Wikipedia:Reference desk/Archives/Science/2008 August 23

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Science desk
< August 22 << Jul | August | Sep >> August 24 >
Welcome to the Wikipedia Science Reference Desk Archives
The page you are currently viewing is an archive page. While you can leave answers for any questions shown below, please ask new questions on one of the current reference desk pages.

August 23[edit]

The perfect murder[edit]

Is there any way to dispose of a human body, so that it cannot possibly be found? If the murderer hides or buries the body, evidence remains in the form of bones. If the murderer throws the body in the ocean, I assume that animals eat the remains ... but that still leaves the bones behind ... correct? Or no? If the murderer burns the body, evidence remains in the form of bones, teeth, ashes, etc. Is there any completely fail-safe way to dispose of a human body ... such that no evidence at all is left behind? Thank you. (Joseph A. Spadaro (talk) 04:02, 23 August 2008 (UTC))

If you do it right, burning ought to work. The bits left behind will be small enough that you can scatter them at sea or something and be confident no-one will find them. Of course, I would strongly advise against committing murder, for the obvious reasons. --Tango (talk) 04:30, 23 August 2008 (UTC)
Isn't there a policy against giving legal advice? (talk) 07:38, 23 August 2008 (UTC)
Baaah, cremation is for amateurs. If you really want to get rid of a body, then how about a volcano? At 1650 C or so even bone will melt, plus you have the advantage that even if there were any remains they would be encased in rock. Dragons flight (talk) 05:03, 23 August 2008 (UTC)
Why don't you just launch a spaceship and take the body to the sun? Or even better, a black hole? Nil Einne (talk) 05:14, 23 August 2008 (UTC)
Burning can reduce the bones to ash but it requires high temperatures and the ability to burn a body without anybody noticing. In the past people have been convicted for murder because of bad burning techniques—in one case I remember (from a forensic anthropology class I took years ago), a single vertebrae and a single tooth were all that didn't get fully burnt, but the combination of the two was enough to convict (tooth proved identity, vertebrae proved murder).
If you had a large supply of certain acids you could probably use those. Certain chemicals cause bodies and bones to decompose (e.g. lye) but they take time, space, hazardous supplies. I'd probably go with a bathtub full of lye, personally—a lot easier than dealing with a fire.
Note that getting rid of a body does not necessarily get you off the hook for murder. In some jurisdictions you do not need a body to prove murder. My father (a defense lawyer) represented a client who was charged with murder on circumstantial and forensic evidence (e.g. blood at house, etc.) in California where there was no body for the victim found. (In the end, they found the body—in Mexico—and it was shipped back to the US. Except the Mexican authorities removed and lost the brain. Moral of the story: don't get an autopsy in Mexico.) -- (talk) 06:05, 23 August 2008 (UTC)
This question has been asked before, so have a look in the archives. There is no shortage of bodies that were never found (see our list of people who have disappeared), many of them at sea, so maybe take your victim on a cruise.--Shantavira|feed me 07:08, 23 August 2008 (UTC)
The problem with dumping bodies at sea is that the sea can be very unpredictable. Sometimes they'll be gone forever. Sometimes they wash up on a tourist beach the next day. If it were me—no, not the ocean. Maybe deep, deep ocean, far from shore is a bit better but even then I'd be wary (who knows if there's no some tiny, expensive island within a few miles that I don't know about, and currents run towards it?). -- (talk) 13:49, 23 August 2008 (UTC)
With sufficient weights attached the currents become irrelevant, the body will go almost straight down. And even bones decompose completely in the ocean in short order. However, the weights themselves become evidence, as in the case of Chilean dictator Pinochet, who liked to dump bodies in the ocean by helicopter, attached to sections of railroad rails to weigh them down. The investigators found the ties, and one had a shirt button encrusted on it, which, along with the testimony of those who dumped the bodies, is pretty conclusive evidence. StuRat (talk) 00:56, 24 August 2008 (UTC)
If the shoes are left attached, after sufficient decay the buoyancy of a running shoe can allow it to float up to the surface, with the foot in it. These turn up sometimes on shore. There's been a few feet showing up in the Gulf Islands in Canada, all left feet. Apparently currents carry left and right shoes differently, so they end up in different places. --Joelmills (talk) 01:33, 24 August 2008 (UTC)
There is some considerable debate about the left-shoe/right-shoe thing. The original evidence came from professional beach-combers who found that thousands of shoes that got washed overboard in a shipping container ended up with all of the left shoes on one beach and all of the right ones thousands of miles away. However, it's since been discovered that many shoe manufacturers ship left and right shoes in separate containers in order to dissuade would-be thieves from hijacking truckloads of shoes and selling them on the black market. That effectively busts the original theory that (empty) running shoes are somehow sorted by the ocean currents due to their shape. That in turn makes it vastly less likely that only left feet of corpses show up in Canada...the numbers in which they get washed up must be tiny - and a statistical flook or an urban legend based on the beachcomber story for empty shoes is a more likely explanation. SteveBaker (talk) 04:37, 24 August 2008 (UTC)
Woodchipper exiting into pigpen after removing the teeth and hair (dissolve those in acid)? --Kurt Shaped Box (talk) 12:50, 23 August 2008 (UTC)
Yeah, unless Margie comes along and notices you doing it. Personally, after I read a book named Death to Dust; What happens to Dead Bodies? (ISBN 1-883620-07-4), I became convinced that no matter how hard one might try, you'll always leave some sort of forensic evidence behind. Well, unless you can transport the vic into the heart of the sun or something.
Atlant (talk) 13:31, 23 August 2008 (UTC)
In that case, I suppose that it's equally as important when committing a murder that the suspicion should never be allowed fall upon you in the first place. If the police never come to your door, then they'll never have the opportunity to find even the smallest piece of forensic evidence indicating your prior body-disposal activities. So, the crime would have to be meticulously preplanned and the victim a perfect stranger with no connection to yourself whatsoever. Which would kinda defeat the object of the majority of premeditated murders (i.e. vengeance against someone who has seriously upset you). --Kurt Shaped Box (talk) 13:46, 23 August 2008 (UTC)
(ec) Well, but again, forensic evidence is only one part of "a perfect crime". And it should be noted that there are thousands of unsolved murders per year. We only spend a lot of time talking about the times when our "brilliant police forces" manage to solve them using some clever scientific means. There are nearly as many cold cases as there are solved ones. -- (talk) 13:47, 23 August 2008 (UTC)

