Random observations, April 15th 2008

1. The plastic bag in which New Scientist is posted to me declares itself to be Oxo-degradable. I presume this means it degrades in the presence of Oxo?

2. Much of the crispy seaweed served in Chinese restaurants is not seaweed apparently, but a type of cabbage. Yet another reason to boycott the Beijing Olympic Games.

3. The IPL cricket team Chennai Super Kings (a name that surely circumvents the ban on cigarette advertizing in sport) have a player called Napolean [sic] Einstein, if the BBC Sport website is to be trusted.

4. In 1721, six prisoners in Newgate Gaol were told they would be set free if they submitted to smallpox variolation by Dr Charles Maitland (I had been labouring under the impression it was Edward Jenner who did this, but I was wrong). Variolation was the subcutaneous grafting of wet material from a ripe smallpox pustule into a person who was not immune to the disease. I guess the idea was that the prisoners would probably die, so they might as well be sacrificed in the name of medical science. As it was, all of them survived the treatment, and those later exposed to it proved to be immune to smallpox (Barquet & Domingo 1997, Riedel 2005). So not only were some dangerous criminals set free, but they were also now protected against an extremely nasty disease. One shudders to think what the Daily Mail made of this.

5. On the subject of Edward Jenner and the Daily Mail, it is amusing to see how nothing ever changes. At the moment the conservative, religious dolts among us are bleating on about the dreadful freaks that will be produced by stem cell research. Two hundred years ago, Jenner's research into vaccination received exactly the same response:
"Jenner was widely ridiculed. Critics, especially the clergy, claimed it was repulsive and ungodly to inoculate someone with material from a diseased animal. A satirical cartoon of 1802 showed people who had been vaccinated sprouting cow's heads." (BBC History website)
He was also mocked for his paper stating that cuckoo chicks pushed the eggs and chicks of the birds they parasitized out of the nest (Riedel 2005). We now know this to be precisely what happens.

Barquet, N. & Domingo, P. (1997) Smallpox: the triumph over the most terrible of the ministers of death. Annals of Internal Medicine 127: 635-642.
Riedel, S. (2005) Edward Jenner and the history of smallpox and vaccination. Proceedings of the Baylor University Medical Center 18: 21-25.