Archive for December, 2010


Posted by on Friday, 31 December, 2010



Happy New Year.


MISTERScienceAintSoBad gets cross eyed, skimming the enormous flow of scientific and technical things blowing through this world of ours. As a blogger, it can be tough to figure out which of the many, many reports and papers and studies are important.

In case you ever wondered, this waterfall of innovation isn’t normal.

Throughout human history, normal was where nothing much improved.  We lived in cold houses lit by candles. If we were seriously ill, we were “cured” with such things as leaches and mercury. And famine, and pestilence surrounded us constantly.

That was a good year.

Even today lots of human abodes are dark at night.

And have no toilet.


Normal, for us homo sapiens,  isn’t where you toss out half the junk in your house because who, really, wants a Palm Pilot anymore when the technology is SO outdated?

Normal isn’t “They just announced a cure for this or  that.” Normal isn’t “Let’s, seamlessly,  locate our tech support in Bangladesh.” And normal isn’t where you sit around thinking about some new twist on an existing idea that might make you rich.

That’s OUR normal, where people sit around constantly thinking up new stuff. We’re surrounded by the constant turmoil of innovation in science and technology which has been going on and on since before you were born. Unless yer about 180 years old.

Like me.

But the age of innovation’s a blip. How YOU managed to land here instead of in the age of living a short, terrible, painful life is beyond ME.

Even the IDEA of coming up with new stuff – innovating – is, itself, an innovation. They really didn’t THINK that way “back in the day”. They tried to survive. That was plenty to think about.

Nobody’s SAYING you should appreciate it. After all, SOMEBODY had to drive instead of walk, be warm instead of cold, get cured instead of suffer, be free instead of enslaved (or a serf or a peasant or a servant), use iPhones, airplanes, Facebook and have electrically warmed socks.

Somebody. Why NOT you?

Before you say it, I do know that this wonderful technology crap may kill us yet.

I skim THOSE papers too.

But MisterScienceAintSoBad’s on duty. He’ll make sure you know if anything terrible shows up on the technology front.

Meanwhile, do have a happy, safe new year. And (a non-scientific metaphor) count yer blessings.



Posted by on Sunday, 26 December, 2010

THAT DARN URANIUM! (Antinuclear Protest, Paris)

Thorium fueled nuclear power plants may the answer (part of it, anyway) to our energy needs.


The thing about nuclear power? It is fueled by uranium. Which is considered kinda dangerous. And, because it’s rare, uranium is expensive and supplies are finite. We’re already running low.

I can’t say that the radioactive waste from nuclear plants is that DESIRABLE either. The only state that actually wants to store it is Itchybottom. Which, come to think of it, isn’t, officially, a state.

By far, the worst byproduct of nuclear energy is plutonium which remains highly radioactive for hundreds of thousands of years.

That’s what I said. Hundreds of thousands.


If you’re a terrorist who loves God, but not God’s children, you do like plutonium. Although making a“true” nuclear weapon’s probably not practical for terrorists, believe me,  the toxicity and radioactivity of plutonium’s plenty bad, all by itself. Our current nuke power stations make plutonium like chickens make eggs. If the stuff got into the wrong hands, the yoke could be on us.  This scares a LOT of people over at “Homeland”.


That’s the crazy thing. There is.

It’s called thorium. Thorium’s an element  (its symbol is Th). It’s named after Thor. And Thor is a God.

That should tell you something.

In an article for CNBC, Trevor Curwin of beausejourgroup describes how thorium could REALLY change the way we think about energy by replacing the uranium in our nuclear power stations with thorium.

Thorium is radioactive. Only a little though. Easy to shield against.

Although thorium isn’t common, there’s lots more thorium than there is uranium; you can MAKE uranium from thorium. Not only is thorium more common than uranium but a little thorium goes a long way. You get 200 units of uranium from 1 unit of thorium.

The US has 16% of the world supply of thorium, by the way.

As far as safety is concerned, that’s a point in its favor too.  The molten salts of thorium can’t sustain a chain reaction.  You can’t GET a thorium reactor to melt down.

Even with an appointment in advance.

That’s good,right?

But that’s the least of it. Get this! You can feed the radioactive waste you had been planning to store for 100,000 years into it and the thorium cycle will consume the waste and make it nice.

Nicer, anyway.

After a “mere” 300 years of storage, no byproduct of a thorium reactor is more dangerous than a lump of coal.

Okay. That IS a long time. But 300 years is short compared to hundreds of thousands. You’ll give me that.


Why thorium? Well, aside from “why not?” there are several good reasons.

1. It’s much safer than uranium and neatly solves the problem of nuclear waste as well as potential terrorism.

2. It’s much more abundant.

3. It’s cheaper.

4. It doesn’t require “refining” with centrifuges. Which makes thing much simpler and easier.

5. Like uranium based nuclear power, it doesn’t contribute to global warming.

6. Unlike solar, wind, hydro, and tidal, it doesn’t require very special conditions (like high winds or tides) to work.  So it can be located in a lot more places.

7. It can operate round the clock so storage of energy, which is a big problem for wind and solar, isn’t required.

8. It’s named after a god.


How long would it take to develop a thorium power station? It’s already been done in a couple of test reactors (since abandoned). And India and the Czech Republic are actively pursuing thorium .  If we get serious, we could probably build a modern thorium power plant in five to ten years.

