Archive for September, 2010


Posted by on Monday, 27 September, 2010


Dear MISTER ScienceAintSoBad: My ears hurt. And they’re all clogged up. I’m 8 and a half years old. – Maggie


Over here at ScienceAintSoBad, we try to cheer you up. After all, it’s a mess out there where you people live.

I think it’s called the world.

Bad things happen every day. Who’s GONNA cheer you up if I don’t?

But, to be honest? Sometimes it’s tough. Even for MISTER SASB. I get letters from people, saying they need help now. I find “interesting” studies that bode well for the (distant) future.

Science advances. Patients? Not always.

I feel bad cause I love people and I wanna help. Also, I love science, in all its complexity, but I gotta admit that progress is slow. Someday there’ll be a cure for each nasty disease. I hope we’ll be able to afford it


Back to Maggie.

Ear infection? Blocked Eustachian tubes? Oh my GOD! I’ve GOT something for you! I’ve actually GOT something!

Daniel Arick (New York Eye and Ear Infirmay) helped to develop a sensationally simple device which seems to work. He and Shlomo Silman patented an Apparatus for equalizing the pressure in the middle ear. They call it the “Ear Popper” (I told you I like this, right?)

You stick it in your nostril and let it release a puff of air which you swallow.

Simple, no drugs,  cheap (relatively), and very effective (about 85%).

COOLER than cool!

So. How do we rate this thing?

It’s simple but clever and it is obviously effective. Gotta give this a ScienceAintSoBadRating = 10

With a footnote.

From a strictly scientific standpoint, the data could be stronger. The long term outlook isn’t established. But, in this case, simplicity rules.

MAN, I wish I had invented this thing!

image credit:


Posted by on Friday, 17 September, 2010


Image credit: NASA


You and I have been using rocket ships as our basic transportation into orbit for as long as we can remember. Could say they’re the cruise liners of the IPad era. But they’re a bit rich at 1.3 billion dollars per cruise, aren’t they? They’re also inefficient and they’re not exactly “Environment Green”. Also, since each launch is a boo boo  away from a “big bang”, you would be right to conclude they’re dangerous as crap!


Wasn’t it  Werner Von Braun who said that rocket ships give the Law Of Diminishing Returns a bad name, requiring, as they do, that the passenger list include the fuel tank, itself, which has to be dragged into orbit even as the stuff in it is being consumed? The tank (filled with liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen) weighs about 1.7 million POUNDS and you gotta bring it along each trip if you hope to escape the pull of SOL (Stupid Ol’ Earth).

Well it’s not as inefficient as democracy but it’s close.

So, where was I? I had a point here..

(MISTERScienceAintSoBad shuffles his papers).

Ah.. I think I was telling you that NASA’s having a change of heart about this idiocy of flying 10 story buildings into orbit. If a rocket scientist’s THAT smart, he.she oughta be able to think him.herself right outta business. Least, that’s the theory.

So Stan Starr, Chief of the Applied Physics Laboratory at the Kennedy Space Flight Center has been scratching together a proposal to combine some existing technologies and then throw lots of money at them to see if the bills’ll stick. The idea seems to be a three phase system where the first phase is some kind of track or sled (could be electromagnetic propulsion or something else) which would accelerate the craft faster and faster, horizontally.  Then, after reaching some horrifying number of machs, scramjet engines (phase two) would cut in to fly the beast up to the point where, in phase three, a relatively dainty “second stage” type rocket would boost it on its way to its mission. And, instead of jettisoning the usual singed and dented crap to be hauled back for retrofitting, the launch vehicle would simply return to base and land.


Really, really, elegant.

And fictitious.

None of this exists. But all the basics are there. Rail guns exist. Rocket sleds? check. Neither is anywhere near “up to spec” as a space launch platform but, in astronautics, hope springs eternal. Ramjet supersonic spaceplanes? Che… well, coming along, anyway. Point is, that each phase has advanced technology to build on and could, with appropriate guidance and a humongous “stimulus check”, become part of an entirely new vision of space transport.

ScienceAintSoBad greets this proposal with lots of enthusiasm.

ScienceAintSoBadRating = 10 big ones. Go for it, guys!


How do I introduce Stephen Hawking?

Monumental.  The best of the best in Physics. Creatively brilliant. Reaching up, out of an ALS destroyed body that barely keeps him alive, to the highest order of accomplishment in one of the most difficult fields of endeavor.


How could anyone ignore the most profound handicaps to accomplish what he has?

As for God, what can I say?

Really he needs no introduction.

Like Hawking, he stands alone and his very existence seems filled with miracles. He is beloved  and admired by billions who look to him for comfort and guidance.

G_d (Image suffers from the usual deficiencies of trying to capture an ubiquitous being)

So what is one to make of the current clash between the two?

Hawking says God’s role in the creation of the universe  has been overimagined. In his new book, The Grand Design, Hawking asserts that the laws of physics provide a perfectly adequate explanation  for the beginnings of the universe and that, therefore, God’s role is redundant,  unnecessary, and suspiciously convenient for the religious establishment which benefits from the widespread belief that nature needed a hand from the Big Guy (the Big Guy, being God, by the way,  not Hawking).

He confronts, directly, the argument that only God could create something from nothing, discussing the quantum mechanical implications of doing that very trick.

God, on the other hand, has chosen to ignore Dr. Hawking.

So far, at least.

A guy as smart as Hawking will surely appreciate the advantages of leaving things that way.


Posted by on Monday, 6 September, 2010




Pretty funny!

And cramping pain, diarrhea, constipation, general misery.

I’m KILLIN’ you, right?  Hard to say what causes such symptoms in so many but let’s call it irritable bowel syndrome so we can have a medical billing code, OK?

Maybe 20% of grownups “live with it” (IBS) because – what’re ya gonna do? Just the way it is. It’s common and it’s not well understood. Gastroenterologists  call it a functional disorder. Know it when you see it.

Its REAL! It’s REAL! You’re NOT (that) crazy!

Dr. Michael Schemann leads a team at Technische Universitaet Muenchen (Munich) which has been trying to figure out what’s up with this hard-to-define disorder. They’ve described some  interesting work . In the case of IBS, the mucus membrane’s just a bit inflamed and, at the same time, the nervous system of the gut is very jacked up. Probably wouldn’t make much difference somewhere else in the body but the intestines are much more sensitive than you would think for an organ that spends so much time in close contact with – well you know.

When the lining of the intestine gets irritated, it releases a “cocktail” of chemicals like protease,  seretonin, and histamine.  And this chemical fog  may be the real reason for the symptoms of IBS.

This is supposed to come as a relief to IBS sufferers who might feel on the defensive cause maybe they’re making it all up. But IBS is real enough. MISTERScienceAintSoBad can tell ya and he ain’t no crank!

By the way, did you notice that histamines are part of the “cocktail”? Histamines. As in immune response? Isn’t that what ANTI-histamines for allergies are all about? What would happen if IBS sufferers took antihistamines?

Well their noses would stop dripping. That’s for sure. But Dr. Robert Wascher ( describes a double blind study for IBS where an antihistamine is taken for 8 weeks.

WHAT a surprise! The subjects did lots better.

What to make of all this?

It’s all good. It’s medical science doin’ its thing.

ScienceAintSoBadRating = 9 . Not definitive. But it moves things onto more solid ground and exposes a possible mechanism for a widespread and annoying illness.


Credits for the image: Just me. :)