Manual for Civilization

Thursday, April 17th, 2014

The Long Now Foundation is taking recommendations for their library-sized Manual for Civilization. Kevin Kelly originally called for a Library of Utility:

It would be a very selective library. It would not contain the world’s great literature, or varied accounts of history, or deep knowledge of ethnic wonders, or speculations about the future. It has no records of past news, no children’s books, no tomes on philosophy. It contains only seeds. Seeds of utilitarian know-how. How to recreate the infrastructure and technology of civilization so far.

The idea evolved to include these categories:

  • Cultural Canon (Great Books, Shakespeare, Plato, etc.)
  • Mechanics of Civilization (Technical knowledge, how to build and understand things)
  • Rigorous Science Fiction (Science fiction that tells a useful story about a potential future)
  • Long-term Thinking, Futurism, and relevant history (Books on how to think about the future that may include surveys of the past)

Brian Eno’s recommendations were the first to be shared:

I’m inclined to see Steward Brand’s recommendations as definitive.

Orbital Mechanics

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014

The latest xkcd comic, on orbital mechanics, reminds us how powerful simulations are as learning tools:

xkcd Orbital Mechanics

Good Drug, Bad Delivery System

Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

Who smokes? And why?

Warner: If you look at the population that is at the poverty line or above it, about 18% of them are smokers. If you look at the population below the poverty line, it’s about 29%. If you look at college graduates, 7.5% of them smoke today. If you look at people with only 9 to 11 years of high school education it’s about 36% percent. If we go back to the time of the Surgeon General’s report…

Dubner: That, remember, was 1964.

Warner: …those numbers were very close to each other. So that’s a huge issue, is a socio-economic disparity. And then there is one we that have finally started to recognize and talk about in the field of tobacco control and it is very important — perhaps as many as 40 to 50 percent of all smokers have a concurrent mental health disability or morbidity and/or other substance-abuse problem. The cigarette industry has always liked to talk about smoking as being a rational choice of well-informed adults and yet we have this strong correlation between smoking and mental illness.

Dubner: So this opens up a whole other way to look at smoking – that it is, to some degree, self-medication, with side effects of course. Paul Newhouse is an m.d. who runs the Center for Cognitive Medicine at Vanderbilt. For 30 years, he’s been studying the effects of nicotine on the brain:

Newhouse: We jokingly say in our lab: You know, good drug, bad delivery system.

Dubner: Newhouse tells us that nicotine itself has a number of potentially positive characteristics.

Newhouse: It appears to activate a class of what we call receptors important for regulating a whole variety of brain functions. And so we think that nicotinic receptors are important for things like attention, for behavioral strategies, for what we call executive functioning, which is the ability to make decisions and evaluate information, we think it’s important for memory, and so that has kind of led us to thinking about what particular disorders might be helped by stimulating nicotinic receptors either with nicotine or with something else.

Dubner: So Newhouse and others in his field are exploring if nicotine therapy might be used to treat schizophrenia, Parkinson’s disease, or other maladies.

Newhouse: Things like memory loss disorders, Alzheimer’s disease, pre-Alzheimer’s disease, which is called mild cognitive impairment, we’ve looked at ADHD, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Other investigators have looked at things from Tourette’s Syndrome to anxiety disorders to depression. I think the full potential of nicotine and nicotinic drugs is really not even fully known yet.

Dubner: Newhouse does believe, however, that nicotine has medicinal effects, and that is why some smokers smoke.

Newhouse: If you look at heavy smokers you will find that many of them have mood disorders or anxiety disorders as well. The rates of psychological problems among heavy smokers these days are very high. And we think that one of the reasons they smoke is because it produces benefits to them. Maybe it improves their mood, maybe it stabilizes their anxiety, maybe it helps them pay attention or inhibit impulsiveness, etc.

