Monday, 31 December 2007

'Tis the Season for Hangovers

Hangovers have been around as long as man started having benders. Hangover cures have been around since man woke up from the first bender. Cures passed down & around by family and friends. Cures we've likely tried. One of us got smart and starting selling them.

The first hangover over-the-counter (OTC) I remember seeing in the market was Chaser® plus, which says it provides “Freedom from Hangovers®”. Bayer® joined the fight against hangovers by offering Alka-Setzer® Morning Relief.

Hmmmm….can you really chase away a hangover? Plop-plop, fizz-fizz your way out of one? Hangovers cures - ‘tis the season to question them.

William Loeffler of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review tackled hangover cures in today’s Tribune-Review. Chaser® and other OTCs were the topic of Mike McGinley’s “Ohh Lang Syne: Anyone got an aspirin?” piece in this morning’s Times Leader. Canada’s National Post got into the hangover mix with Joanne Sasvari’s advice for avoiding hangovers.

Avoiding hangovers is the best we can do. There is no such thing as a hangover cure. Why? Scientists don’t even know what a hangover is. Common sense tells me that if we don’t know what it is and exactly how it works, we haven't cured it. We don’t know exactly what a hangover is, but we do know it's a multi-symptom condition. Headache, nausea, dry mouth….what we've done is treated each symptom with our homemade “cures” and OTCs.

Chaser® plus outlines their multi-symptom scheme right on the box....
Cinchona for throbbing head & noise sensitivity
Lobelia for nausea, dizziness, and headache
Nux vom for headache & light sensitivity
Quercus gland for dry mouth & throat
Ranunc bulb for headache & fatigue
Zincum met (Zinc) for fatigue, headache, and nausea

What is this stuff? Does it work? Take a look at the links above. Some of those ingredients are remedies from way back for all types of ailments. Does it all work for hangovers? The makers of Chaser® say so. But they also say…

(1) You must follow the directions! Yeah, those words on the back of the box. In my reading of the directions, seems like you’ve got take the pills along for your night out...is it just me, or would it look pretty weird to be poppin' pills saddled up to the bar?

(2) “Chaser® plus does not prevent intoxication and is not intended to treat or prevent the consequences of excessive alcohol consumption. It will not help you pass a sobriety test. Please drink responsibly. Never drink and drive. Chaser Plus is not intended for people under the legal drinking age.” ~ http://www.chaserplus.com/ I thought one of the “consequences of excessive alcohol consumption” was a hangover…

(3) From the FAQ section of the above website:

Q: Will Chaser® Plus work no matter how much I drink? A: No. Chaser Plus is designed for the moderate social drinker. We recommend that you drink in moderation. Never drink and drive. Consult a physician if you believe you may have a dependency on alcohol.
Moderate social drinker? “Meaning what?” you ask. My quick look around the literature said about 2 drinks a day. Ok, I’m confused…the directions give guidelines for “after 4 to 6 drinks”…that doesn’t sound like a “moderate social drinker” to me… And no, by “drink” they do not mean a pint glass full of tequila.

“But Raychelle, does it work?!?!” you ask. Ah, if only it were that easy… if only I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt I wouldn’t get sued by Living Essentials, makers of Chaser® plus.

The makers of Alka-Setzer® Morning Relief take a bit of a different track. Forget the night of; this product is for the morning after. From the Alka-Setzer® Morning Relief website…“For many people it can take no more than a late night with one or two drinks to cause minor aches and pains with fatigue or drowsiness the next morning.”

Seems like Bayer® is a bit more on track so far, but what’s in it? Caffeine (65mg) and aspirin (500mg) with citrus flavor in quick dissolving tablets -pretty simple compared to Chaser® plus.

From perusing the Morning Relief website, I’d say Bayer is an expert on covering their own a@*. They don’t claim to “cure” or prevent hangovers, just treat the most common symptoms - headache and fatigue. I like it better, not because I’ve tried it (I haven’t), but because Morning Relief doesn’t contain ingredients I’d need a botany degree to have heard of.

“But Raychelle, does it work?!?!” you ask. Ditto my earlier response. Morning Relief is about the same as drinking a cup of coffee and taking one capsule of Bayer® Extra Strength aspirin in regards to active ingredients.

Look, the best way to prevent a hangover is to not drink. Yeah, right. Lots of us will continue to enjoy our cocktails. All we can do is tone down our drinking and treat any symptoms that come with having too good a night.

Sunday, 30 December 2007

Hush please, some respect

We deal mainly with silly science here, but I'd like to draw attention to something slightly more sombre today.

Some respect please, for it seems physics is on its death bed.

Due to an £80M funding deficit, physics departments all over the UK are losing researchers, and hope. Please join Rosie Walton and her 700-strong Facebook army in the fight to save physics.

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

More Science Horror-Stories.

Following on from the Horror-movie post from Raychelle yesterday, I have spotted a potential real-life horror story.

Evidence "A": A Giant Rat is found in the Jungles of New Guinea. The thing is frankly terrifying, as big as a dog, and you certainly wouldn't want to get bitten by it. But, it lives in a jungle on the other side of the world, and we shouldn't be that scared by it...

Or should we? Apparently, the rats in the UK are growing in numbers as well. Now, combine these two pieces of information and draw them to their ludicrously sensationalist logical conclusion, and we have the recipe for a real-life horror story: "Attack of the Killer Rats". Or maybe "The Pied Piper Revisited".

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I suspect that at this moment, Hollywood will be pouncing on this as a story, and the Government will be making their contingency plans, but just remember, you heard it here first.

