Hey, Sometimes Science is Disgusting…

…but that doesn’t keep it from being cool.

A little something from BBC’s BritLabs collection which introduces, among other things, the spiders that mate on your face and lay eggs in your follicles while you sleep, what various types of body lice tell us about our collective pre-history, and the fact that numerically speaking, we’re more bacteria than human (and about 50% of our DNA is parasitic).

Disgusting? Perhaps. But definitely cool.

“Just a Little Heart Attack” again…

In honour of Heart Month, and in the time-honoured tradition of television repeats, we have this example of a video using humour to teach an important lesson – first posted here in 2012.

Elizabeth Banks –of “Scrubs,” “30 Rock,” and “Modern Family”– demonstrates the warning signs of a heart attack as her supermom character gets the family off to work and school (and eventually tries to make an unusual bargain with 911).

Watch, laugh, and most important, learn.

The Christmas BMJ Is Comin’ To Town…




Yes indeed, the Christmas Issue of the 174-year old British Medical Journal has hit the shelves. And while this venerable and respected publication usually focuses it’s material on subjects of a more serious nature, every Christmas, the editors add research … with a twist.

Past years have asked the question of Why Rudolph’s Nose is Red,  investigated using speed bumps in the diagnosis of acute appendicitis and The survival time of chocolates on hospital wards, as well as both attacking and defending Santa Claus as a public health role model.

It should be noted that while the subject matter may be unusual, the science behind the papers and their conclusions are real – so when The Darwin Awards: sex differences in idiotic behaviour points out males are the subjects of more than 88% of examples of  ‘death by idiotic risk,’ you can trust those numbers. A look at the Use of Google Translate in medical communication: evaluation of accuracy is not especially encouraging – though not surprising to anyone who has used it. (In Polish “Your husband has the opportunity to donate his organs” translated to “Your husband can donate his tools.” In Marathi “Your husband had a cardiac arrest” translated to “Your husband had an imprisonment of heart.” “Your wife needs to be ventilated” in Bengali translated to “Your wife wind movement needed.”) A Cross sectional study of political affiliation and physical activity found that people identifying as more strongly left or right were generally more active that centrists, suggesting “…that they might be out agitating in the field, mobilising the community, and actively distributing ideas and propaganda.” An exploration of the basis for patient complaints about the oldness of magazines in practice waiting rooms concludes that it’s not so much a case of old magazines being put out as much as newer magazines ‘disappearing,’ while “Gossipy magazines (≥5 photographs of celebrities on the front cover) disappear more quickly than non-gossipy ones (the Economist and Time magazine).”

Other 2014 papers include;
Nintendo related injuries and other problems: review
Transmissibility of the Ice Bucket Challenge among globally influential celebrities: retrospective cohort study
Medical eponyms: taxonomies, natural history, and the evidence
Utility of Hippocrates’ prognostic aphorism to predict death in the modern era: prospective cohort study

And given the nature of the annual Christmas Edition with its blending of humour and medical science we’ll close with a study from last year’s collection – a Methodical Investigation of Risibility, Therapeutic and Harmful.

Happy Holidays.


Dem Bones, Dem Bones…

One of the first posts created for this site featured an animated poster that reduced the workings of the human body to mechanical analogies. But eyeball cameras and conveyor-belt nostrils aside, there is of course much of the human body that is undeniably mechanical, and a recent set of animated GIFs provides a very real look at the human skeleton in motion.


(Click on images to see full-size animations.)

Brainchild of Dr. Noah Weiss and created by Cameron Drake, these GIFs originated as x-ray videos of patients flexing various joints in such areas as shoulder, knee, elbow and hand. The files were then added to a “What Hurts?” feature on Dr. Weiss’ website, where each GIF is accompanied by information on common injuries, symptoms and treatments for the area happily flexing at the top of each entry.


But let’s face it, while the information is not doubt useful, these GIFs are just cool, and this website’s audiance won’t be limited to people looking for relief from troubled joints. (Though it may be interesting at some future date to add GIFs of joints suffering from some of the ailments described.)

You can see the rest of the xray animations on the Dr.Weiss’ site in the form of GIFs – or as videos on his YouTube page.

Why You Are Still Alive – The Immune System Explained

Here we have one of those videos that can leave the viewer awestruck by something perfectly routine.

Now, “routine” in this case merely means that it’s happening all the time (literally, ALL-THE-TIME). But when we take a few minutes to really contemplate what our immune systems are doing to keep us alive and kicking, how complex and intricate a system it is, “routinely astonishing” seems to be a more appropriate characterization.

Seriously folks, next time you want to see a miracle, just look in a mirror.

” ‘Twas the BMJ Before Christmas… “


… and all through the issue… The British Medical Journal is once again offering research of a distinctly lighter nature.