Infant IQ Tests Predict Scores in School

Monday, April 14th, 2014

Twenty-five years ago, Gina Kolata of the New York Times reported on infant IQ tests that predicted later school performance:

The tests, which attempt to measure what babies remember, are based on the assumption that they will be more interested in stimuli they have not previously encountered. One test involves showing infants photographs or pictures and measuring how long they look at them. In theory, babies will look at a new stimulus for a longer time than one they remember having seen before. Babies that are likely to be below average in intelligence will remember fewer of the stimuli they have seen before.

Working independently, Dr. Bornstein and Susan Rose of Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York have found that a baby’s performance at age 4 months and 6 months on tests of visual memory correlate with I.Q. at 4 and 6 years of age. They used tests that they developed themselves but that are similar to those developed by Dr. Fagan. The predictions are independent of the parents’ education and income group, which also are correlated with I.Q.

The original article is full of fears that such tests might give already-advantaged children even more advantages.

Kenneth Change, also of the Times, revisits the original article:

For the most part, the validity of the Fagan test holds up. Indeed, Dr. Fagan (who died last August) and Dr. Holland revisited infants they had tested in the 1980s, and found that the Fagan scores were predictive of the I.Q. and academic achievement two decades later when these babies turned 21.

“It’s really good science,” said Scott Barry Kaufman, scientific director of the Imagination Institute at the University of Pennsylvania and the author of “Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined.”

But Dr. Fagan’s hope for widespread screening of infants has not come to pass. “There are some centers that have it,” Dr. Holland said. “It never came to be the kind of thing where it’s widely available.”

The trend is perhaps in the other direction, away from dividing young children by I.Q. and its surrogates out of concerns that the labels become self-fulfilling prophecies. Private schools in New York City, for example, have agreed to abandon intelligence tests for 4- and 5-year-old applicants.

This stands out:

For the last decade of his life, Dr. Fagan was unexpectedly drawn into the “genes versus environment” debate over intelligence after he found that babies from widely different cultural backgrounds performed equally well on his test. That, he argued, undercut the argument for a biological basis for the stark “achievement gap” between white and black children, or rich and poor.

Culture, Resources, or Genetics

Sunday, April 13th, 2014

Gregory Clark discusses social mobility — or the lack of it — and whether it comes down to culture, resources, or genetics:

DE: So social mobility does take place but over many generations. What are the mechanisms by which people revert to the mean?

GC: For me, as a social scientist, this is the most interesting part of the story. The question that really comes up is: is this a cultural phenomena? Is it a familial culture that is being passed on? Is it resources? Or is the basic genetics of inheritance? And if it’s cultural or resources, what it says is that societies are dramatically failing to achieve appropriate rates of social mobility; that it’s a number one problem for all societies; that President Obama is right to say that this is the problem his administration will tackle. If it’s just a basic issue of genetics and of assortative mating and then the transmission of certain types of abilities or competencies, then actually two things: one is we don’t have a problem. And the second thing is we shouldn’t devote enormous resources to trying to deal with it.

DE: So let me press you on that. So, one interpretation is that all that’s happening is that intelligent people are passing their genes on to intelligent people and so remaining in the elite. Another is that there are barriers to a meritocratic society. Which is it?

GC: My own personal bet is that genetics plays a much greater role in this than people have been willing to consider. One test would be, in cultural explanations, your grandparents; your cousins; your other relatives should all have some influence on your outcomes. If you’re from the Jewish community, for example, then being part of that larger community network should have significant influence on your outcomes. In a genetic interpretation, if we truly knew the status of your parents – the underlying status – that would be the only predictor of your outcomes. Your grandparents, all the rest of the stuff would not matter. And also, things like resource shocks should be relatively unimportant. And interestingly, again using Oxford and Cambridge data, we can actually test. do your parents only matter or does your more extended lineage matter to predicting future success?