Follow up[edit]

Thanks for the input above. Let me ask the question this way. Say that you have a tiny dead human body (infant / baby / small child) and there are no clothes (naked). If you fed that body to, say, an alligator (or bear or whatever) ... would there be any evidence whatsoever? Assume that from the point of murder to the point of feeding the alligator (bear, whatever) ... the murder was perfect and undetectable. Once the murderer leaves the point of feeding the alligator or bear, is there any incriminating evidence whatsoever ... or can the murderer be assured that detection is impossible at this point? Thanks. (Joseph A. Spadaro (talk) 14:53, 23 August 2008 (UTC))

It's possible that the animal could 'pass through' some teeth or identifiable bone fragments. I believe that's how they caught the guy who was feeding dead prostitutes to the pigs a few years back... --Kurt Shaped Box (talk) 14:56, 23 August 2008 (UTC)
As I discussed above in the burning case, you only need a very small amount of very hard bone to have damning evidence of a murder and identify who it was. Teeth and vertebrae are numerous, small, and dense and I would not be surprised if a number of them survived in the stool of the animals. A tooth can give you identification, a vertebrae can prove murder. It's not how I would do things, is all I'm saying, and you're also relying a little too much on something you can't control—the animal and their individual physiology and health. What if your alligator runs away and is promptly killed by someone for its hide, who then happens to discover a stomach full of corpse? Too many possible ways for something like that to go wrong... IMO. But I'm speaking from the point of view of whether it was my future that was on the line in such a thing—I'd want to be pretty dang sure of things, I wouldn't be taking chances with luck. And note that most people are going to notice a missing baby—that's going to be as problematic as forensic evidence, because the number of people who would want to kill said baby are few. -- (talk) 15:11, 23 August 2008 (UTC)
You probably don't need to completely erase all evidence of the body - you only need to hide it with a sufficiently good probability of it not being found and identified in your lifetime. You could (for example) take a small aircraft over the amazon rainforest and push the body out of the door somewhere at random. So long as no evidence remains of where you flew, the authorities would have to search a billion acres of forest that's so dense that you could walk within a few feet of a body and not find it. Decay would take a while - but investigators combing the forest for human remains would find lots of human remains from people who live there - and the effort to do DNA studies on all of them would be all but impossible. The issue is then one of having a plausible reason to be out there - and whether you can fly far enough from radar and other aircraft who might record your position. I don't think that's too difficult.
Other strategies that might help (but could be risky) would be to arrange that nobody noticed the victim was no longer present. "My wife is terribly sick - the doctor recommends bed rest"...then one or two days later..."She's been hospitalized for specialist treatment at (some hospital 200 miles away so nobody will try to visit)"...then a couple of weeks later..."She's much better - but she's been under a lot of stress. I sent her to Switzerland to relax and recover in the mountain air"...then a few months later..."OMG! She's met another man and is being unfaithful to me"...then six months later..."We've decided not to go through a messy divorce - we're separating"...then a few years later..."I heard she died in a car crash - I don't have many details...I'm devastated". You could fake emails to her close friends. If you did it right - nobody would ever think to call the cops and the issue of searching for a body would never come up.
SteveBaker (talk) 17:32, 23 August 2008 (UTC)
Right, but if it were truly I, and not just some character in a story I was writing, I wouldn't want to trust chance on that sort of thing. What happens if the dead person's sister really needs to talk to said person because of some family emergency? Oh, you try to put it off, and redirect, and pretty soon it becomes clear that you're the one standing in the way of contact, and people get worried, and etc. It's not that easy to remove a person out of their network of people and society if they have any ties to it—people notice that sort of thing pretty quickly, we're more interconnected with one another than we often think. And something like the Amazon seems foolproof, except when some hikers that you can't see in the plane end up seeing you, or you end up being on some sort of surveillance camera at the airport that you can't see, and etc. Again, a lot of jurisdictions can convict you of murder on purely circumstantial evidence, and some without an actual body.
If I were to speculate, I would say the "perfect murder" is one where 1. it is clear to all that there was a murder (e.g. body is found quick), but 2. the forensic evidence is not incriminating to the killer, and 3. there are multiple plausible possible shooters. Hence a drive-by gang murder is much more likely to go unsolved than a suburban white guy killing his wife. Drive by a gang member's house in a stolen car, shoot them with a generic (stolen) gun, drive off, throw the guns in the ocean, set the car on fire, get the hell out of there. The body is in plain sight—and you don't possibly incriminate yourself by being caught with remains or anything—but the question of who did it could be totally up in the air (especially if you live in an area where witnesses are unlikely to collaborate with the police out of fear of recriminations). But if you're some uptight white guy and you kill your wife and kids—you're going to get caught almost surely, because you're probably the only suspect from the minute anyone notices they're missing. The best way to get rid of your wife and kid (if that's what you want to do, you sick bastard) is to make it look like they died in an accident, in my opinion. Nobody's going to believe that some sicko decided to target your wife and kids randomly unless there is hard evidence for that, because that sort of stuff is rare, whereas family-on-family violence is remarkably likely. But a carbon monoxide leak, a gas leak, a hit-and-run car accident, etc.—these sorts of things actually do occur, and if you were clever and careful about that, well, you could get away with it, maybe. So I guess what I'm trying to suggest again is that the idea of a "perfect murder" being preoccupied with disposing of the body is short-sighted. Most real unsolved, "perfect" murders involve bodies that are right there in the open. Only in bad detective novels do they involve bizarre arrangements of hiding a body and then covering it up. -- (talk) 20:01, 23 August 2008 (UTC)
