September 23, 1858: DON’T wash your hands!

September 23, 2015

Ignaz Semmelweiss

Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis

This is one of the classic stories of public health, an issue that most U.S. history and world history texts tend to ignore, to the detriment of the students and the classroom outcomes.

This is the story as retold by Christopher Cerf and Victor Navasky in The Experts Speak:

In the 1850s a Hungarian doctor and professor of obstetrics named Ignaz Semmelweis [pictured at left] ordered his interns at the Viennese Lying-in Hospital to wash their hands after performing autopsies and before examining new mothers. The death rate plummeted from 22 out of 200 to 2 out of 200, prompting the following reception from one of Europe’s most respected medical practitioners:

“It may be that it [Semmelweis’ procedure] does contain a few good principles, but its scrupulous application has presented such difficulties that it would be necessary, in Paris for instance, to place in quarantine the personnel of a hospital during the great part of a year, and that, moreover, to obtain results that remain entirely problematical.”

Dr. Charles Dubois (Parisian obstetrician), memo to the French Academy
September 23, 1858

Semmelweiss’ superiors shared Dubois’ opinion; when the Hungarian physician insisted on defending his theories, they forced him to resign his post on the faculty.

Gotta wonder what Dr. Dubois would make of the suits and sanitation procedures required today for health professionals who treat Ebola victims.


Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Recent photos of peppered moths

August 5, 2015

Peppered moth, from Lepi-Photos: Geometridae : Enomminae; Peppered Moth; BISTON betularia (Linnaeus,1758)

Creationists deny such photos can exist, a peppered moth actually resting on a living plant. Peppered moth, from Lepi-Photos: Geometridae : Enomminae; Peppered Moth; BISTON betularia (Linnaeus,1758)

Look, Mother Creationist: No glue!

Collection of recent photos of peppered moths found on Twitter:

It appears moth trapping is a favorite nature-observing activity in parts of Britain. One may find naturalists showing off their captures on Twitter during the non-winter months, now. Dozens of photos, made by digital cameras Thomas Kettlewell could only dream of in some science-fiction fantasy; moths captured in-situ, bearing witness against creationism, and for natural selection.


Millard Fillmore resources, from the Library of Congress

August 20, 2014

Found this wonderful page with a list of resources on Millard Fillmore, available on line from the Library of Congress.  The list was compiled by Library of Congress’s Virtual Services, Digital Reference Section.

Completely cribbed from that site:

Millard Fillmore: A Resource Guide

Millard Fillmore: whig candidate for Vice President of the United States
Millard Fillmore: whig candidate for Vice President of the United States.
1 print : lithograph.
New York : Published by N. Currier, c1848.
Prints & Photographs Division.
Reproduction Number:

American Memory Historical Collections

Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress

The complete Abraham Lincoln Papers from the Manuscript Division at the Library of Congress consist of approximately 20,000 documents. The Lincoln Papers contain more than fifty items to, from, or referring to Millard Fillmore. To find these documents, go to the collection’s search page, and search on the phrase Millard Fillmore (do not put quotation marks around the words).

Among the collection’s Fillmore-related materials are:

An American Time Capsule: Three Centuries of Broadsides and Other Printed Ephemera

The Printed Ephemera collection comprises 28,000 primary source items dating from the seventeenth century to the present and encompasses key events and eras in American history. Search the bibliographic records and the full-text option to find items related to Millard Fillmore.

A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1875

This collection contains a large selection of congressional material related to Millard Fillmore’s political career as a member of the House of Representatives, vice president, and president. Search this collection by date and type of publication to find materials related to Fillmore.

From Slavery to Freedom: The African-American Pamphlet Collection, 1824-1909

The collection consists of 397 pamphlets, published from 1824 through 1909, by African-American authors and others who wrote about slavery, African colonization, Emancipation, Reconstruction, and related topics, including two items that reference Millard Fillmore.

“I Do Solemnly Swear…”: Presidential Inaugurations

This collection contains approximately 400 items relating to presidential inaugurations, including a lithograph of Millard Fillmore from 1850.

Map Collections

The focus of Map Collections is Americana and the cartographic treasures of the Library of Congress. These images were created from maps and atlases selected from the collections of the Geography and Map Division. Millard Fillmore’s personal collection of printed and manuscript maps is represented by sixteen maps.

Music for the Nation: American Sheet Music, 1820-1860 & 1870-1885

This collection contains more than 62,500 pieces of historical sheet music registered for copyright, including three songs related to Millard Fillmore.

The Nineteenth Century in Print: Periodicals

This collection presents twenty-three popular periodicals digitized by Cornell University Library and the Preservation Reformatting Division of the Library of Congress. Search the bibliographic records and the full-text options to find articles that discuss Millard Fillmore.