Past years have recounted studies on “Head and neck injury risks in heavy metal: head bangers stuck between rock and a hard bass,” investigated those in the health professions by testing “…the hypothesis that, on average, male surgeons are taller and better looking than male physicians…,” and investigated Why Rudolph’s Nose is Red. The BMJ has also taken a brave stand against Tooth Fairy Malpractice, and explored using speed bumps in the diagnosis of acute appendicitis.

But the search for knowledge never ends, and this year the Journal dives right in with the results of a pilot study on the preferred state between Being right or being happy. A fascinating question, but as the paper itself admits, this early study has some limitations – specifically,”There was no trial registration, no ethics committee approval, no informed consent, no proper randomisation, no validated test instrument, and questionable statistical assessment. We used the eyeball technique for single patient trials which, as Sackett says, “more closely matches the way we think as clinicians.”

So, not an ironclad conclusion on that one yet, but that’s just one of a wealth of eye- and mind-opening research. Take, for instance Barcelona baby boom: does sporting success affect birth rate? or The Brady Bunch? New evidence for nominative determinism in patients’ health – which draws a positive correlation between the name Brady and the prevalence of bradycardia. (So if your name is Malaria, you really want to avoid the tropics.)

There are practical studies as well, such as The survival time of chocolates on hospital wards: covert observational study. And for art lovers, there’s, “Compulsive plague! pain without end!” How Richard Wagner played out his migraine in the opera Siegfried. (And may we suggest a future study into whether Wagner’s migraines can then be considered communicable through the opera Siegfried.)

Finally, if you’re wondering about the possible medical impact of reading these articles, the BMJ has a Methodical Investigation of Risibility, Therapeutic and Harmful.

Happy Holidays.


Learning from Celebrities: The Continuing Story…

A little over a year ago, we shared a video put together by the British Heart Association and actor Vinnie Jones, demonstrating how to use the song “Staying Alive” to time compressions while giving Hands-Only CPR. Well now, the American Heart Association and Community star (and doctor, really) Ken Jeong have made their own version. The accents are different, but the song remains the same.

I think the worst time to have a heart attack is during a game of charades…” Demetri Martin.

The Art of Medicine


From time to time we look at books dealing with the history of medicine, past examples including Dying for Victorian Medicine and Hidden Treasure. This time our featured title is The Art of Medicine, “…a unique gallery of rarely seen paintings, artifacts, drawings, prints, and extracts from manuscripts” – harvested from the Wellcome Collection in London, and edited by medical historian Julie Anderson and science writers Emm Barnes and Emma Shackleton.


Covering lands from Persia to China, cultures from prehistoric Mesoamerica to Renaissance Europe, as well as more recent examples from World War I and 2008′s “The Daily Stream of Consciousness” (by Bobby Baker, an artist chronicling her own struggle with mental illness), The Art of Medicine offers a fascinating visual record of humans and health throughout history.

You can sample more examples of AoM’s contents at this Brainpickings blog post, while the book itself is available both in our on-campus and virtual bookstore locations.


It’s That Happy, Merry, British Medical Journal Time Again

Yes, the 2012 Christmas edition of the British Medical Journal has hit the virtual shelves, and in keeping with tradition, this year’s issue tackles some unique issues.

(Past offerings -as noted in this space last year- have addressed such phenomena as “Head and neck injury risks in heavy metal: head bangers stuck between rock and a hard bass,” investigated those in the health professions by testing “…the hypothesis that, on average, male surgeons are taller and better looking than male physicians…,”and fearlessly tackled such touchy subjects as, “The case of the disappearing teaspoons: longitudinal cohort study of the displacement of teaspoons in an Australian research institute.”)

This year, readers will be rewarded with insight as to Why Rudolph’s Nose is Red, the medical Case report of E.T.—The Extra-Terrestrial, using speed bumps in the diagnosis of acute appendicitis, and the genuinely surprising news that the Nutritional content of supermarket ready meals is better than that of  recipes supplied by television chefs in the United Kingdom.

There’s still more, like an impassioned plea to prevent Tooth Fairy Malpractice, but the most popular study among current practitioners may well be the well-reasoned argument for an “evidence based uniform” for doctors.  See what you think…

Happy Holidays.

“Eat Your Heart Out” – Anatomical pastries in the best of bad taste.


While it’s certainly an odd location  for a cake shop (London’s Saint Bartholomew’s Pathology Museum), a three-day Eat Your Heart Out event this weekend boasts some truly spectacular achievements in culinary construction. (And it may provide some inspiration for less ambitious Halloween creations on the home front.)

Ranging from the benign (a stacked set of 5 white Chocolate Vertebrae), to more ambiguously appetizing ‘treats,’ like  Marshmallow Brains and the all-too-realistic Infected Eyeball Cupcakes (and beyond – trust us: NSFW), these offerings may well be history’s most confusing foods, calling to the taste buds even as they repel the brain.

