Fat versus sugar

If you haven’t got an hour to spare to watch the recent BBC Horizon program about fat and sugar diets, then here’s an executive summary of Colin’s Beauty Page’s executive summary of the main conclusions:

Extreme diets are a bad move…we can survive for a while without sugar and carbohydrates and can function pretty well on nothing but carbs. We struggle to cope with the sheer pleasure of the combination of fat and sugar…but a little indulgence does little harm. Excess calories (from fat and sugar) lead to weight gain.

The bottom line, boring advice is: Don’t do extreme diets. Just don’t eat too much of anything delicious that is loaded with calories.

I’d add: do some exercise, get some sunshine and fresh air and laugh a lot, have lots of friends and sing!

Fat versus Sugar – Horizon BBC2 |Colin's Beauty Pages.

Ancient alternative quackery

From an interview with science-based science writer and oncologist David Gorski:


Many discussions of alternative medicine reference the fact that it is ‘natural’ and relies on methods used throughout history. Is this true; how did the initial ideas about alternative medicine originate?

This is called an appeal to antiquity, the argument that just because a treatment is old there must be something to it; it must work. It’s such a common argument that skeptics consider it a fallacy, at least in science and medicine. In any case, most of the ideas about alternative medicine have their roots in prescientific ideas, such as vitalism (the idea of a ‘life force’) and other forms of magical thinking. Alternative medicine also flourishes because humans are pattern-forming animals. We confuse correlation with causation all the time, and are unaware of placebo effects, which leads us to conclude that various remedies work when they don’t.

via The flaws of alternative medicine – ROOSTERGNN.

Gorski portrait by BDEngler

All-natural human ingredients

UPDATE: Average body fat is a lot higher in most people and I should’ve cited calcium separately from its inclusion in hydroxyapatite. So graphic updated. It doesn’t really affect the ingredients list, but our body mass also comprises 1-3% bacteria, but they’re just proteins, fats, sugars, minerals and much of the other stuff I listed below anyway ;-)

Recently, a clever wag listed the ingredients for all-natural bananas, blueberries and eggs, you’ll have no doubt seen the cute graphics that did the rounds of the blogosphere. Anyway, obvious next step was to list the human body by ingredient, I suspect someone else may well have done this before (certainly there are star-stuff elemental breakdowns, but ingredients lists are usually at the molecular, as opposed to the atomic, level. So here’s my take, one for wannabe Hannibal Lecters:


The recent idea – egg, banana, blueberries – was featured on io9 and elsewhere.

As Laura Merritt pointed out to me on Twitter, Hannibal should also take note that brains are very high fat…maybe I should do an organ by organ breakdown of the protein, fat, sugar content. She also points out that very few of us are “free range” these days, what with all the titanium hip replacements, silicone implants, mercury amalgam dental fillings etc…lots of additives.

Very, very, very grey is the new black

Mathematician Stephen Hawking who has long argued the ins and outs of black holes now reasons that they don’t even exist, at least not in the form we imagine. The whole idea of an event horizon beyond which the singularity’s massive gravitational field will not allow anything to escape, not even light, is a theoretical construct that cannot persist once quantum mechanics is taken into account, apparently. In other words, very, very, very grey is the new black.



Temperature of a liquid is raised by heating

This is not some incredible scientific breakthrough, obviously…the temperature of a liquid is raised by heating…yes indeed. Sciencebase gets a lot of visitors trying to do their science homework, it seems. Often they’re trying to find out the effects of adding salt to the boiling point of water, that kind of thing.


Today, one person (don’t know if they’re a student or not) just hit the site with this phrase: “the temperature of a liquid is raised by heating”. They’re right, of course. Although there is a caveat. If you boil a liquid or melt a solid then there is the issue of latent heat.

Latent heat is the energy released or absorbed by a body or a thermodynamic system during a constant-temperature process (i.e. it doesn’t get hotter). A typical example is a change of state of matter, meaning a phase transition such as the melting of ice or the boiling of water. Scottish chemist Joseph Black coined the term in the 18th Century and used it in the context of calorimetry when referring to the heat transferred that caused a change of volume while the thermodynamic system was held at constant temperature.

The counterpart to latent heat, which we usually just think of as heat is an energy referred to as sensible energy or heat which does cause processes to change the temperature of a system.

The real news agenda

Every morning my digital radio wakes me at one minute to sevent to the dulcet tones of James Naughtie, John Humphrys, Sarah Montague, Evan Davis, Justin Webb and Mishal Husain. Or, some combination of those bods. Every morning I am irritated by the stuff they report, they almost always lead with some pre-emptive comment on an imminent report that some organisation is about to publish about some other organisation that it alleges another organisation has or has not done.


Common themes are pronouncements from one side of the political spectrum about the shortcomings of the other, worries about stuff that might happen “if and when”, complaints about things that already have happened about which nobody can do anything now (hindsight is always 20:20) but “lessons will be learned going forward” (as if there were a way to reverse time). You get the picture. They do the news, but this isn’t necessarily real news. Moreover, this whole agenda drives the news on all the other BBC radio and TV channels post-cost-cutting, so if you listen or watch later you will get the same guff again and again.

So, I’ve made a handy Venn diagram for the BBC Radio 4 Today show editors so they can see what real news is and what’s just common, or garden, bitching. I hope they can use it. To be honest, I don’t know why I don’t just set the clock-radio to wake me up to the far more dulcet tones of my good friend, wit, raconteur, presenter, author and pianist Tim Lihoreau (weekdays 6-9am), far less bitching on ClassicFM. I usually torture myself listening to the Radio 4 headlines and switch over anyway. But, I think I’ll start with Tim at one minute to seven, going forward.