And the answer is: it’s only your parents. If we can get the data, it’s only your parents that matter. Another test is a genetic explanation would say that any elite group that only intermarry internally would not actually regress to the mean. Because, the genetic information is not being lost from that group. And that, again, we can test by looking at various examples. And what we find then is that in societies with a high degree of endogamy, the rate of social mobility doesn’t seem to slow down. Another interpretation here would be that any elite group would simply have been selected from a larger population by some mechanism – or any underclass group. And we again can test this by looking at history and saying for example: Ashkenazi Jews are elite; Sephardic Jews are elite. Are they a subset of a larger population? And the answer overwhelmingly and very clearly is yes. Only a small fraction of the original Jewish population has survived as Jewish. The rest converted to Christianity. And, there’s very strong evidence that that was the elite share of the population.

And, we can also see in modern America that new social elites are actually being formed by immigration policy which means that people coming from areas distant from the US, without familial connections to the US, are being drawn from very high-level elites in those societies. So now, the super-elites in the US are Coptic Christians; Indian Hindus; Iranian Muslims; Maronites. And when you look across those groups, what you see is – culturally – an incredible diversity. The only groups that are not represented now in the modern US elites are protestant Anglo-Saxons. (Laughs.) So what you actually see when you look at this data, it seems to me, is that eliteness has nothing to do inherently with culture; it’s to do with the familial transmission of abilities.

Homicide Rates by Genetic versus Stepfathers

Sunday, April 6th, 2014

Homicide rates by genetic versus stepfathers and by age of child for Canada, reprinted from Daly and Wilson (1996):

Homicide Rates by Genetic vs. Stepfathers

Twin Studies

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014

In lieu of kidnapping twins, Dalton Conley explains, the way that researchers typically calculated how much a given trait — be that extraversion or earnings — was due to genetics was by comparing how alike identical twins were with respect to how alike (same sex) fraternal twins were: 

The logic is that the fraternal twins share half their genes on average and the identical twins share all of them, so the degree to which identical twins are more alike than their fraternal counterpart pairs reflects the genetic contribution to that trait.

If two-thirds of our kids’ chances in life were due to their family background, the field of behavioral genetics would have us believe that the vast lion’s share of that predictive power of family of origin was due to genetics.  According to these studies, about half of the variation in incomes or job situations was due to our genetic makeup.  And only about a sixth resulted from the household environment on which parents could exert some conscious influence.  The remaining one-third was a product of random events outside a family’s control: an inspiring teacher, a traumatic accident, or a lucky break at work.

I initially went into the field of genetics to prove these researchers wrong.  Genes couldn’t matter that much, I figured.  It just didn’t jive with what I saw around me: Siblings seemed so different from each other; I knew plenty of poor kids growing up that I could have imagined achieving great heights had they been reared in better circumstances; and, likewise, in my adulthood I had gotten to know plenty of folks who seemed to be of mediocre talent despite their huge paychecks.  Social environment had to count for more.  So I decided to go right after the geneticists’ core assumption.

That is, their nifty little calculation relies on one hugely problematic assumption known as the “equal environments assumption.”  Put in English, these researchers had to take as a given the notion that identical twins are not treated any more similarly to each other than fraternal twins are (and that identical twins don’t interact with each other more than fraternal twins do in ways that might affect the outcomes in question — i.e. that their mutual, reciprocal influence is no different than that of same gender fraternal twins).  Since in my own experience I often couldn’t even tell who was who in an identical twin set, it seemed obvious to me that identical twins were experiencing much more similar environments than fraternal twins were in ways that were not generalizable to us non-twins in the population, and thus the behavioral geneticists were inflating the effects of genes and correspondingly underestimating the impact of family environment.[2]

Determined to prove them wrong and save the day for social scientists, I thought of a trick that would have been unimaginable before the days of 23andme and the like: I would take the fraction of twins who thought they were identical when they were really fraternal (and vice versa) and run the same analysis on them.  If they thought they were fraternal twins their whole lives but the laboratory genetic test revealed they were actually identical, we could be sure that they weren’t raised with more similar environments because they had been (mistakenly) socialized as fraternal twins.  And ditto in reverse.  But when I ran these folks through the statistical models, the results didn’t refute the behavioral geneticists at all.  In fact, my models confirmed the high genetic heritability for everything from height to high school GPA to ADHD.