You people should collaborate in writing murder mysteries, or perhaps CSI episodes. Wanderer57 (talk) 17:43, 23 August 2008 (UTC)
The problem with writing murder mysteries is not the mystery or the murder - but the writing. Writing a novel is difficult for a million reasons totally unrelated to finding a plot. SteveBaker (talk) 20:50, 23 August 2008 (UTC)
Fact is, none of this is really all that novel. If you watch The Wire you'll see my point of view written plain as day. If you read a forensic anthropology book you'll see tons of discussions about dissolving bodies and feeding them to animals and things like that. As I mentioned before, I took an undergrad class in forensic anthropology and like 90% of what we discussed was how "perfect murders" that try to get rid of bodies usually go awry. In my opinion/experience most "perfect murders" are pretty boring. One teen shoots another teen and nobody talks to the cops about it and they never find the gun or maybe they have a good idea of who it might have been but they don't have enough evidence to link them to the scene of the crime, and oh well, case goes into the cold file bin, and nobody cares that much unless it's some white college kid or a pregnant white lady. -- (talk) 20:05, 23 August 2008 (UTC)
Doing it right is tbe big thing and it's going to depend a lot on your and her circumstances (and your ability to lie). If for example your wife has family/close friends who don't particularly trust you, they might get suspicious from the moment you tell them she's on bed rest, but no she doesn't want you to visit or at least call. Even more so when she didn't contact any of them other then by e-mail. Indeed, they may be suspicious from the moment you call them and tell them she's going but no, neither of you need help or if you don't call them, the fact she disappeared so suddenly. Even your friends/family may be suspicious... Even if they don't get suspicious at the early stage, there's a good chance they're going to get suspicious once the 'she ran away' comes up or perhaps the 'she died' (well we lost contact but I still think I should go to her funeral/grave, can you give me the details you have?). And when they think about it and realise they haven't spoken to her since she mysterious went on bed rest. The fake e-mails too could give you away if you say or don't say something which makes someone suspicious. You'd need to be smart about it, and not send your e-mails from a UK IP if she's in Switzerland in case anyone notices. (Then there's also the question of "wait you could afford to send her to Switzerland? if you couldn't) Also if there's stuff in her name your going to either have to hope no one starts noticed you didn't change things into (solely) your name. Even worse if there's debts in her name and someone asks you 'why the fick are you paying off your (dead) cheating wife's debts' or later if there is insurance or some other death benefit 'why the fick didn't you collect the death benefit?' One key point of course here is it can easily fall apart the moment someone gets suspicious or even does something without asking you, e.g. when someone tries to contact this hospital/specialist... or even has circumstances which you don't expect (she's in Hospital X? What a coincidence, my cousin works in hospital X, I'll get him/her to see how she's going) Nil Einne (talk) 21:25, 23 August 2008 (UTC)
Upfield thought the perfect way to dispose of a body is to burn the body, dissolve the remains, bury any solid remnants, and spread the ashes into wind. When Rowls actually tried it, the police still found the victim's remains, partially because they were aware of Upfield's method. Moral of the story: don't use any disposal method mentioned on Wikipedia. --Bowlhover (talk) 20:13, 24 August 2008 (UTC)
Which would be the more difficult task though? Disposing physical evidence of the body, weapon, etc, or actually trying to lie your way through others convincing them that you had nothing to do with the murder. If a random joe is living with his wife, and like said above, the next day she's dead, most people I would assume would jump to the conclusion that random joe had something to do with it. Now of course, making it seem an accident would have more weight. Random joe could take his wife for a ride in his car out to the highway. Make sure she's on a tight seat belt, ride full speed into a tree and jump out at the right time to avoid yourself injury, hope she dies in the crash, perhaps the car may not be damaged enough that you could get back into the drivers seat, give yourself some cuts from glass. Then again, police might blame bad driving, etc and it was in fact intentional.--GTPoompt(talk) 18:39, 25 August 2008 (UTC)

Cooling soups[edit]

How much should a newly cooked bowl of soup be opened at the top to optimize the two factors 1) opening not enough will make the soup not cool fast enough --> soup stands too long at around room temperature --> bad soup; and 2) opening too much will let microorganisms in --> bad soup. Assume the soup will be refrigerated when at room temperature and there happens no thunderstorm (bonus question!). --Ayacop (talk) 08:11, 23 August 2008 (UTC)