25 years in science communication

I’ve worked in science communication since 23rd January 1989, that’s a quarter of a century as of today, sheesh…doesn’t time fly?

lol滚球 雷竞技

Having set out as a chemist, I quickly realised I was better at the writing up the lab reports part than the rolling up the labcoat sleeves and mucking about with test-tubes. In fact, I never found a labcoat to fit and I used to lose my pens and spatula every time I bent over to pick up whatever it was I’d last knocked off the bench.

Anyway, I spent a few months working and travelling in the USA and on my return did a stint in QA/QC for a food company up north. I landed a job in Cambridge with the Royal Society of Chemistry as a technical editor initially and got a good grounding in working with the scientific literature as well as beating other people’s words into shape. Rattled my way up to what was effectively deputy editor on Chem Comm.

I realised technical editing wasn’t for me and took an extended trip to travel Australia with my (now) wife. On my return, I steadily built up my freelance writing portfolio. You can see a list of past and present clients with whom I’ve worked over the last quarter of a century on my lol滚球 雷竞技 . They range from the daily papers (Telegraph, Guardian) and popular magazines (New Scientist, Popular Science, American Scientist, Focus) to the likes of Science, Analytical Chemistry, Chem Soc Reviews, Nature and PNAS. I’ve written news, views and features, reported from conferences and interviewed many leading scientists as well as working with organisations such as ESF, EPSRC, ANL, NERC and many others on internal reports and brochures.

I’ve contributed to and acted as an editor on various books over the years, but finally settled down with a solo commission from independent publisher Elliott & Thompson in 2012 to write Deceived Wisdom (you can get a digital copy at a knockdown price at that link).

A few awards have been accumulated over the years, although you usually have to enter yourself into the journalism and science communication awards and I’m usually too embroiled in scientific discussion to get to a photocopier. Nevertheless: Winner — 1992 Daily Telegraph Science Writer of the Year, Runner-up — 1995 Chemical Industries Association (CIA) Awards, Commendation — 1997 UK Medical Journalism Awards, Shortlisted — 2001 Pirelli science multimedia awards, Finalist — 2008 weblogawards, Finalist — 2008 — Twitter Shorty Awards, Runner-up — 2010 Research Blogging awards.

Anyway, I hope I’ll still be capable of writing about science over the next 25 years to reach my 50th anniversary, but if it’s not Science, you know it’ll be Songs and Snaps

Portrait by Mrs Sciencebase. Apologies to Peter Gabriel and graphic designer Peter Saville. By the way, I don’t own a cornet so couldn’t do a photo of my blowing my own trumpet…

Meanwhile, this day is the “memory” of my maternal grandmother and of surrealist artist Salvador Dali who died in 1989. Oh, and on a happier note it’s the day I met the then future Mrs Sciencebase (real name changed).

Reining in the ads

For years companies have been tweaking their web sites and advertising algorithms so that they can show you targeted ads. Banners that offer you exactly what you want just when you think you might need it. Search for weightloss on Google and you will likely see marketing for local slimming classes search on Amazon for anything about nutrition and you’ll often be recommended diet books. Use one of those new-fangled, internet-conneted smoke alarms and if you’re house isn’t burning down they advertise insurance against fire and if it is burning down you’ll probably see an ad for fire extinguishers.

They have got so clever, so sneaky, with the cookies they foist on you when you visit a page, all those logins on sites connected to Facebook etc, the credit databases. They know everything about who, where and what you’ve been, what you did and who with and how much it all cost. They could be even more targeted with the ads if they really wanted to and for months a lot of people have been complaining just how creepy it was all getting. Did Facebook really know you were searching for snorkels and flippers but you had no intention of taking part in watersports? What about that the equine interest, were you really looking for stuff related to your My Little Pony fixation or a good time with a stablehand? The sites know.

Then came the NSA scandal. Not only do the commercial concerns know all your who, why, what, where and wahays…so does the American government and it doesn’t really matter whether you’re in one of the 50 States or somewhere else. If you’ve ever connected to the internet, fired up a smart phone or just had a lottamocca skinny sprinkle frappacino with hornbeam syrup in your local cyber cafe they know.

But, tracking, cookies, cross-site logins…all so scary that it seems they’re reining themselves in (pardon the pony pun). I hear reports from lots of people that the ads they’re seeing these days are way off target and they’re getting purchase recommendations for stuff they already bought. What is this, web 1.0 beta again? No, I don’t think so. The companies are running scared in the wake of the NSA spying scandal and have temporarily crippled their advertising algorithms to make it look like they’re not tracking you.


Of course, once the tracking dust settles they will come back with a vengeance as they are currently working on even stronger more targeted advertising software that will not only spot your fixation but recommend the right antibiotic cream to treat it afterwards as well as avoiding that particular allergy of yours…you know the one to horse hair…

The antipodes, on the other foot

When I was at school, they used to call Australia “the antipodes”, I suppose they still do, but antipodean to what? It’s certainly not antipodean to Britain. In fact, if you try this tool you can see that the Aussie mainland is diametrically opposite the open waters of Atlantic Ocean.


So, what about New Zealand? That, as they used to say is “on the other side of the world” too? It was also apparently “antipodean” despite Wellington, NZ being separated from Sydney, Australia, as London is from Moscow and they’re rarely considered to be near neighbours. North Island NZ is actually antipodean to mainland Spain.


So, what place is antipodean to Britain? The South Pacific, it seems, or if you have a boat, the Antipodes a group of islands discovered in 1800 and apparently diametrically opposite Greenwich give or take a bit of rowing.