Group Size

Monday, March 31st, 2014

An architect by training, then a professor at Arizona State University, and now a business strategy consultant, Kristine Woolsey studies the impact of the physical environment on human behavior:

Numerous anthropological studies show that group size — the number of individuals who live or work together — is key to peaceful collaboration in all kinds of environments. The ideal group size for forming bonds of trust is around six to eight people, Woolsey said.

A gang of four can be easily dominated by one strong personality; any larger than eight, and they’ll to need to elect a leader. But right in the middle, there’s “a sort of peer pressure in terms of expected social behavior” that leads people to act in the common interest, she said.

Effective open-plan offices, such as the ones Google Inc. has designed in Zurich and Dublin, and the ones offered by NextSpace, a California-based company that rents workspaces to freelancers and small businesses, place employees in hubs of six to eight, with nearby common areas accessible to several groups, Woolsey said. Thus, rather than dividing up a giant workforce into “acres of gray cubes,” the office is instead comprised of small groups nested within larger ones.


Jeremy Neuner, the CEO of NextSpace, said he’s observed that workers naturally congregate in groups of six to eight. Recently at the company’s Santa Cruz headquarters, as a sort of experiment, a 12-seat conference table was moved into an open area of the office. Sure enough, Neuner said, six to eight people gathered there to work.

“Except when they’re up against a deadline, people are not looking for their own closed-in spaces,” Neuner said.

As Woolsey sees it, the traditional open-plan office is no better at adapting to the way people work than the old cubicle-dotted office.

How Athletes Use Caffeine

Tuesday, March 25th, 2014

Athletes use caffeine strategically:

In 2009, Ganio and his colleagues published a systematic review of 21 studies on caffeine in timed performance. Most of the researchers looked at subjects cycling, but some also studied running, rowing, and cross-country skiing, and most of the tests were in the 15-minute to two-hour range. Looking across all the results, Ganio found consistent improvements in performance.

The improvements can be substantial, he told me, often as much as 3 percent. To put that into context, a 3 percent improvement would mean an 18-minute boost in a 10-hour race. Eighteen minutes was all that separated the top eight finishers in both the men’s and women’s pro races at Kona.


Ganio said it is important to take the right dose, which shakes out to about three to six milligrams per kilogram of body mass. That is a lot of caffeine. An 80-kilo (176-pound) athlete taking six milligrams per kilogram would need 480 milligrams of caffeine.

“That’s four strong cups of coffee,” said Ganio. “If you can tolerate it, it seems to be the upper end of what you can have to improve performance.”

Since “cups of coffee” is a notoriously imprecise measure of caffeine, it may help to think of it this way: 480 milligrams would be six 8-ounce Red Bulls, two and a half NoDoz tablets, or two Extra Strength 5-hour Energy shots. A more moderate dose for a smaller athlete, say, a 65-kilo (143-pound) athlete taking three milligrams per kilo, is still an impressive amount of caffeine: equal to one NoDoz tablet, one 5-hour Energy shot, or two and a half Red Bulls. Even this amount of caffeine is difficult to obtain using caffeinated sodas like Coca-Cola. A 65-kilo athlete would need to chug nearly six cans of Coke at once to get a caffeine dose of three milligrams per kilogram.

Also, researchers found no evidence of dehydration from using caffeine.

Personality Predicts Social Learning

Wednesday, March 19th, 2014

Researchers conducted a three-year study of how personality interacts with social learning — in wild baboons in Namibia:

Carter and her colleagues had given all the baboons “personality tests” to measure two traits, boldness and anxiety. They assessed boldness by looking at a baboon’s response to a new food (such as a hard-boiled egg dyed green); the bolder the individual, the more time he or she spends inspecting a new food. They assessed anxiety by presenting the baboons with a taxidermied venomous snake; in this test, more anxious individuals spend more time investigating the potential threat. Boldness and anxiety are stable personality traits and are independent in baboons, meaning a bolder baboon is just as likely to be anxious as a shy baboon.