See Food safety for links to the various official advice; usually food should not be left out for more than one or two hours total regardless of temperature. This advice would not change if you put a cover over the bowl of soup.-- (talk) 15:29, 23 August 2008 (UTC)
It's a bit more complicated than that. If your soup is maintained at over 70 degC for at least 20 minutes or is raised over 100 degC for some shorter period - then the bacteria are all dead (see Pasteurization for more exact details). If you then immediately tightly cover it so that no more bacteria can get into it - then it'll last essentially forever. We don't worry about cans of soup going bad for example - people have opened canned food that's over 100 years old - and the contents are still safe to consume (cans older than that used poisonous lead solder - so while there was no bacteria, it's not so good to eat!).
But some soups don't taste too good after they've been heated too much...many canned soups tell you right there on the label: "Do not boil". Here's the problem: If you merely WARM the soup - then rather than killing harmful bacteria, you've actually put them into a situation where there is plenty of nice warm nutrients - kinda like being in the human body in fact - and they'll reproduce like crazy. Covering the warm soup will have little effect because you're getting more and more bacteria building up in there. If you wait too long, it'll go bad whether you cover it or not. If you take soup that's been heated enough to kill all of the bacteria - and then let it cool gradually without being tightly covered - then more bacteria will get into it - and again, they'll find a warm environment that lets them reproduce.
Refrigerating the soup will help because it gets the stuff down to such a low temperature that the bacteria can only reproduce extremely slowly - this means it'll keep for quite a while before there is too much bacteria in it.
Freezing the stuff will stop bacterial reproduction - but won't kill them. So as soon as you warm it up again, they'll start reproducing. So freezing freshly made soup will 'stop the clock' until you un-freeze it.
SteveBaker (talk) 17:00, 23 August 2008 (UTC)
If you're going to refrigerated the soup, there's no reason to wait for it to reach room temperature. If you're afraid it may melt something, then let it cool down a bit but this definitely doesn't have to be room temperature. Also, I wouldn't bother to open the soup. Not so much because of microorganisms/spores per se, although it may help depending on how well you cover, but to stop things like flies going in. Nil Einne (talk) 20:48, 23 August 2008 (UTC)
  • Clostridium botulinum spores survive 100°C and then they grow in the oxygen free and competator free enviroment! So you have to heat the soup a second time after a day to get them after they left their spore! But if you are not workin in a clean room the first mold is in your food seconds after it droped beneath the temperature they can survive.--Stone (talk) 22:18, 23 August 2008 (UTC)
  • Of course, it's not just whether the soup is sterile or not, as how much bacteria is present initially also impacts how long it will take to spoil. One method I use in the winter (which is the only time I cook soup), is to put the hot covered soup outside to cool (I have an enclosed, but unheated, porch I use for this). This allows it to cool quickly but remain covered. I then move it to the refrigerator once Wings don't matter much because (as you say) plenty of jet fighters can accelerate straight upwards. it cools off, or, if the fridge is full and the temp is low enough, I might just leave it outside. If you don't have an enclosed porch, a garage might also work, but don't leave soup where critters can get at it. StuRat (talk) 00:13, 24 August 2008 (UTC)
It's certainly true that bugs like botulism can survive pasteurization - but we generally work very hard to make sure there is no botulism in our food to start with. SteveBaker (talk) 04:30, 24 August 2008 (UTC)
In regard to the bonus question, the absence of thunderstorms will be heavily associated with specific weather patterns, probably correlated to high humidity and uniform air pressure with a lack of updrafting. This will reduce the probability of airborne electrical discharge and the consequential ozone generation and broadband impulsive electromagnetic signals (not to mention light flashes). The absence of thunder may cause the human participants in the soup-cooling experiment to maintain concentration slightly better than in other conditions, enabling more repeatable experiment (I assume you will be following sound scientific method with control experiment and so will be cooling many dozen soups). In thunderstorms, the possibility of electric outage and the likelihood of distractions due to loud thunder would potentially interfere with the experiment's repeatability. Nimur (talk) 15:30, 24 August 2008 (UTC)
My great grandmother always claimed that thunderstorms made milk go sour. After a storm she'd chuck all her milk down the sink. I have no CLUE where that theory came from - I'm pretty sure it's untrue. SteveBaker (talk) 04:54, 25 August 2008 (UTC)

Ortho, Meta and Para[edit]

According to the Online Etymologies Dictionary para means alongside [1], ortho means straight [2] and meta means in the middle [3]

In Chemistry para can be said to mean "straight", ortho "alongside" and meta in the middle: Arene substitution patterns

I imagine that this is due to the archaic nature of the naming convention and when they came up with it they may not have known the structures of the compounds.. is this true? Did they simply think that ortho compounds were 1,2 substituted and para 1,4 substituted? Thanks, -- (talk) 12:34, 23 August 2008 (UTC)

Those prefixes are used in all sorts of different ways - but usually consistently within a single field. I work in computer graphics - we use "ortho" (for example) in the word "orthogonal" to mean (roughly) "at right angles to". In many sciences "meta" is used in phrases like "meta-study" (which is a study of other studies) or "meta-theory" (which is a theory about other theories) - it's hard to translate that into normal English but "meta-X" means "a kind of X that refers to other X". "para" is sometimes also used to mean "two". The problem is that science often "adopts" words and gives them different meanings to those used in general English. The word "Accelleration" means "going faster" in regular English - but in scientific usage, it can also mean "changing direction" or "slowing down". In common English "velocity" and "speed" are synonyms - but in scientific usage, "velocity" describes both the speed AND the direction of motion. So looking up a scientific term in a general dictionary will often produce contradictory results. SteveBaker (talk) 16:36, 23 August 2008 (UTC)
acceleration, a change in velocity :D Coolotter88 (talk) 20:15, 23 August 2008 (UTC)
I will have a look into the publications of Kekule. The structure of the compounds was unkown for a long time. Kolbe was never able to accept that anybody arranged the atoms in a molecule to a two or three dimensional formula. He stuck to the radicals and that they are the smallest things in the molecule, but because of the fact that nobody has ever seen a molecule, and he thought nobody ever would he denied the Kekule benzene formula. But even before the hexagonal formula was born the chemists found out that there are three disubstituted benzenes possible. For example 1,2- , 1,3- and 1,4-dichloro benzene. This made a lot of the other predicted structures of benzene (prismane, Dewar benzene) impossible. I do not know what the name of the three possible substances was, but I have to have a look in to the literature of 1860s to give you the answer you want. --Stone (talk) 22:10, 23 August 2008 (UTC)

fluocinonide 0.05%[edit]