Among the collection’s Fillmore-related articles are:

Words and Deeds in American History: Selected Documents Celebrating the Manuscript Division’s First 100 Years

In honor of the Manuscript Division’s centennial, its staff selected approximately ninety representative documents spanning from the fifteenth to the mid-twentieth centuries. The following items reference Millard Fillmore:

Happy researching! Teachers, be sure to make your students aware of these sites (I presume other presidents are covered, too).

Annals of DDT: Study implicates DDT in human obesity and diabetes

August 2, 2014

Press report from the University of California at Davis (unedited here):

Exposure of pregnant mice to the pesticide DDT is linked to an increased risk of obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol and related conditions in female offspring later in life, according to a study led by the University of California, Davis.

White mouse looking at camera

Caption from UC-Davis: The study is the first to show that developmental exposure to DDT increases the risk of females later developing a cluster of conditions that include increased body fat, blood glucose and cholesterol.

The study, published online July 30 in the journal PLOS ONE, is the first to show that developmental exposure to DDT increases the risk of females later developing metabolic syndrome — a cluster of conditions that include increased body fat, blood glucose and cholesterol.

DDT was banned in the United States in the 1970s but continues to be used for malaria control in countries including India and South Africa.

Scientists gave mice doses of DDT comparable to exposures of people living in malaria-infested regions where it is regularly sprayed, as well as of pregnant mothers of U.S. adults who are now in their 50s.

“The women and men this study is most applicable to in the United States are currently at the age when they’re more likely to develop metabolic syndrome, because these are diseases of middle- to late adulthood,” said lead author Michele La Merrill, assistant professor of environmental toxicology at UC Davis.

The scientists found that exposure to DDT before birth slowed the metabolism of female mice and lowered their tolerance of cold temperature. This increased their likelihood of developing metabolic syndrome and its host of related conditions.

“As mammals, we have to regulate our body temperature in order to live,” La Merrill said. “We found that DDT reduced female mice’s ability to generate heat. If you’re not generating as much heat as the next guy, instead of burning calories, you’re storing them.”

The study found stark gender differences in the mice’s response to DDT. Females were at higher risk of obesity, Type 2 diabetes and cholesterol, but in males, DDT exposure did not affect obesity or cholesterol levels and caused only a minor increase in glucose levels.

A high fat diet also caused female mice to have more problems with glucose, insulin and cholesterol but was not a risk factor for males. The sex differences require further research, the authors said.

The study was funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

Co-authors include Emma Karey and Michael La Frano of UC Davis; John Newman of UC Davis and the U.S. Department of Agriculture; and Erin Moshier, Claudia Lindtner, and Christoph Buettner of Mount Sinai School of Medicine.

About UC Davis

UC Davis is a global community of individuals united to better humanity and our natural world while seeking solutions to some of our most pressing challenges. Located near the California state capital, UC Davis has more than 34,000 students, and the full-time equivalent of 4,100 faculty and other academics and 17,400 staff. The campus has an annual research budget of over $750 million, a comprehensive health system and about two dozen specialized research centers. The university offers interdisciplinary graduate study and 99 undergraduate majors in four colleges and six professional schools.

Additional information:

In the past five decades, the case that DDT and its daughter metabolites damage human health in subtle but extremely destructive ways constantly mounted. Perhaps Rachel Carson was right to urge much more study of the stuff, in Silent Spring.  Perhaps the National Academy of Sciences was right when it called for a rapid phasing out of DDT use in 1970, after noting it had been one of the greatest lifesaving pesticides ever known.

In 1972 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency prohibited use of DDT in agriculture.  Use in day-to-day indoor extermination had ended earlier; bedbugs had become almost wholly immune to DDT by 1960.  The U.S. ban was predicated on damage to wildlife, not human health.  The order allowed U.S. DDT manufacturers to continue to make the stuff for export to other nations.  Exports continued from 1972 to 1984, when the Superfund required manufacturers to clean up any pollution they may have caused.

It’s a desert out there: Salmon Research at Iliamna Lake, Alaska 2013 – Jason Ching film

March 6, 2014

Sitting in a hot trailer out on the northern New Mexico desert, Arizona State’s great soil scientist Tom Brown tipped back his cowboy hat, and asked me if I had been lonely over the previous week.  Classes at BYU started up in August, and our other field workers on the project, with the University of Utah Engineering Experiment Station, for EPA and New Mexico Public Service, had gone back to class.  My classes at the University of Utah didn’t start for a few more weeks — so I was holding down the fort by myself.