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Kernel of truth in I Am Legend

Let’s face it, the hungry undead are nearly guaranteed horror movie success. We’re been making flesh eating zombie movies for decades. The only thing that has changed is how the zombies come to be. In the cold war era, we blamed every mutant, zombie, and giant insect on nuclear waste. But when the wall came down, Hollywood came up with a new way to unleash the undead. Enter stage left: the human engineered virus.

Mankind took a major hit in 28 Days Later and again in 28 Weeks Later (and again if you count Shaun of the Dead). But in those movies, a “who was dumb enough to make this?” virus gets loose and surprise! Humans go hungry zombie. Not surprising really, so the virus-makes-zombie thing was re-vamped. Taking a page from the 1997 flick Mimic, in which a good cure goes bad, Hollywood’s new virus is first savior then devil. Introducing Hollywood’s version of I Am Legend.

Here’s the low down straight from the movie theater. A scientist (nice cameo by Emma Thompson) informs the world she’s cured cancer using an engineered virus. “And here is where things go horribly wrong,” I mumbled mid scene. And boy do they go wrong in Legend. Pandemic scale wrong with the engineered virus going rogue, wiping out most of the world’s population, turning some into mutant UV sensitive cannibals, with a few people naturally immune (like Will Smith’s character, Neville).

What made Legend chilling to us science dorks in the audience was the kernel of truth in the movie’s science. Scientists really are pitting virus versus cancer. Think Alien vs. Predator in a test tube. Some examples: Mayo Clinic researchers used altered measles and shrew viruses to battle cancer, University of Newcastle researchers set an altered flu virus loose on breast cancer, and Penn State researchers killed many types of cancer with adeno-associated virus type 2.

In the real world, science is having some success attacking cancer with viruses, but we’re a long way from setting altered viruses loose in cancer patients worldwide. In movies, we do it and it always goes wrong. In the real world, could it go Legend wrong? This was the topic of our post-movie conversation.

The biochemist of the bunch brought up a very good point. The entire zombie-by-infection thing requires massive cellular changes. “No human could survive that,” said biochemist. The chemists, including myself, along with the group’s only non-scientist agreed whole heartedly. We all felt better knowing that in the real world, we’d all just drop dead rather than becoming undead cannibals.

Friday, 14 December 2007

Faith in the non-science community

I can often be found spouting such things as, 'the public just don't appreciate how important science is to them,' but while doing a bit of research for the Null book I ended up reading about Time Magazine's 'Person of the Century.' Now that's what I call a title. Forget Prof Einstein, how about Einstein - Person of the Century. But the thing that really struck me were the 'runners up', Mohandas Gandhi, Franklin Roosevelt...

Apparently the choice caused quite a stir back at the turn of the Millennium. Many people took it to mean science had beat religion and politics to the post of importance, and maybe in the 20th century it's true. It's just nice to know that people (even if it's only the Time editorial team) realise how important science really is.

Thursday, 13 December 2007

Boy with a banana phone

Two seemingly unrelated things:

On my way to work this morning, I passed a small boy acting out a wonderful piece of theatre. He had obviously seen his mother, who was hurrying along ahead of him, having a conversation on her mobile phone and decided to mimic her, albeit with a slightly different piece of equipment - a banana. Holding the banana phone to his ear, I heard him chatting away quite happily, "Yes, I know. It's too cold. I'll slip on the ice." Clearly though, he had misheard his mother when her conversation started to heat up. "Toot, toot! I'll toot on your face!" No, I've no idea what he thought he was saying either.

A little further along my route, I found myself - as I quite often do - involuntarily humming a sort of tune. (I say "sort of" because it rarely resembles anything that anyone would refer to as music). When I thought about it I realised that it was in response to my mulling over something embarrassing I had done the day before - mad as it sounds, this seems to be the way my brain copes with "thought blushes". I quickly turned around to make sure there was no one within earshot, then, having assured myself I hadn't been heard, went on my merry way.

Two seemingly unrelated things, but, in a way, related. Two examples of the odd things we say or do when we don't think anyone is paying attention. And does anybody else do that musical brain blush thing, or is it just me? Wait, am I going mad?

Friday, 7 December 2007

Wikipedia. Now with added legitimacy?

So, Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, has decided that it is now good enough for students to use as a proper academic resource, and that any educational institutions that refuse students use of the site are "bad educators". The thrust of his argument seems to be that whilst "academics" are probably better off doing their own research, wikipedia is now good enough that and he sees no problem with students using it.

Quite apart from the fact that, being a founder of the site, his views need to be taken with a large pinch of salt, there are problems with this, the chief one being that wikipedia, for all it's fancy systems of review, for all the volunteers who check things, can still be changed by anybody... ANYBODY...

In any case, no lecturer is going to ban students from looking at wikipedia, it's the idea of citing it as an authoritative source that's the problem. You can use it to tell you what the correct answer is likely to be, but then you go and check this answer from a source that can't be changed, either as a "hilarious" prank, or as a great way of catching out unwary students. A lecturer of mine once told me that he (subtly but importantly, he was quick to add) vandalised the relevant wikipedia page for an essay he set for final year students, to se which ones weren't researching properly (several, it turned out, apparently). According to him, this was 2 years ago, and the mistake has not been rectified*.

In short, the wikipedia man might say that wikipedia is good enough, but the people that actually have to do academic referencing, (i.e. lecturers) are pretty certain not to agree.

(* I should point out here that I do not cite wikipedia in my references, nor do I change entries for fun.)