What's In a Name? Bad Science, That's What

One of the most interesting and thought-provoking books I have ever read is called ‘Bad Science’ and it’s by Ben Goldacre, an Oxford and London-trained doctor who also dedicates much of his time to writing and broadcasting. In his book, he takes a look at many different products and technologies that have more than just blithely sailed under the radar of good science: they’ve gone on to make their manufacturers billions upon billions of dollars in profits.

Ben Goldacre Bad Science
A must-read for anyone and everyone. Dr. Ben Goldacre revives the ailing enquiring mind by exposing the methodology of corporations using ‘science’ to sell. He runs an interesting blog too, which you can check out at http://www.badscience.net.

Any woman (or her husband) will know that when it comes to buying face cream, there are price discrepancies that could feed an impoverished third world country for a week. A 200ml tub of Nivea Crème, or cream if you had to drop the pretence, costs in the region of $3 and is readily available from Clicks, Boots or any other supermarket or pharmacy. I consider this a bargain. Chanel sells a face cream – ostentatiously named Precision Sublimage Serum Essential Regenerating Cream – that, at $375, is one hundred times more expensive. But Chanel is far from the costliest on the market. According to http://www.totalbeauty.com (at the time of writing)

Guerlain’s Orchidee Imperiale Cream Next Generation goes for *cough* $410-$420

Why? Because it contains special ‘molecular extract’ from orchids.

Orlane Crème Royale goes for *choke* $650

Why? Because it contains 24-carat gold and royal jelly (bee’s glandular secretion.)

Expensive face creams
Orlane Crème Royale goes for $650 a pot owing to its content of bee secretion and 24-carat bullshit, I mean, gold.

But the prize has to go to La Prairie Cellular Cream Platinum Rare, at *faint* $1,200, which is more than the standard income of a middle class South African.

Why, Larry, Why? Because its key ingredient is platinum, one of the rarest elements in the Earth’s crust, which not surprisingly goes for around $1,240 per fine ounce at the time of writing.

Against all Common Sense and Rationality, Platinum Will Make You Look Younger

Wow, impressive! No wonder it’s expensive. With ingredients that require the processing of thousands of acres of expensive and rare flowers, or thousands of tonnes of ore, it’s really no wonder that a tiny pot of cream is so damn expensive. MY question is what on EARTH is platinum going to do for my skin? Platinum is a totally stable and non-reactive metal that, even at high temperatures, is non-corrosive. So coating your face with it may prevent you from rusting IF you were the tin-man from The Wizard of Oz.

I’ve no doubt that the chemists, cellular biologists and other specialists these multi-billion dollar corporations have working for them could explain how vanilla extract might prevent the early signs of skin aging, or how 24-carat gold might make my face look more radiant. But I’m even more certain that there are abundant cheaper alternatives that do EXACTLY the same thing. Under a microscope, vitamin E oil from rare orchids that grow exclusively on the island of Madagascar looks exactly the same as vitamin E oil from something as commonplace as sunflowers.

Class Dismissed: Your Take-Home Message

expensive face creams

Keeping your skin looking healthy and young is about keeping it hydrated, which also means staying out the sun and avoiding habits such as tobacco smoking. And Dr. Ben Goldacre explains this beautifully in Chapter 3 of his book Bad Science (seriously, give it a read!) If you look at the list of ingredients on the tubs of these various moisturizing creams, there is almost zero different between the $3 tub of Nivea and $300 tub of Chanel. The difference that can be found lies in the addition of super strange and exotic ingredients that are almost always impossibly hard to find. You’re also paying for the brand name, which I can assure you does sweet FA for your skin.

It’s the schism between science and society that enables these cosmetic companies (and many, many other big brand names) to charge you an obscene amount of money for products that are essentially the same as their inexpensive and unpretentious counterparts. Trust me. If it had to be shown in a number of controlled scientific trials that, for example, gibbon ejaculate could reduce the evidence of aging more effectively than your standard moisturizer’s ingredients, I’m sure it would be huge news, complete with captivating headlines…

“Monkey Comes to the Rescue of Your Aging Skin”

“The Fountain of Youth Discovered!”

Refuse those highly processed headlines and do the truth-seeking yourself. And the next time you consider spending more than $50 on face cream, ask yourself how many monkeys were touched inappropriately to bring this product to you.

angry funny gibbon monkey

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Why Your Brain is a Total Jerk…

Funny science pictures

Today's Sciencey LOL

Funny science pictures

I don’t even care if this is true or not. Some statistics are as good for the body as they are for the brain. Remember this and you’ll graduate from the school of life cum laude.

Har har!

The Science Of Farts: Yes, It’s a Thing

Plate of baked beansImage Credit: BBC Food Blog: What’s Wrong With Cheap Food?

Prelude to the Rude

It has not so subtly been suggested to me by my friends on several occasions that I write a blog about farts and the science behind it all. My friends’ penchant for toilet humor is just one of the many reasons I love them dearly and so, today, with my return to the blogosphere, I plan to finally render reality from drunken suggestion.

Farts are always funny, sometimes embarrassing and rarely appreciated in confined spaces with poor ventilation. So, why do we fart? What accounts for their embarrassing odor? Why do some announce their exit with great brass band fanfare, while others sneak out the back door quieter than a grounded teenager?

Let’s explore the answer to some of mankind’s greatest questions about our own butts.

 “Sweet Lord, Why…?”