After figuring out where individual baboons fell on these two personality traits, the researchers looked at whether the traits were related to the time spent watching a demonstrator or the subsequent ability to then solve the task being demonstrated.

They found bolder and more anxious individuals were more likely to learn about a novel foraging task from another baboon — despite the fact that shy baboons watched the demonstrators just as much as bold baboons, and calm baboons paid even more attention to the demonstrators than anxious baboons. This means that an individual’s ability or interest in watching a demonstrator does not necessarily translate to then solving the task. All personality types seemed to collect social information, but bolder and more anxious baboons were better at using it.

Carter thinks that bold baboons may show more social learning not because they are smarter or better at learning this type of information, but because they are more willing to interact with something new. “I imagine that watching another individual manipulate a novel food requires less boldness than manipulating a novel food directly,” she says. “It’s likely the shy baboons were just too shy to handle the food, even after watching a demonstrator.”

Derbyshire on Wade’s A Troublesome Inheritance

Friday, March 14th, 2014

There is nothing breathtaking in New York Times science writer Nicholas Wade’s Troublesome Inheritance, John Derbyshire says — if you already frequent websites like VDare, InfoProc, hbdchick, or West Hunter:

Most people don’t visit these websites, though, and are raised and educated taking the SSSM [which declares race to be a “social construct”] for granted. To them, the facts that Wade’s book presents and the ideas it discusses will come as thunderclaps.

This is the “shocking” keynote of the book:

New analyses of the human genome have established that human evolution has been recent, copious, and regional.

Yosemite Bears and Human Food

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014

Researchers performed isotope analysis of hair and bone samples to study Yosemite bears’ changing diets over the past century:

Yosemite National Park was established in 1890, and Hopkins obtained samples from bears killed between 1915 and 1919 to represent the earliest time period. In those early years, bears were attracted to garbage dumps in the park and were often killed when they became a nuisance. Visitors liked to see bears, however, and in 1923 the park began intentionally feeding bears where visitors could watch them. The last artificial feeding area closed in 1971. There was also a fish hatchery in Yosemite Valley, from 1927 to 1956, where bears once helped themselves to fresh trout from the holding tanks. But closing the hatchery and the feeding areas didn’t stop bears from eating human food.

“The bears just went back to the campgrounds and hotels and continued to find human food,” Hopkins said.

The average figures for the proportion of human food in bear diets during the four time periods in the study were 13 percent for the period from 1915 to 1919; 27 percent for 1928 to 1939; 35 percent for 1975 to 1985; and 13 percent again for 2001 to 2007.

These results are based on a kind of chemical forensics in which Koch’s lab specializes. Isotopic analysis of an animal’s tissues can yield clues to its diet because of natural variability in the abundance of rare isotopes of elements such as carbon and nitrogen. Isotope ratios (the ratio of carbon-13 to carbon-12, for example) are different in human foods than in the wild plants and animals that black bears naturally eat in Yosemite, partly due to the large amounts of meat and corn-based foods in our diets.

In order to analyze the data from Yosemite bears that ate a mixture of human and natural foods, Hopkins had to get samples from bears that did not eat any human food, and he had to track down samples of the non-native trout that had been raised in the hatchery. He also needed data representing a 100 percent human food diet, for which he turned to the Smithsonian Institution for samples of human hair from different periods over the past century.

“He searched far and wide to get the collection of samples we analyzed, and that collection made the study powerful enough to answer the question of how management practices affect bear diets,” Koch said.

According to Hopkins, the key to managing bear problems is to prevent bears from becoming conditioned to eat human food in the first place.

The Germ Theory of Culture

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014

Much of what we like to think of as politics, morality, and culture is really disease avoidance behavior:

Some species of primate, Thornhill told me, will ostracize sick members of the group to avoid the spread of disease. Cows and other ungulates are known to rotate their movements among pastures in such a way as to avoid the larvae of intestinal worms that hatch in their waste. And in ant societies, only a small number of workers are given the task of hauling away the dead, while sick ants will sometimes leave the nest to die apart from the group.