I'm looking at a tube of this stuff (prescribed for poison ivy, also eczema I think) and the expiration date didn't quite print off on the label. Anyone know what kind of shelf life this stuff has? --MrE1 (talk) 15:33, 23 August 2008 (UTC)

Your best bet would be to call the pharmacy where you picked up the prescription. (You don't know how long it was on their shelf before you got it, remember; they may also want to counsel you on the proper storage and use of the product.) TenOfAllTrades(talk) 15:52, 23 August 2008 (UTC)
There are some ways to tell that a medication has gone bad, such as if it seperates, dries out, changes consistency, becomes cloudy, etc. If any of this has happened, I'd avoid using it. However, it doesn't necessarily mean it's good, if none of this has happened yet. StuRat (talk) 00:45, 24 August 2008 (UTC)



I'd like to underestand the difference between Homeopathy and the other doctors. what the Homeopathy do?

Best regards Mustafa P.S. my address <email removed to prevent spam> —Preceding unsigned comment added by Mustafa363 (talkcontribs) 15:44, 23 August 2008 (UTC)

Have you read our article homeopathy? Algebraist 15:50, 23 August 2008 (UTC)
Homeopathy is the idea (which, it must be emphasised, has ZERO scientific backing) that a very small amount of a bad thing can cure you of that bad thing. To take a crude example - if someone has been poisoned by arsenic (say) - a homeopathic cure might entail taking the tiniest amount of arsenic and dissolving it in a gallon of water - shaking it up carefully. Then they'll take just one drop of that water and put it into a gallon of clean water and shake it up. Then take one drop of THAT water and put it into another gallon of clean water. You do this over and over again - with the arsenic getting more and more dilute. Homeopathic medicines are typically diluted to the point where there is almost no chance of even a single molecule of the original substance left in the water. Then (the homeopathists claim) you can have the arsenic poisoned person drink some of this water and they'll get better.
So - most homeopathic medicines that you can buy are nothing more than pure water. In scientific terms it's utter bullshit - there is simply no possible way these treatments can do what they claim. There are attractions to the manufacturers of these "medications" - they are very cheap to make - because they only consist of water, they don't have to undergo testing and medical trials - they can be sold over the counter and for some unthinkably bizarre reason, people believe in them.
To the extent that homeopathic treatments work, it can only be by the placebo mechanism. There is strong evidence that if people believe that they are being treated for something, they'll sometimes get better even if the treatment is a few drops of water or a sugar pill.
The "explanation" that the homeopathists give is that some trace of the original substance is somehow "imprinted" onto the water molecules and that this imprinting gets stronger the more dilute you make it. Since water is made up of polar molecules that form and reform continually - there is really no scientific possibility that this can be true. It's bullshit...pure and simple.
Worse still - if it worked - then small impurities in the original water (say a few atoms of copper that washed off the pipe through which the water flowed) would also get amplified by the same mechanism. If homeopathy worked then the "drug interactions" would be uncontrollable - as your body simultaneously tried to rid itself of copper, polythene (from the stirring mechanism), silica (from the glass vessels) name it.
So - it MIGHT work if you believe in it - but If we were honest about using placebo's to treat diseases, we wouldn't be paying millions and millions of dollars to homeopathic medicine companies for tiny little bottles of water. The doctor could simply fill bottles with mineral water he bought in gallon quantities from WalMart. The whole thing is a nasty scam.
What bothers me most is that some drug stores here in the USA are putting homeopathic "cures" on the shelves right next to the real stuff - and the information that these are homeopathic is in teeny-tiny lettering. I was looking for some eye drops in Eccards only a week ago and it was only at the checkout that I noticed a tiny "HOMEOPATHIC" written on the packaging. I came very close to spending $8 for a bottle of water. That makes me angry beyond measure! Argh!
SteveBaker (talk) 16:22, 23 August 2008 (UTC)
"n" <-- The homeopathic edition of my ten-volume definitive treatise debunking the subject (available at fine bookstores everywhere for $39.95). Clarityfiend (talk) 17:44, 23 August 2008 (UTC)
The very basic idea at the heart of homeopathy is not so bad—that sometimes the best treatment for a symptom is more of the same, rather than an attempt at stopping it. For example, a homeopathic approach to a runny nose would not be to stuff it up with antihistamines, but to encourage the running. The theory here, basically, is that the symptoms one sees are actually the body's own defenses running their course—a runny nose flushes out bacteria in the sinus system and etc.—and that trying to counter the symptoms (i.e. plug up the runny nose) is actually counter-productive, because you will end up prolonging the underlying cause of the symptom. Now this doesn't work in all cases but it does work in some of them and it is what homeopathy was originally supposed to be about.
In a modern viewpoint, we might, if we chose to, see things like vaccinations as part of a similar mindset—giving the body weak form a disease can help the body to develop means of combating the disease, which helps it later if you do actually get exposed to a full version of the disease.