Arielle the little mermaid

… asked the countless women who have woken themselves from a deep slumber with the embarrassing realization that they have accidentally revealed to their bedfellow their most preciously guarded secret:

That they are indeed human.

Why must your butt sabotage your attempts to appear beautiful, perfect and divine in the presence of your lover? Goddesses don’t fart!

The good news is EVERYONE farts. Girls fart. We know for a fact that boys fart. All humans fart and animals do, too. It is a perfectly normal biological process that is caused by the generation of gases in your belly, which need to go somewhere or else you’d blow up like a balloon and die. As morose as that sounds, it’s utterly true.

What’s in a Fart?

Boobie bird lifting foot

Image Credit: http://www.wildlifeadventures.com

First of all, “flatus” is the more polite and sterile term, so henceforth we shall be referring to wanton winds as such, since that is what flatus literally means in Latin: “a breaking or blowing of wind.” Flatus is composed of all kinds of interesting things, the precise chemistry of which varies from person to person and from hour to hour, depending on a gruesome suite of factors.

We ingest quite a bit of air when we eat, so that’s one source of flatus. Then there’s the fact that everyone’s bowel is host to legions of bacteria, which help to break down the foods we eat. One of the by-products produced by this intestinal flora is gas and this accumulates in our gut until it gets expelled. This particular source of flatus is quite a bit more “tropical” in bouquet than that caused by the ingestion of air (for obvious reasons).

Now, the chemical composition of this wind depends on the individual’s very unique biochemistry and whether or not their bowels are healthy. Diet and your body’s tolerance for the foods you eat play another major role in the chemistry of your flatus: certain foods may produce a more corpulent sulphurous bouquet, while others might make your pants smell like a horse stable after a long, dank winter.

What all flatus has in common is that 99% of its volume is composed of the following constituents:

  • 20 to 90% Nitrogen
  • 0 to 50% Hydrogen
  • 10 to 30% Carbon dioxide
  • 0 to 10% Oxygen, and
  • 0 to 10% Methane

Given this chemical composition, we can explain one commonly observed fact and another commonly joked-about reality concerning the very future of life on Earth:

  1. Hydrogen and methane are highly flammable gases, which is why you can light your farts on fire. But, did you know that only some people have the specific types of bacteria necessary to produce methane? You will find examples of these humans on YouTube publicly wrecking their sex appeal.
  2. Carbon dioxide and methane are greenhouse gases, which means they have the tendency to absorb solar radiation, thereby contributing to the warming of the Earth’s atmosphere. Given their fibrous diets, cows and other livestock fart (and burp) a LOT and this has been postulated to contribute to climate change. The threat of impending doom has never had a funnier back-story.

Fart Bouquet

funny fart picture

So, now we know that flatus is mostly caused by ingesting air and by bacterial fermentation in our guts. The next question humankind has asked of itself since the very first hominid got kicked out the cave by dropping a vile dart is: why do some farts stink?

Since the main constituents mentioned above (hydrogen, carbon dioxide and nitrogen, etc.) don’t smell of anything on their own, the hot, moist odor of flatus is really determined by trace gasses and chemicals that only make up 1% of the flatus’ volume! And these are produced by bacterial fermentation and digestion in the gastrointestinal tract. It’s through these processes that your body is able to conjure up some pretty exotic chemicals that can taint your flatus, thereby enabling you to torture your poor girlfriend with an age old tradition called a “Dutch Oven.”

funny fart poster

Some of the chemicals that contribute to the malodor of flatus include indole and skatole, which are produced through the digestion of meat. This explains why carnivorous animals produce such insidious flatus, while the posterior emissions of cows, hippies other herbivores are far more tolerable (in theory).

Volatile sulfurous compounds, such as methanethiol, dimethyl sulfide and hydrogen sulfide, are produced by intestinal bacteria as waste products and they also play a major role in the bouquet of your flatus. The latter of these three accounts for that “rotten egg” smell.

Finally – and for this one you may want to put down that sandwich you’re eating – poop. Yes, poop. If you have a bullet in the chamber, or so to speak, your flatus may exit your body amidst a cloud of poop molecules, causing everyone nearby to flee from the room amidst a fanfare of disgusted wrist-flapping.

Orchestral Score

brass band funny fart

The final question we ask in this heroic endeavor to understand the one bodily function that has the rare ability to make everyone laugh, regardless of age, gender and creed, is this: why are some farts noisy?

This has everything to do with the physics of a flatus’ escape from your derriere and not its composition. Since there is no way I can bring myself to answer this question in an inoffensive way, I’ll leave you with a quote from the Beach Boys:

“Good, good, GOOD, good vibrations!”

Class Dismissed: Your Take-Home Message

Nicki Minaj anaconda

If you ever felt embarrassed by the odd fart, just imagine the eternally crippling life struggles faced by a flatologist. Yes, the study of farts “flatology” is an official field. I mean, how on God’s sweet Earth do you explain to new acquaintances, dates and (if you even get that far) in-laws what you do for a living?

We can’t help it: farts are funny and even though I consider my sense of humor to be fairly evolved, my not-so inner child will always laugh out loud at them. For instance, I’ve spent the majority of my time writing this blog in utter hysterics. Having said this, farts are also interesting and a fairly accurate indicator of our diet and intestinal health. So remember, to fart is human and to forgive the guy who just did it in an elevator, divine. Not that I’d know anything about it in practice…

I’m a lady and everyone knows ladies don’t fart.