Archive for 'Arts and Science'


Wednesday, January 30th, 2019

Thumbographs are little books that people in England used, in the early 1900s, to collect thumbprints from friends, from people they admired, and from anyone else whose thumbprints they wanted to collect.

Thumbographs play a role in Austin Freeman’s detective novel The Red Thumb Mark, which introduced the world to Freeman’s fictional detective/physician/lawyer John Thorndyke. Here is a passage from that novel:

“Is the ‘Thumbograph’ in your bag?” interrupted Miss Gibson, in response to this mute appeal.

“Of course it is, my dear Juliet,” replied the elder lady. “You saw me put it in yourself. What an odd girl you are. Did you think I should have taken it out and put it somewhere else? Not that these handbags are really very secure, you know, although I daresay they are safer than pockets, especially now that it is the fashion to have the pocket at the back. Still, I have often thought how easy it would be for a thief or a pickpocket or some other dreadful creature of that kind, don’t you know, to make a snatch and–in fact, the thing has actually happened. Why, I knew a lady–Mrs. Moggridge, you know, Juliet–no, it wasn’t Mrs. Moggridge, that was another affair, it was Mrs.–Mrs.–dear me, how silly of me!–now, what was her name? Can’t you help me, Juliet? You must surely remember the woman. She used to visit a good deal at the Hawley-Johnsons’–I think it was the Hawley-Johnsons’, or else it was those people, you know–”

“Hadn’t you better give Dr. Thorndyke the ‘Thumbograph’?” interrupted Miss Gibson.

The World Rugby Museum has an online exhibition of some of the thumb prints of then-famous rugby players.

The prevalence of prestigious

Friday, January 25th, 2019

When you read news reports about science or medicine, you can amuse yourself by noticing how often the word “prestigious” crops up.

You might notice which news organizations make frequent use of the word. You might notice which science-related or medical-related institutions (or whatever) are called “prestigious.”

You might ask yourself which of those news reports use the word because it gives information, and which use the word because it fills space and seems, well, prestigious.

Patience and Patience: Perspective on Plagiarism

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2019

Plagiarism keeps happening, despite teachers’ patient attempts to teach students that plagiarism is bad. Here is a doubly-Patience explanation:

Plagiarism,” Gregory S. Patience [seen here], Daria C. Boffito, and Paul A. Patience, chapter 9 in Communicate Science Papers, Presentations, and Posters Effectively 2015, Academic Press, pp. 203-211.

The authors, at Polytechnique Montréal, write:

“Failing to properly attribute authorship of copied text, images, or ideas is plagiarism. Changing a few words from the copy-pasted text is still plagiarism. The severity of the consequences of plagiarism increases with the level of responsibility of the plagiarist: teachers give high school students a zero in an assignment or exam; professors can fail undergraduate students taking their course or the institute can suspend them for 1 year or more. Plagiarism is intellectual fraud.”

Nude Photos of College Students, for Research or Other Purposes

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2019

Many people like to study the nude bodies of other people. This study studied some of those students of student bodies:

Using the student body: College and university students as research subjects in the United States during the twentieth century,” Heather Munro Prescott, Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences, vol. 57, no. 1, 2002, pp. 3-38. (Thanks to Ben Wurgaft for bringing this to our attention.) The author explains:

Among the major results of these efforts were the infamous “posture pictures” collected at many elite men’s and women’s colleges around the country. The practice of photographing students in the nude started in the late nineteenth century, and continued well into the 19705. The original purpose of these photographs was to assess the physical health of students at admission, since many believed that poor posture was a sign of illness, particularly tuberculosis. Students were photographed every year to demonstrate the positive impact of physical education programs and other preventive health measures in college.

Physicians soon realized that these data could do more than demonstrate the effectiveness of physical education programs: they could also be used to show the physical superiority of young people from the white, native-born, upper-middle classes.

A viral-transmission possible-hoax that will leave you with a cold, or just leave you cold

Monday, January 21st, 2019

Sometimes it’s almost not worth trying to decide whether something is a hoax or not—whether, to say it in old-fashioned phrasing, it’s nothing to sneeze at. Vaev Tissues seems to fit snugly into this indecisively gooey category.

Mandy Oaklander writes about it, whatever it is, in Time magazine:

A Mysterious Company Claims to Sell Sneeze-Filled Tissues for $80. Is It Real?

…Vaev Tissue, the only product of a new startup based in Los Angeles, costs $79.99, according to the company’s website. Its sole purpose is to give the user a cold virus. “We believe using a tissue that carries a human sneeze is safer than needles or pills,” read the note that came with the product, written by the founder of the company. Wipe your nose with the sullied tissue, and you’ll “get sick on your own terms.” …

(Thanks to Vaughn Tan for bringing this to our attention.}

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