Dr. Brown’s expertise in reading air pollution damage on desert plants propelled a good part of the work.  He showed me how to tell the difference between sulfur dioxide damage and nitrogen oxide damage on grasses and other plants, and how to tell  when it was insects.  He had some great stories.  As a Mormon, he was also full of advice on life.

The Shiprock, a plug from an ancient volcano, left after the mountain eroded away. Near Shiprock, New Mexico, on the Navajo Reservation. Wikipedia image by Bowie Snodgrass

The Shiprock, a plug from an ancient volcano, left after the mountain eroded away. Near Shiprock, New Mexico, on the Navajo Reservation. Wikipedia image by Bowie Snodgrass

Between Farmington where our hotel was, and Teec Nos Pos where our most distant (non-wet) sampling site was, radio reception was lousy most of the time.  The Navajo-language AM station in Farmington played some of the best music, and sometimes it could be caught as far west as Shiprock .  Most of the time, driving across Navajoland, I had nothing but my thoughts to accompany me.  Well, thoughts and the all-too-frequent Navajo funeral processions, 50 pickups long on a two-lane highway.

“No, not lonely.  There’s a lot of work, I’ve got good books, and sleep is good,” I told him.

“Enjoy it,” Brown said.  “The best time for any researcher is out in the field.  And when you’re young, and you haven’t seen it all, it’s better.”

Indian rice grass in the sunlight (Oryzopsis hymendoides). Photo from the Intermountain Herbarium, Utah State University Extension Service

Indian rice grass in the sunlight (Oryzopsis hymendoides). Photo from the Intermountain Herbarium, Utah State University Extension Service

Brown spent a couple of days.  Within a couple of weeks I turned everything over to other Ph.Ds to shut down the wet sampling for the winter, and caught a ride back to Provo (closer to where I lived) in a Cessna with a pilot who loved to fly low enough to see the canyons along the way.  Get a map and think of the possibilities, with a landing in Moab; if you don’t drool at the thought of such a trip in the air but not too high, if your heart doesn’t actually beat faster thinking of such a trip, go see your physician for treatment.

By that time I was out of film, alas.

My few summers out in the desert chasing air pollution stay fixed in the surface of my memory.  Indian rice grass still excites me in the afternoon sun (Oryzopsis hymenoides) — one of the more beautiful of grasses, one of the more beautiful and soil-holding desert plants.  When hear the word “volcano,” I think of the Shiprock.  When I read of air pollution damage, I think of all the pinon, aspen, cottonwoods, firs and other trees we gassed; when I see aspen in its full autumn glory, I remember those dozen  or so leaves we caused to turn with SO2 (slight damage turns the leaves colors; greater damage makes them necrotic, a bit of a mirror of autumn).

All of that came back as I watched Jason Ching’s film, “Salmon Research at Iliamna Lake, Alaska 2013,” a simple six-minute compilation of shots taken with modern electronic cameras, including the hardy little GoPros, and with assistance from a DJI Phantom Quadcopter drone.  Wow, what we could have captured with that equipment!

Ching’s description of the film:

This video showcases the scenery of Iliamna Lake and shows some of the 2013 research of the Alaska Salmon Program’s Iliamna Lake research station, one of four main facilities in Southwest Alaska . Established in the 1940’s, the Program’s research has been focused on ecology and fisheries management relating primarily to salmon and the environment in Bristol Bay, Alaska. Check out our program at:

Filmed and edited by Jason Ching
Additional footage provided by Cyril Michel

“The long & quiet flight of the pelican” by Ending Satellites (

Additonal Information:
Shot on a Canon 5d Mark II, Canon T3i, GoPro Hero 2 and GoPro Hero 3
DJI Phantom Quadcopter

I am very grateful to be a part of such a long standing, and prominent program that allows me to work in the field in such an incredible setting with fantastic folks. This is the second video I created, the first one in 2012, to merely show family and friends back at home what I’ve been up to during the summer. This video was often shot between, or during field sampling events so a special thanks goes out to all those who supported me by continuing to work while I fiddled with camera gear.

Do you really want to get kids more interested in science?  Show them this stuff.  Scientists get the front seats on cool stuff — and they often get paid to do it, though they won’t get rich.

Researching life, and rocks, geography and landscape, and water resources, one may be alone in a desert, or a desert of human communication.  Then one discovers just how beautiful the desert  is, all the time.


