Junk science: The 5-second rule

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The 5-second rule is not mentioned here, but still shows that going against Mother Nature leads to convoluted and wishful thinking. Found here.

You remember this. It’s where a child says that if you drop food on the floor and pick it up in less than five seconds, you can safely eat it again. Many adults believe it too. It is hard to know where these ideas come from.

There was a V-Sauce video on the 5-second rule made back in Noveber of 2012, that debunks it with everyday science. V-Sauce mentions, however, that your immune system protects you from a good deal of the bacteria that are sure to come from the floor. There is a MythBusters episode on TV that debunked the 5-second rule also. But away from popular science, there is also a 2007 article in The Journal of Applied Microbiology that not only do microbes adhere to food pretty much on contact, but further that, on an otherwise clean, dry tile floor, Salmonella typhimurium can survive for over a month in large enough numbers to pose a human health problem (40 days, according to the journal). S. typhimurium is a bacteria known to cause typhoid fever in humans.

In scientific terms, “clean” is taken to mean “free of dirt and debris”. Only “sterile” can mean “free of all bacteria and other single-celled organisms”. The floor in this case would be clean but not sterile, just like a floor would be in any average well-kept home.

Well, that was back in 2007, and there has since been another journal article released two days ago by researchers at Rutgers University (who published in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology), with what appears to be bigger samples with more surfaces and more measurements than ever before. The lesson, however, is still the same: if food falls on the floor, the safest way to deal with the food is to just throw it out.

Sterility is too lofty a goal for an average home, requiring the inside of the home to be sealed off and air-tight, and for the people entering the home to cover their clothes with a sterile outer suit (since they are contaminated from being outside), and to put on shoe and hair coverings before entering the house.

Eating in a sterile environment

Eating and getting rid of bodily wastes would require, as the easiest solution, to do all that outside the house. Once food is brought into the home, any hope of sterility is gone. Growing food in the home does not absolve you from microbes, since most plants and animals need bacteria to grow. And you don’t just need the individual microbes, you need the whole ecosystem they belong in. Past attempts at building artificial ecosystems isolated from the rest of the world had all ended in failure. To get rid of bodily wastes, you would need to build an outhouse — one with running water, if you like to be fancy. None of these are the most comfortable solution to everyday needs which we take for granted.

The beginnings of Chemistry I

This article contains my original, un-edited contributions to Wikipedia’s “History of Chemistry” article from a few years back.

It can be said that chemistry would have “started” when it was possible to distinguish it from alchemy. This would not have happened until Sir Francis Bacon built on the work of Descartes and suggested a scientific method of inquiry. That would not have been at least until the 1600’s. Its application to chemistry still took longer, as many “chemists” of the day still had a poor understanding of the chemicals they were working with.

But what about the idea of atoms (atomism)? How far back can we go?

Atomism can be traced back to 440 BCE in ancient Greece, as what might be indicated by the book De Rerum Natura (The Nature of Things)[1] written by the Roman Lucretius[2] in 50 BCE. In the book was found ideas traced back to Democritus and Leucippus, who declared that atoms were the most indivisible part of matter. This coincided with a similar declaration by Indian philosopher Kashyapa Kanada in his Vaishe Shika sutras around the same time period. Kashyapa arrived at his sutras by meditation. By similar means, he coined a form of Newton’s Third Law, and discussed the existence of gases, a substance not mentioned in Europe until Robert Boyle proved its existence over 1000 years later. What Kanada declared by sutra, Democritus declared by philosophical musing. Both suffered from a lack of empirical data. Without scientific proof, the existence of atoms was easy to deny. Aristotle opposed the existence of atoms in 330 BC; while on the Indian sub-continent, the study of the Vaishe Shika was suppressed almost until the 20th century.

Aristotle was rediscovered by St. Thomas Aquinas and alchemist Roger Bacon in the 1200s. In Europe, the Church raised Aristotle’s writings almost to the level of scripture, associating atomism as some form of heresy.

The rise of metallurgy

It was fire that led to the discovery of glass and the purification of metals which in turn gave way to the rise of metallurgy. During the early stages of metallurgy methods of purification of metals were sought, and gold, known in ancient Egypt as early as 2600 BCE, became a precious metal. The discovery of alloys heralded the Bronze Age. After the Bronze Age, the history of metallurgy in Europe (and indeed the world) was marked by which army had better weaponry. Countries in Europe and Asia had their heydays when they made the superior alloys, which, in turn, made better armour and better weapons. This often determined the outcomes of battles.