Unfortunately, what happened in the 19th century is that this very simple and not totally crazy idea got taken to very stupid extremes. The idea became to give the body very weak exposure to all sorts of things—so weak, in fact, that the actual presence of the thing to be exposed to was for all intents and purposes totally nonexistent. This is the serial dilution that SteveBaker refers to above. When you find "homeopathic remedies" at the store, that's what they are. Not worth a cent. But the basic idea that led to them was not itself fraudulent or stupid, but it's not the first time that the road to quackery was paved with not totally insensible reasoning.
It's worth noting that homeopathy is somewhat popular right now not because it is effective but because people have become increasingly suspicious of modern medicine. Sometimes their suspicions are well-founded—the capitalist aspects the modern pharmaceutical industry, for example, has led to the marketing of all sorts of medicines to "cure" all sorts of conditions that may or may not even really be conditions, and there have been a number of high-profile cases lately where it has been clear that the regulatory apparatus for making sure commercial pharmaceuticals are safe have severe and unpardonable holes in it. Similarly, in the US at least, the state of our healthcare system is bad enough to drive any sane person mad—I've yet to meet one person who didn't have some incredible horror story related to someone they personally knew regarding difficulties with getting their healthcare insurance company to pay for some necessary procedure. Additionally there have been many calls from within the medical community for reform of medical education in this country, as it seems to produce highly disinterested, arrogant, and heartless practitioners. So let's just put the exact veracity of all of that aside (there are arguments on both sides, and these criticisms are sufficiently mainstream as to be known to most people who read, say, the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal), and just say that there are some real and non-crazy concerns relating to the state of modern medicine. But to embrace the exact opposite of modern medicine just because there are flaws with modern medicine is not a rational decision. Unfortunately at the moment the degree of discontent and mistrust is high enough that even friends of mine who I consider to be extremely intelligent are doing things like this—irrational actions that, at times, even put their own lives in danger. Oh, what a world... -- (talk) 19:32, 23 August 2008 (UTC)
You are completely right. But we are (as a whole) fawning subjects not deserving any better. (talk) 21:05, 23 August 2008 (UTC)
A concept related to homeopathy is water memory, the speculation that water which used to have a certain chemical will retain the chemical's properties after dilution. Supposedly, an antibody solution diluted so many times that not a single antibody is likely to remain can still have an effect on basophils. The alleged effect's proponents were discredited by later experiments.
Homeopathy is an example of the law of contagion mentioned in Magical thinking#Overview, as its supporters claim "things which were once in physical contact maintain a connection even after physical contact has been broken".
I should note that the companies and ardent promoters of homeopathy likely know pure water can't treat diseases no matter what. But selling drugs and books brings in cash, and with such a well-known type of quackery, a lot of cash. Hiring a team of scientists to invent, test, and retest drugs is much more expensive and time-consuming that filling bottles with tap water. --Bowlhover (talk) 21:44, 23 August 2008 (UTC)
Yep - they also advertise "No side effects!" - which is a very peculiar claim. How does the drug know what you want it to do and to what degree?! SteveBaker (talk) 04:22, 24 August 2008 (UTC)
Homeopathy is a wonderful "science". We know infected food cause illness, so if you have illness, according to homeopathy your medicine will be diluted infected food. Otolemur crassicaudatus (talk) 14:59, 24 August 2008 (UTC)
PS: By using homeopathy, you can turn a dead man alive. Just give him diluted poison!!! Otolemur crassicaudatus (talk) 15:03, 24 August 2008 (UTC)
Do bear in mind that the placebo effect is extremely powerful and even oddly complicated, sometimes working even when you've been told you're not taking any actual medicine. It is involved in all medicines we take to some extent, and proper homeopathic remedies should have no side-effects if you've been led to expect that they don't. Let placebos 'unlock your body's healing potential': take homeopathic cures (when recommended by a licensed doctor)! :D (talk) 20:58, 25 August 2008 (UTC)

Light sensitivity disease?[edit]

There's a very, very rare disease that causes the sufferers to be painfully allergic to light. I can't remember the name of it -- can anyone help? I think it may start with an X, but I could be wrong. (It's not lupus, photophobia or iritis either.) (talk) 15:58, 23 August 2008 (UTC)

Light allergy redirects to Xeroderma pigmentosum – is that what you're after? Algebraist 16:00, 23 August 2008 (UTC)
YES, thank you! (talk) 16:01, 23 August 2008 (UTC)

Why have I never had a hangover?[edit]

I'm a woman in my late teens, 5'1" and 110lbs. With the amount of drinking I do some nights, I should surely wake up miserable. But after a night of drinking I usually find myself getting up early and feeling great (TOTALLY contrary to my normal behaviour) while all my friends fall over themselves trying to get to the aspirin bottle. Why might this be? I do drink water when I drink, but probably not even as much as I should.