Regardless, some Halloween parties in London will definitely have some unique finger food (yes, that too) on their menus this year.

In addition to the images at the link above, London’s Guardian newspaper has a slide show of some of the featured delicacies, if you have the stomach for it…

Happy Halloween

A Bit of Olympic Perspective…

Just two quick links in the interest of timely topicality.


The New England Journal of Medicine has been looking in the rearview mirror again – this time with a collection of archived articles related to Olympic Medicine. From historical looks at eugenics and the theory that athletics diverted from more cerebral endeavours and rendered adolescents “listless and stupid,” to more recent concerns about the physical and psychological risks of women’s gymnastics at the elite level, this overview links to more than two dozen articles dating as far back as 1851.


Of course, when sport and medicine intersect, there is frequently the question of doping, and if you’ve ever wondered how far back such performance enhancement has existed at the Olympics, ProCon.org’s Historical Timeline … of Performance Enhancing Drugs in Sports illustrates that it’s probably been there from the very beginning. With almost one hundred citations, dating from 776 BC to 2012, the Timeline lists events from Olympic and non-Olympic sports – and includes such ‘legal doping’ examples as Thomas Hicks’ victory in the 1904 Olympic Marathon (above), acheived with the help of brandy and strychnine.

(Ah, how the times have changed.)

If You Happen To Be In London This Summer…

The Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace is holding history’s largest exhibition of anatomical drawings by that greatest of show offs, Leonardo da Vinci.

The exhibit actually runs till early October, but if you have no plans to cross the pond, fear not, The Queen’s Gallery has an accompanying website, with links to all the images in the exhibition. (Clicking on the images will open magnified views in the same window.) The Gallery also created an iPad app for the exhibit -available through the App Store- and provides a link to all of Leonardo’s drawings held in the Royal Collection.


In the video above, Curator Martin Clayton describes three of the drawings in the exhibit and explains how, through his creation of a glass model of the aortic valve (a fascinating procedure in itself) and some water full of grass seeds, Leonardo was able to theorize the role that natural vortices in the flow of blood played in closing of the valve. (Something only confirmed in the last century.)

Hidden Treasure

Founded 175 years ago, the National Library of Medicine is the world’s largest medical library, with more than 17 million items in a collection that reaches back to the eleventh century, and ranges from rare early medical books to nineteenth-century surgical illustrations and mid-twentieth-century animated cartoons.



To celebrate that anniversary, the Library has released Hidden Treasure – a spectacular sampling of those 17 million items that includes, from the publisher’s description;

‘… a series never before reproduced of hauntingly delicate paintings and illustrations of “monstra” collected in the early decades of the nineteenth century “from the museum of Dr. Klinkenberg” in the Netherlands; charming hand-painted glass “magic lantern slides,” which doctors projected in slideshows to entertain and help cure inmates at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital for the Insane; surreal views of mechanically sliced cadavers in the photographic anatomical atlas of fin-de-siècle France’s notorious surgeon-provocateur Eugène-Louis Doyen; and a staggering variety of objects from around the world and through seven different centuries.’

Other entries include such direct links to world history as Hitler’s medical records and a report from the first medical responders to enter Hiroshima after the bomb. Each exhibit is accompanied by a brief essay from a distinguished scholar, artist, collector, journalist, or physician. (You can sample some of the book’s illustrations at this review on Wired’s website.)

This extraordinary collection of medical history can be obtained in store or ordered for delivery to your door through our virtual bookstore.


More Paper People

As noted previously, the traditional anatomical atlas is far from the only way to depict the inner architecture of the human body, but as you can see from the image below, we may well have come across one of the most labour intensive methods imaginable.

Massachusetts artist Lisa Nilsson has used the ‘quilling’ method of rolling and shaping thin strips of paper (in this case, the gilded edges of old books), to create miniature cross-sections of the human body (you can see a bit of the process in progress here), and the result is almost as awe-inspiring as the real thing.

The level of intricacy is nothing short of spectacular, especially given the small scale of the works (a head and torso cross-section only measures 13 x 9 inches), and those looking for even more detailed views than available at the artist’s site can find larger versions of the files here.

Who says paper is dead?…

“Just a Little Heart Attack”…

In honour of Heart Month, we have another example of a video using humour to teach an important lesson. (Scroll down to January 4th for the first example.)

This time, we have Elizabeth Banks –of “Scrubs,” “30 Rock,” and the upcoming “Man on a Ledge”– demonstrating the warning signs of a heart attack as her supermom character gets the family off to work and school (and eventually tries to make an unusual bargain with 911).

Watch, laugh, and most important, learn.