The threat of disease is not uniform around the world. In general, higher, colder, and drier regions have fewer infectious diseases than warmer, wetter climates. To survive, people in this latter sort of terrain must withstand a higher degree of “pathogen stress.” Thornhill and his colleagues theorize that, over time, the pathogen stress endemic to a place tends to steer a culture in distinct ways. Research has long shown that people in tropical climates with high pathogen loads, for example, are more likely to develop a taste for spicy food, because certain compounds in these foods have antimicrobial properties. They are also prone to value physical attractiveness — a signal of health and “immunocompetence,” according to evolutionary theorists — more highly in mates than people living in cooler latitudes do.


Fincher suspected that many behaviors in collectivist cultures might be masks for behavioral immune responses. To take one key example, collectivist cultures tend to be both more xenophobic and more ethnocentric than individualist cultures. Keeping strangers away might be a valuable defense against foreign pathogens, Fincher thought. And a strong preference for in-group mating might help maintain a community’s hereditary immunities to local disease strains. To test his hypothesis, Fincher set out to see whether places with heavier disease loads also tended toward these sorts of collectivist values.

Working with Damian Murray and Mark Schaller, two psychologists from the University of British Columbia, and Thornhill, Fincher compared existing databases that rated cultural groups on the individualist-collectivist spectrum with data collected from the Global Infectious Diseases and Epidemiology Network and other sources. The team paid special attention to nine pathogens (including malaria, leprosy, dengue, typhus, and tuberculosis) that are detrimental to human reproductive fitness. What the team found was a strong correlation between collectivist values and places with high pathogen stress. In 2008, Fincher, Thornhill, Schaller, and Murray published a major paper in Proceedings of the Royal Society B that laid out the connection.

Thornhill and Fincher found further evidence for the pathogen stress theory by looking at geographical regions that had not only severe disease stress but also a highly diverse patchwork of local pathogen populations. The critters that make us ill — not only the viruses and bacteria, but also the ticks, flies, and mosquitoes that spread them — are tiny and lack the ability to regulate their own heat as larger organisms do. They often flourish only in very narrow climatic zones, where they are adapted to certain temperature and moisture levels. As a result, pathogen threats can be highly localized. One study, for instance, found at least 124 genetically distinct strains of the parasite Leishmania braziliensis across Peru and Bolivia.

If you were to live in such a pathogenically diverse place, you and your family would likely develop a resistance or immunity to your local parasites. But that defense might be useless if you were to move in with a group just a short distance away — or if a stranger, carrying a foreign pathogen load, were to insinuate himself into your clan. In such places, then, it would be important for neighboring groups to be able to tell the difference between “us” and “them.” With that thought in mind, Thornhill and his colleagues made a prediction: that regions with a balkanized landscape of localized parasites would in turn display a balkanized landscape of localized customs and conspicuous cultural differences among human populations — dialects, unique religious displays, distinctive art and music, and the like. While there is much more research to be done, early findings suggest that — particularly when it comes to the development of local languages and religions — pathogen stress does appear to spawn cultural diversity.

Notes on Arrow Wounds

Tuesday, March 11th, 2014

In 1862, J.H. Bill’s Notes on Arrow Wounds appeared in The American Journal of the Medical Sciences:

The arrow is a weapon of the greatest antiquity. It is one with which, in this country, at least, we are all familiar; nevertheless, there is nowhere now extant an account of the wounds produced by it sufficiently accurate or definite to guide a surgeon in their treatment, or to give to the medical antiquary a record of their history and appearance. Before long these wounds will become of unfrequent occurrence, for our Indian tribes are fast being exterminated. We propose, in the first place, as a matter of historical interest, to state in this article what we know of arrow wounds. The subject still presents much of practical interest to the surgeon, and must continue so to do, in a greater or less degree, for the future. It will be some time before all our Indian tribes are “civilized off the face of all creation,” and many a soldier and settler has yet to pay the death penalty for his courage or hardihood. Moreover, the bow and arrow is in use among the Tscherkesses of the Russian army, for the purpose of picking off sentinels without creating an alarm. It is probable that a corps of carefully selected bowmen would be found of great use in our own army for like purposes. Franklin has suggested the employment of arrows in battles, to be shot from bows or fired from guns. Arrow wounds are, therefore, and for some time likely to be, of practical interest.