If this constitutes "medical advice" (I don't think so: it's just a matter of curiosity!) just imagine I'm talking about a purely hypothetical female of my age. (talk) 16:12, 23 August 2008 (UTC)

I'm not entirely sure, I'm a 6'1" male and I'm underweight, but I don't get hangovers either, regardless of how much I drink. I've never been sick (physically, I've been ill clearly) in my life. I have no idea why, I assume some people just have better liver's than others ;) —Cyclonenim (talk · contribs) 16:16, 23 August 2008 (UTC)
Drinking water is going to help, one of the major causes of a hangover is dehydration. Different people also experience hangovers differently, I don't know why. Personally, I'll feel really sick (and sometimes am sick) after an excessive night out, but have never had a headache from drinking too much (I always drink at least a pint, preferably two, of water before bed if I've been drinking). I know a girl whose main reaction to a night out is waking up early - normally she won't get up until late morning if she can help it, but after a night out she's up at 6! (Having been out until the early hours, so she must get next to no sleep...) --Tango (talk) 17:14, 23 August 2008 (UTC)
OR: For me, one of the symptoms of intoxication is an inability to keep down any quantity of water. This is annoying. Algebraist 19:21, 23 August 2008 (UTC)
I've not had that problem before bed, but the morning after is another matter - it takes a long time to get over a hangover when you can't keep down water. --Tango (talk) 20:11, 23 August 2008 (UTC)
Avoiding dehydration is definitely the number one thing. If you can't keep it down - then you're probably emptying your stomach of residual alcohol - which can only help. If I'm not to far gone to remember to drink a pint of water before going to bed - I don't get a hangover either. If I do forget - it's not good. Please don't imagine that just because you didn't get a hangover that you're OK though. You can (for example) have enough alcohol still in your bloodstream the following morning to make it illegal for you to drive. That remaining alcohol might be the explanation for why you feel differently than usual the following morning. You're also building up a resistance to alcohol which can result in you drinking dangerous amounts in order to get the 'buzz'. SteveBaker (talk) 20:41, 23 August 2008 (UTC)
Age probably has a lot to do with it. I didn't start getting hangovers until my late twenties, and then they didn't get bad until my early thirties. Amytown (talk) 23:41, 23 August 2008 (UTC)
I usually find that after drinking a dangerous amount of alcohol that I miss the bus(zz)! —Preceding unsigned comment added by Moonspeaker (talkcontribs) 03:27, 24 August 2008 (UTC)

Diagnostic of brain injuries[edit]

After an accident, without high-technology, how can doctors detect a brain injury? —Preceding unsigned comment added by Mr.K. (talkcontribs) 19:16, 23 August 2008 (UTC)

Talking with the patient can give a lot of information up to a point, especially relating to serious injury. -- (talk) 19:35, 23 August 2008 (UTC)
There are a number of diagnostic scales, such as Glasgow Coma Scale. Rancho Los Amigos Scale, Blantyre Coma Scale, and Paediatric Glasgow Coma Scale, which allow some basic insight into the patient's level of consciousness. Reaction to pain stimuli, motor reflexes, the pupillary light reflex, presense of aphasia or paralysis or an altered mental state can indicate brain injury and give some clue as to its nature. But pretty much all these symptoms can also be symptoms of stroke or tumor or some kind of intoxication or poisoning or metabolic snafu, so detecting and diagnosing a physical brain injury without further technical means is difficult. And of course just because someone has (for example) been hit for by a car doesn't automatically mean that any cerebral deficit is necessarily caused by that injury - they could just as easily be drunk or stoned or have had a stroke (precipitating the accident). -- Finlay McWalter | Talk 19:58, 23 August 2008 (UTC)
With most traumatic brain injuries, CT scans are needed to confirm the diagnosis but a high level of clinical suspicion is required for almost every brain injury that comes into the ER. We have a very good article on traumatic brain injury which can be found here. —Cyclonenim (talk · contribs) 22:27, 23 August 2008 (UTC)


What are those shake-dry towels called properly?

What are the made of? —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 19:17, 23 August 2008 (UTC)

Do you mean terrycloth or something else? -- (talk) 19:48, 23 August 2008 (UTC)
Do you mean quickdrying microfibre towels? Nil Einne (talk) 20:33, 23 August 2008 (UTC)
Chamois leather? --Russoc4 (talk) 23:41, 23 August 2008 (UTC)

If a man and a cheetah were to run a marathon...[edit]

...then, assuming that the man was physically prepared to run a marathon, he would easily finish way ahead of the cat.

I had this factoid quoted to me today. True or not? --Kurt Shaped Box (talk) 23:28, 23 August 2008 (UTC)