  • Yes, I know; Indian rice grass has been renomenclaturedAchnatherum hymenoides (Roemer & J.A. Shultes) Barkworth, or Stipa hymenoides Roemer & J.S. Shultes, or Oryzopsis hymenoides (Roemer & J.S. Shultes) Ricker ex Piper.  It is the State Grass of Utah

Texas researchers tease out correlation between DDT exposure and late-onset Alzheimer’s

February 12, 2014

Press release from the University of Texas-Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas:

Research finds elevated levels of DDT metabolite in Alzheimer’s patients

Dr. Dwight German, Professor of Psychiatry

Dr. Dwight German, Professor of Psychiatry – UT-Southwestern photo

DALLAS – January 29, 2014 – Exposure to DDT may increase the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s disease later in life, a study with researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center suggests. While previous studies have linked chronic diseases such as cancer and diabetes to DDT, this is the first clinical study to link the U.S.-banned pesticide to Alzheimer’s disease.

The study, published online in JAMA Neurology, found elevated levels of the DDT metabolite, DDE, that were 3.8 times higher in patients diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in comparison to control subjects. The studies were conducted in partnership with researchers at Emory University School of Medicine and Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.

“We have additional studies underway that will seek to directly link DDT exposure to Alzheimer’s disease,” said co-author Dr. Dwight German, Professor of Psychiatry at UT Southwestern. “If a direct link is made, our hope is to then identify the presence of DDE in blood samples from people at an early age and administer treatments to remove it.”

The study found elevated levels of DDE in blood samples of 86 patients with Alzheimer’s disease as compared to 79 control patients from the UT Southwestern Alzheimer’s Disease Center and the Emory University Alzheimer’s Disease Center.

Researchers made the link between DDE and Alzheimer’s by measuring three components – blood serum levels, severity of the patient’s Alzheimer’s disease as measured by the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE) and its relation to serum DDE levels, and the reaction of isolated nerve cells to DDE. Treatment of human nerve cells with DDE caused them to increase the production of the amyloid precursor protein that is directly linked to Alzheimer’s disease.

Participants in the study underwent preliminary testing to ensure that they didn’t have symptoms of other dementia-related diseases, and were an average age of 74, while the control subjects were on average 70 years old. These findings may help lead to the development of early biomarkers that can determine whether a person will develop Alzheimer’s disease later in life due to DDT exposure.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common neurodegenerative disease worldwide and is expected to increase three-fold over the next 40 years, according to the researchers.

DDT (dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane) was used extensively as an insecticide in the 1940s, but has been banned in the United States since 1972 after scientists linked the compound to wildlife health and environmental concerns. DDT is still used in other countries to combat the spread of malaria.

About UT Southwestern Medical Center
UT Southwestern, one of the premier academic medical centers in the nation, integrates pioneering biomedical research with exceptional clinical care and education. The institution’s faculty includes many distinguished members, including five who have been awarded Nobel Prizes since 1985. Numbering more than 2,700, the faculty is responsible for groundbreaking medical advances and is committed to translating science-driven research quickly to new clinical treatments. UT Southwestern physicians provide medical care in 40 specialties to nearly 91,000 hospitalized patients and oversee more than 2 million outpatient visits a year.


Once again, research seems to demonstrates the wisdom of Rachel Carson, who warned us that we could not know the long-term damage done by untested pesticides applied with abandon in great abundance as if it were a solution to everything.

Carson’s book indicting pesticides regulation, Silent Spring, was published in 1962, with more than 50 pages of footnotes and citations to scientific studies.  In the 52 years since, none of that research has been rebutted by any further research.  Instead, more harms have been discovered, greater questions raised about the damage done by pesticides applied indiscriminantly.

Voyager I becomes Earth’s first interstellar object

September 14, 2013

Can you recall what you were doing on September 5, 1977?

The Voyager 1 aboard the Titan III/Centaur lif...

The Voyager 1 aboard the Titan III/Centaur lifted off on September 5, 1977, joining its sister spacecraft, the Voyager 2, on a mission to the outer planets. Wikipedia image, from NASA

That’s the day NASA launched Voyager I, on a trip to photograph planets in our solar system more close up than we can get with Earth-bound telescopes.  The Hubble Space Telescope was not even on the drawing board then.

After completing its mission, Voyager I continued on its path.  Scientists thought it would survive to leave the solar systems, and a few forward-looking thinkers hoped to learn more about just how far the influence of our Sun really extends.  At some point, Voyager I would leave space where the chief gravitational and wind influence is the Sun, and move into truly inter-stellar (“between the stars”) space, where gravity and particle emissions are dominated by other objects in our galaxy.

Last week NASA announced that time came in August of 2012, confirmed by data transmitted back to earth by Voyager’s primitive capabilities, over the last year. explains it well:

Interesting to think of the investment in thought, money, effort and patience by scientists and policy-makers to wait more than 35 years for such a research result.


Voyager I, artist's interpretation.  NASA image

Voyager I, artist’s interpretation. NASA image


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