Feb 22, 2015

Is it dangerous to eat more fruits and vegetables because of the increased consumption of pesticides? Do I have to buy organic?

The effects of ingesting pesticides in the very small amounts present in vegetation are unknown. Bruce Ames, Ph.D., director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences Center at the University of California at Berkeley, who has devoted his career to examining this question, believes these minute amounts pose no risk at all. 

He and other scientists support this view because humans and other animals are exposed to, small amounts of naturally occurring toxins with every mouthful of organically grown, natural food. The body normally breaks down self-produced metabolic wastes and naturally occurring carcinogens in foods, as well as pesticides, and excretes these harmful substances every minute. Since 99.99 percent of the potential carcinogenic chemicals consumed are naturally present in all food, reducing our exposure to the 0.01 percent that are synthetic will not reduce cancer rates.

These scientists argue that humans ingest thousands of natural chemicals that typically have a greater toxicity and are present at higher doses than the very minute amount of pesticide-residues that remain on food. Furthermore, animal studies on the carcinogenic potential of synthetic chemicals are done at doses a thousand fold higher than what is ingested in food. Ames argues that a high percentage of all chemicals, natural or not, are potentially toxic in high doses - "the dose makes the poison” - and that there is no evidence of possible cancer hazards from the tiny chemical residue remaining on produce.

Feb 15, 2015

Omar Khayyam (1048-1131)

Omar Khayyam was a Persian mathematician, astronomer, and poet, renowned in his own country and time for his scientific achievements but chiefly known to English-speaking readers through the translation of a collection of his poems known as Robáiyyát (“quatrains”) in ‘The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám’ (1859), by the English writer Edward FitzGerald.

He was born in Neyshábúr [also spelled Nīshápúr], which is now located in Iranian province of Khorásán. His name Khayyam (“Tent-maker”) may have been derived from his father's trade. He received a good education in the sciences and philosophy in his native Neyshábúr before traveling to Samarkand (now in Uzbekistan), where he completed his algebra treatise: “Treatise on Demonstration of Problems of Algebra”. This mathematical treatise enhanced his reputation significantly. In this treatise he gave a systematic discussion of the solution of cubic equations by means of intersecting conic sections.

He made such a name for himself that the Persian King Malik-Sháh invited him to Esfahán to undertake the astronomical observations necessary for the reform of the calendar. To accomplish this an observatory was built there, and a new calendar was produced, known as the Jalálí calendar. Based on making 8 of every 33 years leap years, it was more accurate than the present Gregorian calendar, and it was adopted in 1075 by Malik-Sháh. In Esfahán he also produced fundamental critiques of Euclid's theory of parallels as well as his theory of proportion. In connection with the former his ideas eventually made their way to Europe, where they influenced the English mathematician John Wallis (1616–1703); in connection with the latter he argued for the important idea of enlarging the notion of number to include ratios of magnitudes.

Feb 8, 2015

Our salt intake

While there are many different chemicals falling into the category termed "salts" by chemists, to laypeople "salt" means sodium chloride. That's the salt that we crave, season our food with, consume too much of, and get sick from. Today, salt comes from a salt-shaker on every dining table and ultimately from a supermarket, is cheap, and is available in essentially unlimited quantities. Our bodies' main problem with salt is to get rid of it, which we do copiously in our urine and in our sweat. The average daily salt consumption around the world is about 9 to 12 grams, with a range mostly between 6 and 20 grams (higher in Asia than elsewhere).

Traditionally, though, salt didn't come from salt-shakers but had somehow to be extracted from the environment. Imagine what the world used to be like before salt-shakers became ubiquitous. Our main problem with salt then was to acquire it rather than to get rid of it. That's because most plants contain very little sodium, yet animals require sodium at high concentrations in all their extracellular fluids. As a result, while carnivores readily obtain their needed sodium by eating herbivores full of extracellular sodium, herbivores themselves face problems in obtaining that sodium. That's why the animals that you see coming to salt licks are deer and antelope, not lions and tigers. Human hunter-gatherers who consumed much meat, such as the Inuit and San, thus met their salt requirement readily, though even their total salt intake was only 1 or 2 grams per day because much of their prey's sodium-rich blood and other extracellular fluids became lost in the course of butchering and and cooking. Among traditional hunter-gatherers and farmers consuming a diet high in plant food and with limited meat, those living on the seacoast or near inland salt deposits also have easy access to salt. For instance, average daily salt consumption is around 10 grams among the Lau people of the Solomon Islands, who live on the coast and use salt water for cooking, and also among Iran's Qashqa'i nomadic herders, whose homeland has natural salt deposits on the surface.

Feb 1, 2015

A Map of People Not of Land Mass

This map shows what the world would look like if a country's size were proportional to its population. It radically rearranges our sense of geographic space. Vast countries such as Russia, Canada and Australia turn into slivers of territory. Europe, and not South Asia, appears to be the red Asian subcontinent. 

Compiled by Reddit user TeaDranks, the map is an adapted version of a Population Map made in 2005 by cartographer Paul Breding and published by ODTmaps.com. TeaDranks updated its numbers. What the map emphasizes is the primacy of Asia. The continent's immensity is understood in the West but not truly appreciated. That, of course, is echoed in the Western media, where crises in Europe and conflicts in the Middle East still hold far more attention.

The lack of coverage of India's elections last year - the world's greatest exercise in democracy - was lampooned by comedians. And many Americans probably weren't even aware of a similar landmark vote in Indonesia, home to the world's largest population of Muslims, or of Saturday's upcoming presidential vote in Nigeria, which will continue its longest stretch of democracy.

Some Asian cities, as delineated on the map, are larger than most European countries. As the continent boasts some of the world's most dynamic developing economies, this map is a useful illustration for why some believe the 21st century will be the Asian Century.