Can cheetahs not run as fast as they do for 26.2 miles? --Russoc4 (talk) 23:39, 23 August 2008 (UTC)
No, they cannot. According to our article they can sustain top speed for less than half a kilometre, and they may need to rest afterwards. Algebraist 23:42, 23 August 2008 (UTC)
That doesn't answer the original question, though. The Cheetah wouldn't need to go anywhere near it's top speed to race against a human. It would need an average of only about 13MPH (21kph). I'll bet you'll have difficulty finding low-speed endurance statistics on Cheetahs, everything I've read about them suggests that jogging isn't their style in the wild, and the references to the WP article suggest that virtually no speed experiments have been done with captive cheetahs. (Except for a couple of very informal top-speed tests.) I'll bet the answer to this marathon factoid simply isn't known. However, See Man versus Horse Marathon for a similar contest, a horse seems to have better endurance than a cheetah, but even horses sometimes lose to humans in a marathon. APL (talk) 00:16, 24 August 2008 (UTC)
Forget cheetahs, Olympic marathoners run ~12-13 miles per hour over that 26 miles. Endurance racing horses are typically running 10-11 miles per hour over long distances, so a world-class marathoner is likely to beat a horse over that distance. Humans are better at endurance running (over long distances) than nearly any animal. Most animals, such as the cheetah, are pretty specialized for short distance sprints. Dragons flight (talk) 00:25, 24 August 2008 (UTC)
I agree that the cheetah would probably lose, but the horse might stand more of a chance without a giant simian on its back. Algebraist 00:29, 24 August 2008 (UTC)
No it wouldn't - it would go the wrong way. Horses are one of the dumbest mammals (low brain to body weight ratio). As for the Cheetah, you are all assuming that the Cheetah is going to understand the rule about not eating the other competitors, disregarding of which rule could prove to be a winning tactic. SpinningSpark 17:48, 24 August 2008 (UTC)
That would lead to the cheetah's immediate disqualification, and a win by default for the (remains of the) human. And who said the human wasn't carrying a kalashnikov, anyway? Algebraist 17:51, 24 August 2008 (UTC)
Cats, in general, are sprinters. A housecat can escape a person if there is a quick escape route, but in an open field they would be at a disadvantage. StuRat (talk) 00:42, 24 August 2008 (UTC)
While humans are good at endurance running, being able to hunt some faster animals by just plain chasing them till they collapse. Algebraist 00:46, 24 August 2008 (UTC)
There are actually very few animals that have greater endurance than a human who is in reasonably good condition. Marathon runner manage 26 miles - but that's nothing. I had a neighbour once who did the London to Brighton run (that's over 60 miles), the round-Isle-of-Wight race and the South Downs Way run - and IIRC, one or other of those was over 90 miles. SteveBaker (talk) 04:18, 24 August 2008 (UTC)
I think there are quite a few marathon runners that might disagree with you about 26 miles being nothing! ;) --Tango (talk) 04:32, 24 August 2008 (UTC)
Appreciate the answers, guys and girls. I actually suspected something along those lines, having heard of persistence hunting before... --Kurt Shaped Box (talk) 16:57, 24 August 2008 (UTC)
A marathon is nothing. Dick Hoyt completed six Ironman Triathlons, of which the running part alone is 26.2 miles, while moving his paralyzed, full-grown son with him. The horses aren't the only ones who have to carry people. — DanielLC 17:18, 24 August 2008 (UTC)
My problem with these hypothetical situations is that it pits an average animal against a highly trained human. An average human cannot complete a marathon any better than an average cheetah could. Now, assume we specially bred and trained marathon-running cheetahs. How would they compare to humans? To my knowledge, the only animals we train for long-distance running are horses, sled dogs, and camels. All of them are trained to run while under the heavy load of a human. We do not train humans to run marathons while dragging another human along. -- kainaw 17:45, 24 August 2008 (UTC)
You've never seen those guys running the London Marathon in pantomime horse costumes? ;) --Kurt Shaped Box (talk) 17:59, 24 August 2008 (UTC)
My wife ran the London marathon - it took her well over four and a half hours - but she didn't walk much of it - she just has short legs! That was after a mere handful of training runs over the preceeding few weeks - not one of which was over 13 miles. An average 21st century western-world couch-potato kind of a human might have some trouble - but a "natural" human who had to go out and hunt wild animals every day of his life shouldn't have any trouble whatever running 26 miles in a respectable time. I really don't think a cheetah would stand a chance after the first mile or so. Cheetah only do one of those amazing sprints every couple of days - they lie around in trees the rest of the time - they just aren't built for a jogging pace.
A nit: cheetahs can't climb trees. --Sean 15:04, 25 August 2008 (UTC)
I think even the sagest cheetah would have trouble grasping the wisdom of the Self-Transcendence 3100 Mile Race -- 5649 laps around a single city block in New York. --Sean 15:04, 25 August 2008 (UTC)
That race sounds like a taster of the kind of eternal punishment that an angry Greek god might hand out to a misbehaving runner in the underworld... --Kurt Shaped Box (talk) 17:08, 25 August 2008 (UTC)
If you want an *average* human to compare with your average cheetah, I think even a two mile run would still be a win for the human.
(You'd be better off picking someone who wasn't raised on a diet of McDonald's hamburgers, but that's not typical of humanity as a whole. If I really wanted an average human, I'd pick someone of multiethnic or multiracial ancestry who was raised neither in one of the top five or ten richest nations nor in a very poor country.)
Cheetahs go roughly 60 mph, maybe more, (it's hard to measure) for about 30 seconds. That's about a half mile. (Can cheetahs even run slower, for endurance? I don't think they work that way.)
As for protecting the human, I don't think cheetahs attack man very often (do they ever)? Vultur (talk) 23:26, 27 August 2008 (UTC)
Of course cheetahs can run slower for longer distances and that's part of their typical hunting technique. When a cheetah hunts, it jogs toward the herd of prey animals to get them running; it parries in and out and makes test runs to get a feel for where the old or young or sick might be. It does that because no cheetah will catch a healthy antelope on a straight run, not unless it's almost on top of it before getting noticed. After several half-effort jogs at the herd, the cat will pick its target (if any) and change gears to sprint. On a run of anything less than a few miles, the cheetah will finish way ahead of the human (assuming you could get it to understand the reasoning) - it jogs at about the speed Usain ran last week, then speeds up to two or three times that for the last half mile or so. Not close. Matt Deres (talk) 14:21, 28 August 2008 (UTC)

There is one other aspect that needs to be considered. Talking about "average human" that can run marathons. It is only of late that they can, since the development of running shoes that correct supination, pronation and prevent shin-splints etc. 50 years ago, running a marathon was something special as shown in the number of people in the starting line-ups. Not today. Even I have run 12 of them, incl. the London, and I am hardly biomechanically perfect. You should ask yourself whether the cheetah will win if the human runs on bare feet. Yes it will, because the average human will take weeks to complete the marathon, having to recover from incapacitating injuries along the way. I wager that cheetahs surviving in the wild are biomechanically in better condition than humans in their natural environment (i.e on Wiki...)