Archive for the ‘Bad Science’ Category

Four Humours
The Ancient Greeks made a great many contributions to medicine: they discovered medicinal herbs, and surgery techniques, and even came up with the Hippocratic oath. One of the things that would not fall into this list was the four humour theory. This was the belief that the health of the human body was dependant upon the balance of four basic substances:

Yellow Bile
Black Bile

Diseases and physical ailments were due to either an overabundance or a startling lack of the humour in question. If you suffered from swollen eyelids, it meant you had too much blood in your system, so it was promptly bled out of you. If you had leprosy, it meant you that didn’t have enough yellow bile, and it was dripped into your mouth until you got better.

You might understand why this theory is no longer popular.

Each of the humours was also associated with a particular temperament. Blood was sanguine, and connected with fun and spontaneity. Because if there’s one thing that’s fun, it’s lots of blood! Yellow bile was choleric, and generally associated with ambition. Phlegm was phlegmatic and tied to a calm manner, while black bile was melancholic and connected to people who wrote really bad poetry.

One of the amazing aspects about the four humour belief system is just how long it lasted. It was in widespread usage until the nineteenth century, when these mysterious things called germs were discovered. Doctors realized that if you wanted to stop the spread of disease, you simply needed to wash your hands. Slightly more pleasant than draining all of the black bile out of your body to stop that pesky cold.


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The church’s official position for hundreds of years was that the earth is the center of the universe, and that the sun and other planets revolve around it. The main reason they believed this is, let’s face it, humans are pretty awesome. Have you seen the Notre Dame Cathedral? Or the Vatican? They’re amazing! Why wouldn’t the sun want to rotate around us? Oh, because of that whole gigantic mass and pesky gravitational pull of celestial objects thing.

One scientist in particular, a pleasant fellow by the name of Galileo, tried to point this out in a book titled ‘Dialogue Concerning The Two Chief World Systems.’ He wrote that the earth revolved around the sun, as opposed to the other way around. The religious leaders, upon reading his well-researched findings, immediately applauded his sheer genius and switched their world-view to conform to the tenets of science.

… just kidding. They put Galileo on trial for heresy, and forced him to recant loudly to the masses. He was also put under house arrest, while all copies of the offending book were gathered up and destroyed. This did not put an end to the matter – for you see, the earth does revolve around the sun, despite what others wanted to believe, and as more and more scientists peered through telescopes in between discovering electro-magnetism and contracting syphilis, they realized that the famed Italian astronomer had been right.

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Step right up, friends, and prepare yourselves for the opportunity of a lifetime. Today we are offering to you an amazing cure-all, stolen from the secret masters of ancient Tibet, at great bodily risk to our person. Bottled within this marvelous elixir are mystical ingredients that are guaranteed to cure your gout, halt your aches, prevent consumption, put a spring in your step, and make you irresistible to the ladies. You have absolutely nothing to fear, except perhaps an empty space in your wallet and thirty percent chance of permanent blindness.

Medicine shows were a common fixture of American life in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. They roamed from town to town in search of people to swindle, often using a plant in the audience that the snake-oil salesman could call upon during the pitch. The person would hobble up, take a swig of the awe-inspiring remedy, and then toss away their crutches and perform a merry jig. After such incontrovertible proof, it’s no wonder the townsfolk swarmed forward with money in hand and demanded a chance to purchase the amazing medicine.

So what were the rubes actually ingesting? In some cases it was common tap water with opium extract added for ‘miraculous effects’, which helps explain the odd sensations people would sometimes experience when imbibing the drink. Other patent medicines were a strange concoction of red onions, peppers, and dried apricot pits. The secret masters apparently liked to peruse the produce section of your local supermarket. Oddly enough, the most controversial element to be used was alcohol, but that was mostly due to ongoing Prohibition efforts at the time.

Some people might be surprised to learn that patent medicine still exists to this day, as do the shows which advertise it. If you’d like to see one, all you have to do is flip your television on Sunday morning and find the guy selling ‘Natural Male Enhancement’ or ‘Medical secrets THEY don’t want you to know about.’ Rest assured, there are no chemicals whatsoever in the revolutionary products they are promoting.

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There are a surprisingly large number of people who believe, to this day, that the earth is flat. They reject modern science out of hand, and are part of a organization known as The Flat Earth Society. You can show them a globe, or photographs of the planet from space, or Aristotle’s extensive treatise on the subject, but they just laugh at your predictable gullibility with the firm certainty that they haven’t had the wool pulled over their eyes and know better than the billions of people who weren’t accidentally dropped on their heads as a child.

On some basic level, their logic makes sense. If you walk outside, the earth certainly doesn’t look spherical. And seriously, if it was round, then people who lived on the bottom would just fall off into the void, right? And do you really expect us to believe in Newton’s Second Law of Motion? Keep in mind that these are the same people who think that the Apollo Moon Landing was secretly filmed in an Arizona studio, so their analytical notions should probably be taken with a grain of salt.

Scientific tenets of the flat earth theory:

– The earth’s circumference is 78225 miles, and the diameter is 24,900 miles.
– Stars, moons, and other planets may be round, but the earth is not.
– Tides are the result of a constant wobbling of the earth.
– Gravity exists because the earth is continuously accelerating upwards at 1g, along with every other celestial body in the universe.
– Sunrises/sunsets are an optical illusion caused by the sun drifting around.
– The planet is surrounded by a 150 foot wall of ice which prevents water and everything else from falling off the edge. This has been concealed from the American public through an elaborate government conspiracy.

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Phrenology was the science of studying the bumps and indentations on a person’s head to determine their predestined station in life. The basic idea was that cranial makeup is reflective of brainpower, and that by examining the shape of the skull and slope of the brow you could discover a patient’s intelligence, strength of character, and likelihood of romantic relationships. Factors such as education, values taught, and whether or not they still had all their teeth were considered secondary in such matters.

Head size was extremely important. The phrenologist would use a caliper (essentially, a big creepy claw) to obtain accurate measurements, and then cross-referenced the results with a detailed medical map which showed the 27 “brain organs”. If your head was a little too big, it meant that you were a common degenerate who was destined to commit multiple murders. If it was a little too small, then you were an ill-bred idiot meant to dig ditches for a living. On those rare occasions where your head size was just right, then you went on to become a phrenologist.

Sadly, phrenology has fallen out of favor with most doctors, who believe that human personality is largely a combination of neurology and environment, and cannot be determined by external physical measures. They obviously have an overlarge cerebral bumpage and should not be trusted under any circumstances.

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