The LAST thing MISTERScienceAintSoBad wants to do is make you feel all competitive. But DO you want India or (maybe) Iran to beat us to this very neat technology?

Do you?

Credits for above photo:   Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License.


Posted by on Friday, 17 December, 2010



Life’s good, right? You’re very loved.

Money? Enough. Who needs more? Besides. Money’s not what counts. Summers are warm. Winters? Crisp. With snowball fights, skiing, and frosty branches glistening in front of the window.

It’ll always be like that. Nothing bad’s gonna happen. I Promise.


Just in case my spell doesn’t work, here’s a resource. It’s for when somebody gets sick.

Very sick.

So sick that he or she runs out of options and the Doc, so optimistic and reassuring at first,  looks uneasy and emphasizes the need to be realistic. This is a place to go that’s out beyond the end of the road. Maybe it’s the next road. It’s called . It was started  by Kay Dickersin  and a group from The Center for Clinical Trials and Evidence-based Healthcare at Brown University.

Couple of things to remember.

First, be sure you get yourself a second opinion. You’re not being disloyal. It’s a routine part of medicine. Your doctor won’t be the LEAST bit uncomfortable. He or she will be glad to make some recommendations. In fact, your Doc will also help you go over the possibilities for possible clinical trials.  You shouldn’t  feel you need to do this on your own.

Clinical trials are labeled as phase I, phase II,  phase III or phase IV. Phase I’s where they weed out the REAL stinkers. They’re looking at side effects and what can be tolerated. Mostly, they’re not looking for sick people anyway. Phase II’s where thing’s get a little more serious. They’re starting to figure out “efficacy” and trying to figure out what’s the right dose. Phase III’s where they get to spend lots of money recruiting subjects in trials in various locations around the country. These are the make/break tests that determine if it gets approved. The phase IV trials are kinda “tune ups” that’re done on drugs that are already out there.  (There are also “phase 0” trials – ultra cautious tests on a few people. A sanity check to make sure they’re ready to do the Phase I stuff).


If you’re looking for a miracle (am I mixing metaphors?) you’re interested in Phase III trials.  But. remember, even in a phase III trial with a very promising drug there’s a good chance you may be placed in a control group, meaning that you don’t get the drug or its benefits. And trials are EXPERIMENTS. They’re risky. You might have a better (short) life if you just carry on.

But you’re a gambler, aren’t you? You’re not gonna go unless you HAVE to. And you’re damn well not gonna go without a fight. Well don’t  forget that you may be able to argue for “compassionate use” (single patient access), meaning screw the science, just the drug please. Not EVERYONE wants to give a life for science.

Just a small footnote. (Well, I have to say this.) MisterScienceAin’tSoBad would never, knowingly, give you any bad advice or misinformation, but biomedical engineers don’t treat patients and don’t give medical advice. I do offer the very best information that I can but where your health’s at stake, you’ll want to verify anything you read here.

Attribution for above image: By Anonymous [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Vitamin D. What now!!!!

Posted by on Wednesday, 1 December, 2010



Not that long ago, the well respected journal, Science Ain’t So Bad, wrote an article about vitamin D (IF YOU ONLY TOOK ONE PILL, WHAT WOULD IT BE?) It was a fine article. Thoughtful, carefully researched, and well balanced. It weighed the available information which boiled down to it’s being a pretty good idea for most people to take some vitamin D. Especially if they don’t get  much sun.  SASB’s article quoted  Walter Willett of the Harvard School of Public Health who felt that 1000 IU might be a decent dose.

Today’s paper had a new report from a panel of  the Institute of Medicine which dismissed all that unscientific crapola about how D’s good fer this ‘n good fer that. Let’s stay focused, the panel said, on what we really know. Most people do get enough of the stuff for their bones. Let’s not get crazy, said the panel.

Now what?

What you’re watching is the Ballet de Science. In Act I you saw the advocates on stage. They were all excited about the results of numerous studies, many of them preliminary, that seemed to show a) that many people are kinda deficient in the “sunshine” vitamin and b) vitamin D offers protection against lots of bad stuff.


Now we’re watching Act II. In this act, some fancy panel reviews all the data, gets  huffy about the some of the more outlandish claims, and sounds alarmed about the ever increasing minimum requirements which were up to 5000 IU according to some authorities.

Here’s the thing. Some elements in the “scientific community” are conservative, others are bold.  The pendulum swings.

What now?

Was all that stuff about stroke, hypertension, autoimmune diseases, depression, pain, and – was it acne? – nonsense? Probably not. But, as the public got more interested in vitamin D, so did food producers. It’s showing up in a lot of the things we’re eating. If you’re getting it in your cereal AND swallowing pills, it really could be too much. And, while there’s no great evidence that high doses of D are bad, there are hints. Besides, there IS such a thing as too much of anything. Yer not gonna take a WHOLE bottle of aspirin for a headache, are you?

MISTER ScienceAintSoBad‘s not sure either, but the suggested guidelines from the panel aren’t all that far from what readers of this blog have believed were reasonable anyway (showing how smart you are to stay tuned to this channel). Maybe a little common sense and moderation works here as it does in most things. If you’re a senior citizen or live up north (or live down south but work nights or are a vampire – let’s not forget vampires) take some D but don’t be a nut case. A few hundred IUs are probably enough in most cases. Just be reasonable. OK?

Attribution for above image (as modified by Science Ain’t So Bad) : By U.S. Navy photo [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons