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Jim Carrey and Vaccines

Dear Reader,

Let me give you a choice, imagine you are pregnant and you need some advice about what is happening to your body, which of the following people would you feel most confidence in.

  1. The milkman
  2. A midwife
  3. A motor mercanic
  4. A gynaecologist
  5. A rock star
  6. An embryology academic
  7. A history academic

Well I think that the even numbered choices are typically better ones than the odd ones, but it is impossible to be totally sure as an embryologist who is also trained as a gynaecologist might one day desire a more simple life and become a milkman. But I am sure that most of my readers will understand that some professions require a person to prove that they have special skills or knowlege before they are allowed to practise the profession. On the otherhand the “professions” of rock star, blogger (opps thats me), holywood actor and comedian do not have entrance exams or other quaility control systems which keep the poorly trained out. The reason why you might like the work of an actor / comedain is that they make you feel more happy, you might like a rock star becuase you like the sound whatever noise (opps I mean music) they make and you might like me as you might think I have some wise words to impart to you (well I like to think that you think that way).

Now it has come to my attention that Jim Carrey has become upset about a law in California regarding vaccination, he has been reported to have made the bold claim on Twitter that childhood vaccination is linked to something I have never heard of before called “corporate fascism”. Now I can not say that I know the difference between a “corporate fascist” and a normal fascist but I feel a bit uneasy about fascism in general. One way to sum up fascism is the idea of “I am OK, but sod you !”, fascism at its core has the idea that you should look after yourself and seek the best for yourself regardless of the effect that it has on others. It reminds me of the ancient jewish texts about the city of Sodom where the major sin was not sexual, instead it was a form of facist like behaviour. It was a place of great injustice where sicko stuff like the procrustean bed was used to murder people and even greater outrages such as smearing people with honey and then leavign them out for the bees occured. One of the key features of the sins of the people who lived in that city was their ethical downfall and hatred of the stranger / needy. Now I think we can agree that fascism can lead some rather nasty things.

The reason Jim thinks that the vaccines are part of some fascist plot appears to relate to the tiny trace of mercury in them, he rails against the use of thimerosol. Now I have to tell you that the toxicity of mercury depends greatly on its chemical form, some forms of mercury are as downright evil and nasty as any chemical could ever be. Trust me chemicals have no emotions or morals, a molecule of sarin is not motivated by misanthropy it merely seeks to damage acetylcholinesterase which is what it is what it does in most higher life forms.

I also note that he commented on mercury in fish and the mercury in the thimerosol, he reasons that if we restrict or discourage the consumption of fish which are contaminated with mercury then it must be bad to be exposed to a small amount of thimerosol. I have to ask if anyone has thought of the comment made by Paracelsus, the most famous thing which he ever said was “Dosis facit venenum” or in english “The dose maketh the poison“. This is a comment about the fact that many things are not toxic below a particular dose, I think that Jim should consider the amount of mercury in a vaccination dose and compare it with the amount of mercury in a fish meal. Unless he can show that the dose of mercury in a vaccination is larger or similar to the amount of mercury in a fish meal which is considered unsuitable for humans as a result of the mercury content then I respectfully suggest that he keeps his mouth shut on this issue.

I will not waste much ink on thiomersal and autism, it has been shown that no relationship exists between the two. So lets not waste time with the silly idea that the mercury in vaccinations gives children autism.

I would also suggest that my readers trust a normal licensed medical doctor with a MD or a normal state approved nurse when they want advice regarding the medical care (and vaccination) of their children. I think that a typical medical doctor can give better advice than the likes of Jim Carrey, Jenny McCarthy or Andrew Wakefield. Regarding the evil fascist plot, I have to say that I see no evidence for such a dire thing occuring. If any of my readers have concrete evidence then please bring it to my attention in a comment on this blog. A small word of warning, if anyone posts bad evidence then I will feel free to deconstruct it and expose it for all to see on this blog, so comment with care.

Dear Reader,

Some boys in Russia escaped from a day care facility and went and tried to buy a car. While I might ask how they managed to dig their way out without the staff spotting what they were doing, I have to say that I am impressed that they went to a dealership which sells luxury cars. If they had gone to a Ford or Fiat dealer then the story would not have been as good.

But I would say of all the cars I have owned the most enjoyable ones to drive have been my Fiat and my Peugeot 106 diesel. The blood red 106XND was a slow car but it was a joy to drive, it was very comfortable for me. Neither of these cars were luxury cars. I also had a ford fiesta (1.1 L which was fire extingisher blue) which seemed to rust a lot and was much less of a joy to drive. I also had a silver Golf which went nice and quick but was one day rammed to death by a Volvo.

H.L. Heys and boron

Dear Reader,

Page 105 of his book deals with glycerol (propane-1,2,3-triol) the book has the text

Dissolve a salt spoon of borax in half a test-tube of water and add one or two drops of phenolphthalein solution. The liquid will turn a rose-red colour. Now make a weak solution of glycerine by dissolving one drop of glycerine in an inch of water in another test-tube. Add the glycerine solution, drop by drop, to the borax solution until the red colour disappears. If now the tube is warmed the red colour will reappear, only to vanish once more when the tube is cooled. This can be repeated as often as desired.

A similar effect is obtained by using a sugar solution in place of glycerine (see p. 122).

In common with the rest of his book Heys (sorry I do not know his first name) does not explain the chemistry behind this experiment. I will explain some of the chemistry, firstly phenolphthalein or even phenolphthalein is an acid/base indicator which is red when alkaline and colourless when in acid. So it is reasonable to assume that some sort of pH changes are occurring in this experiment.

Boric acid is a very weak acid, we can regard it as a reaction of trihydroxyl borane with a hydroxide anion to form a borate anion. If a polyalcohol is used which can chelate to the boron then the consumption of hydroxide anions by the trihydroxyl borane is favoured. The chelate effect makes the complex of B(OH)3 and HO more stable thus the pKa of the boric acid changes.

I looked in the Cambridge database and I found a nice example of a polyalcohol which binds with three hydroxyl groups to the boron. This polyalcohol is scyllo-Inositol which is a slightly exotic sugar. It chelates to two borons to form a nice looking dianion. The sodium salt was characterized by X-ray crystallography by C.T.Grainger and the results were published in Acta Crystallogr.,Sect.B:Struct.Crystallogr.Cryst.Chem., 1981, 37, 563.

Complex of boron and scyllo-inositol

Complex of boron and scyllo-inositol

You might ask “why is chelation important”, the answer is that it strongly favours the binding of two things. I would like to ask you to do a thought experiment. Hold a biro in one hand, if I want to take the pen from you I have to release one hand from it. If you were to hold the biro in both hands at once then to release it I must free it from both of your hands at the same moment. It does not matter if I release one hand from the pen if you are holding it in the other. If I release one hand at a time, while I am dealing with the second hand then the first hand is likely to reattach. This explains the difference between a monodentate and a bidentate (bites with one or two) ligand.

If you were to hold the biro using both hands and your teeth at the same time then you would be a tridentate ligand for the biro. Now to release the pen I must open your mouth and get both hands to release all at the same time. I will assume that you understand that the tridentate way of holding the biro is a even harder to defeat than the bidentate method of holding the pen.

With some luck we will discuss boron chemistry and the book by Heys again soon.

Agatha Christie

Dear Reader,

It has come to my attention that some crime writers have been giving out instructions and tips on how to commit crimes in their novels. For example I discovered to my horror that Agatha Christie was trained as a chemist and that she wrote some books which had clear misuse potential. The problem is that if the plot of a book explains to a would be murderer how to commit murder then it would provide the non expert with new ideas of how to commit this vile crime.

I would like to suggest that crime authors should in the interests of public safety not give out information which is of obvious use to evil doers. For example if a book was to be published in which it explains how to make a silencer for a firearm then the book could make it much more easy for someone to commit murder with a gun and get away with it. While I am not in favour of spoiling people’s fun through censorship I think it is reasonable that some information should not be circulated in a form which the general public can search or read with ease.

Urea formaldehyde

Dear Reader,

I was reading my copy of the vintage chemistry handbook and I noticed that it has a method for making a urea/formaldehyde resin. I am well aware of the fact that formaldehyde is a harmful substance and that some products made from condensation polymers made from it tend to release formaldehyde into the air. So I considered the question of what other aldehydes could be used.

I noticed quickly that glyoxal has been used as an alternative to formaldehyde, I find it an interesting idea as glyoxal is a very toxic aldehyde which is able to cross link biomolecules. Glyoxal can be used to kill germs. Here is a patent on the subject of these plastics. I hope to be able to write some more on the subject of this class of materials soon.

Is the internet making students less honest

Dear Reader,

Recently in the Times Higher Education a paper was reviewed which considers in a serious manner the hypothesis that “students cheat more because of the existence of the internet”. This paper was reviewed by Jack Grove.

Regarding Jack Grove’s review of David Ison’s paper in the Journal of Academic Ethics. I feel that the headline of “Older papers had higher similarity index than the more recent ones” is rather misleading. When I read David’s paper I found that the difference between the similarity indexes of the newer and older dissertations was far smaller than the standard deviation in the values. To me this indicates that todays PhD students are neither better or worse than the older students. The fact that the standard deviation on both numbers was about 60 % of the mean values suggests to me that the degree of similarity is subject to considerable variation between students.

The incidence of the extreme incidents of plagiarism (Simindex > 40 %) in Dr Ison’s paper are small in number, only three such events exist in his data set. Using the statistical idea (Poisson) used commonly in radioactive decay counting (SD = N1/2, Standard deviation = square root of number of events observed). This count of 3 events with a SD of 1.7 is not a good measurement of the incidence of such extreme plagiarism events. A 16 % chance exists that fewer than 0.7 % of dissertations fall into this shocking class, equally a 16 % chance exists that more than 2.6 % of dissertations fall into this class.

A classic method in radiometric work to improve the statistics is to increase the count number, I would like to suggest that the study be repeated with at least ten times as many dissertations. If this new data set includes 30 such documents then the SD on this measurement will be 5.5. Such an improved measurement would give us an additional insight into plagiarism. I would like to suggest that those dissertations with the high similarity indexes be examined in detail, firstly to rule out “false positives” and secondly in an attempt to reconstruct what the students did. I would also like for a study to be made of the incidence of plagiarism as a function of subject area.

I think that while the existence of web pages has made it more easy to cheat, the existence of the internet also makes it much more easy to catch a cheat. Some years ago someone I know had a student who cheated in a literature review assignment by copying the text of someone else. It was very easy to spot this vile misconduct, the student’s style of writing suddenly changed for the better. The style of the student changed from that of a typical student into that of a very polished and experienced academic. The problem was proving the cheating had occurred, the academic had to search high and low for the source article. In the end the academic found it, but now days automated tools such as “Turnitin” will find it very quickly for you. Some years ago I tested one such tool by writing a text full of total random nonsense with the occasional sentence taken from another source dropped in. I used things like obscure bible verses (these were found), UN reports and other even more exotic documents. The search tool within 24 hours had given me a list of the URLs of all of the sources I used for this test of the system.

My advice to students is “do not try to cheat by copying text off the internet”, it is a form of cheating which I think is rather silly. People who cheat in this way are very easy to catch.

Oliver Sacks RIP

Dear Reader,

It has come to my attention that Oliver Sacks MD has passed away, he was an interesting character one which you could either love or hate. Maybe even both.

In the defense of Sacks I would like to point out that I have read several of his books and I will admit that when I wanted to understand myself better that several of his books were on my reading list. I will admit that I did take something positive away from reading his books.


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