Sunday evening reading: factoid, articles & video

By Grant Jacobs 08/08/2010

To round out my Sunday splurge, a motley collection of articles and factoids.

The British Library goes down eight stories (four levels) underground. Should that be high-rise or low-rise? It occurs to me that this is a place where if you asked the librarian to bring up a book from the basement, they’d ask back ’which one?’ (The article containing the comment that lead me to this factoid, ruminates on the future of the printed book.)


(Source: Wikimedia Commons.)
(Source: Wikimedia Commons.)

There’s an excellent article and ensuring discussion at Panda’s Thumb if the concept of phyla should be dropped. (Taxonomists divide life into a hierarchal series of divisions. Phyla is one of the higher levels, between below Kingdom and above Class; see illustration to the right.)

The New Yorker is running a long and moving story, Letting go: What should medicine do when it can’t save your life? (Tender souls: handkerchief warning.)

As companion to Embargo Watch – with articles about embargo breaches – from the same author (Ivan Oransky) we now have Retraction Watch. He elaborates his reasons for founding this blog in his opening article. I can imagine some who wish that their retraction would not attract too much attention will be quietly cursing this development.

Frequent readers of my blog will know I’m a fan of historical accounts of science, both for their entertainment value and for the understanding of science’s origins that they bring. Caroline Rance at The Quack Doctor has an article ‘Like a half-felled cow’ — a case of arsenic poisoning in Victorian Scotland, which gives an account of treatment of cancer by an unlicensed practitioner in 1868 that went badly wrong. Her account features the quote ’…being like a ‘half-felled cow’. Foam issued from her mouth, and she roared most unnaturally.’ These narrative-style excerpts fill the accounts of older science, and are part of the fun of reading them.


If you read the article you’ll see that even 150 years ago people were concerned at unlicensed practitioners, which has resonance with local issues. If you think this account if horrific, one vivid illustration on a site with historical images that I previously wrote about was of a woman dressed in rags, pulling teeth from a hanged man dangling from his gallows. It was a blunt and stark reminder of one perhaps better forgotten corner of life in earlier times.

Janet Stemwedel takes a look at professionalism and the Hippocratic Oath with her usual well thought-out style, pointing out in the end that professionalism is pragmatic too.

Stephen Curry has an account of the mechanics, if you will, of how haemoglobin works in A molecule of life and death, which features Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and animations of haemoglobin doing it’s thing, presented as videos. (It reminds me that I still haven’t gotten around to reading my copy of Georgina Ferry’s account of Max Perutz’s life and reviewing it… sigh.)

Finally, on YouTube is a promotion of Mary Roach’s newest book, Packing for Mars: The Curious Life of Science in the Void using a light-hearted personal hygiene angle:

Other articles on Code for life:

Preserving endangered species – of gut microbes

Epigenetics and 3-D gene structure

An history of ancient science in less than ten minutes and A brief history of science, part 2

Mid-week links and a milestone

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