals on Wheels and customizing a diet. I also mentioned a service called Habit, which claims to scientifically personalize dietary recommendations by evaluating an individual’s metabolism. Let’s take a look at what they do.

The concept of a metabolic challenge is at least as old as the quest to diagnose and treat diabetes. Diabetes can be defined in various ways, but at its heart, it is an alteration in our...

The push to change consumers' dietary habits, taking a page from changing our use of tobacco, has seen a surge in the special taxation of sugar sweetened beverages [1], like soda. So far these initiatives have seen indifferent success. In Mexico, sales went down and then went up again, in Philadelphia, sales went down for retailers impacted but not buying among the public.

In PLOS Medicine, Silver et al. discuss the impact of Berkeley, California’s tax one year after implementation.

The key points were what you would expect, that consumers paid the higher tax fully on sodas and energy drinks (retailers did not absorb it for competitive reasons) and, in the 26-store survey, the tax was more than fully passed on in...

When it comes to story ideas, sometimes plenty of research and contemplation is involved. But sometimes, they just appear out of nowhere. Other times still, it seems that they just reach up and bite you.

In this case, I mean literally. 

Over the weekend, I went off my deck for a short stretch of time, venturing around the house's perimeter to take a good look around, given it's been awhile since I last did. It wasn't for long, and since it was still relatively chilly that day I didn't think much about tick risks. 

However, a few hours later I was surprised when I looked down to discover a blacklegged bloodsucker on my lower leg behind my knee, having a nice meal at my expense.

Shortly after plucking and zip-lock bagging that unwelcome guest, it occurred to...

Late last year, a story emerged questioning the validity of a paper that had made a big splash when it was published in Science earlier in 2016.

The paper was high profile, in large part because of its subject — the effect of plastic microbeads on fish. The authors claimed their data showed that young fish preferentially eat plastic microbeads instead of their other food options.

Other scientists said the paper was chock full of mistakes, negligence and even potential fraud. It was such a captivating story that we wrote about it in December of last year,...

In my recent wandering of the net, I came across a thought piece entitled, A Theory of Reality as More than the sum of its parts. The article discusses the mathematical work of a theoretical neuroscientist (who knew of such a field?), Erik Hoel, in trying to unite the reductionist belief that “all behavior arises from mechanistic interactions between particles,” with the belief in agency, that our behavior is goal oriented and intentional. He is attempting to reconcile these two ancient adversaries, determinism where actions are fore-ordained and predictable; and free will where we have choice or agency. [1] And why should you be interested? Because these beliefs anchor the...