The moustachioed soldiers of WW1

As October draws to a close men all over the world are getting ready for Movember, an annual event that gives them a chance to raise money and awareness for men’s health issues by sporting a moustache in the month of November. However, in the era before safety razors and shaving foam personal grooming was a much more difficult affair. Men faced many challenges whilst attempting to maintain their facial hair in the trenches of WW1 as this post by Dr Alun Withey explains.

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A long history of medical satire

Dara O’Briain is one of my favourite comedians and he frequently deals with science issues in his stand up routines. A mathematics and theoretical physics graduate, he is also the host of the BBC programmes Dara O’Briain’s Science Club and School of Hard Sums. These programmes educate viewers about maths, physics, chemistry and biology through a series of silly brainteasers and conundrums. As comedy shows they try to change the way that people think about science by making them laugh.

However, taking a light-hearted look at scientific ideas is not new and historical examples of cartoons and caricatures making fun of bad science abound. In particular, medical practitioners viewed as quack doctors – like Dara’s homeopaths – have long been a target of satirists. To read about the various ways that medical practitioners have been lampooned throughout history, check out this amusing post by Dr Mark Bryant.

Dr Seuss as a science communicator

Before publishing his famous children’s books under the pen-name Dr Seuss, Theodor Geisel started out as an illustrator for advertising agencies and during WW2 worked as a political cartoonist. He used his talents to support the war effort by illustrating military materials for the US Treasury Department and War Production Board. To see a pamphlet he created to educate American soldiers about the risk of malaria and read more about this publication take a look at the post on this topic at the Contagions blog.

Re-evaluating scurvy in the Irish famine

Historical records from the 18th and 19th century document cases of scurvy at a level that is unsupported by archaeological evidence. Scurvy is a nutritional condition that results from vitamin C deficiency and it commonly occurs during times of famine. The characteristic bone lesions formed upon the re-introduction of vitamin C into the diet have long been used by archaeologists to identify the disease in skeletal remains. This post explains how recent improvements in bioarchaeology technology and techniques have been used to identify the disease in victims of the Irish Famine (1845-1852) and suggests that early studies showing lower rates of scurvy may have missed signs of the disease.

The phylogenetic origins of one of humanity’s biggest killers

Plague has been responsible for some of the most high-mortality pandemics in human history and has been studied extensively by both historians and scientists. Most laypeople are familiar with the Black Death and the demographic consequences it had on Europe in the Middle Ages. Less well understood however is the molecular history of Yersinia pestis, the bacterium that is the causative agent of penumonic, septicemic and bubonic plague. A post over at the Contagions blog details the phylogenetic tree of this bacterium to explain how scientists are using genomic sequencing to reconstruct the emergence of different strains of Yersinia pestis through history.

“Unhinged her nerves completely”: late Victorian attitudes towards female cyclists

Ever since the invention of the bicycle in the late 19th century, cycling has been promoted as a healthy and invigorating outdoor pursuit. However, concerns have also abounded about the potential health risks of engaging in the sport. As explained in a post by Professor Hilary Marland over at the Wellcome Trust history blog, in late-19th century Britain there were conflicting attitudes towards cycling. It was regarded by some as a therapeutic activity while others saw it as a dangerous pastime for women.