Tscherkesses, by the way, appear to be Circassians.

Dr. Bill finds arrow wounds especially lethal, because of the arrows’ two-part construction, with the shaft loosely attached to the head:

Such being the mechanism of the arrow, we can readily understand the danger peculiar to arrow wounds in general, a danger often seen in pistol-ball wounds of the chest. Let us suppose a case to illustrate and explain our meaning. An arrow is shot at a man at a distance of fifty yards. It penetrates his abdomen, and without wounding an intestine or a great vessel, lodges in the body of one of the vertebrae. The arrow is grasped by the shaft by some officious friend, and after a little tugging is pulled out. We said the arrow is pulled out. This was a mistake; it is the shaft only of the arrow that is pulled out. The angular and jagged head has been left buried in the bone to kill — for so it surely will-the victim. The explanation of such mishaps is this: the ribbon of tendon which compressed together the split sides of the end of the arrow, and so clamped the head and the shaft together, had become wetted with the fluids effused in the course of the wound. When wetted, it was, of course, lengthened, and, if lengthened, loosened. It ceased longer to bind together the split sides of the shaft; this and the head were, consequently, very feebly united and readily detached. Experience has abundantly shown, and none know the fact better than the Indians themselves, that any arrow wound of chest or abdomen, in which the arrow-head is detached from the shaft and lodged, is mortal. From this we conclude that the danger peculiar to all arrow wounds is, that the shaft becoming detached from the head of an implanted arrow, leaves this so deeply imbedded in a bone that it cannot be withdrawn, and that, remaining, it kills. It is not possible with forceps to extract an arrow-head so lodged (if lodged deeply), throwing aside the difficulty of discovering and the danger of searching for it. The blades of forceps long enough for this purpose (supposing the foreign body deeply lodged in the chest) would bend too readily with the force required for the removal of the missile. The greatest force is sometimes required for the extraction of an arrow-head so lodged. We have seen an arrow shot at a distance of one hundred yards, so deeply imbedded in an oak plank, that it required great force, applied by strong tooth-forceps, to remove it. In the case of a man shot in the shaft of the humerus by an arrow, it was only after using both knees, applied to the ends of the bone as a counter-extending force, and a stout pair of tooth-forceps, that we succeeded in removing the foreign body. Another similar case will be mentioned hereafter. Asst. Surgeon McKee had a case, also, in which considerable force was required to extract an arrow-head lodged in the trochanter, and other instances illustrating the difficulty sometimes encountered in the removal of arrow-heads lodged in bone could readily be adduced.

We have dwelt thus at length upon the mechanism of the arrow because we consider that upon a rightful understanding of the same must depend an intelligent and a skilful treatment of the wound which it occasions. The arrow-head removed by proper treatment, and we have an ordinary punctured wound, such as a poniard or stiletto would make. The wounds inflicted by these last named weapons are dangerous and troublesome for this reason. When such a weapon pierces any deep tissue, it must do so through some other tissue possessed of a contractile or muscular power. As soon as the weapon is withdrawn, this last named tissue contracts, and thus draws the wound in itself upwards or downwards, interrupting the continuity of the wound as a whole; whence it happens that all such wounds, the pus or efi‘used liquids finding no outlet, are apt to be attended with burrowing of matter and deep-seated abscess. This remark applies to arrow wounds, although they partake of the nature of incised wounds, and, therefore, oftener heal by first intention than do the punctured wounds of the stiletto or bayonet, attended as these are with much bruising and tearing of tissues. Arrow wounds are often complicated by profuse hemorrhage, and for the same reason that in bayonet wounds abscesses form, through inability of matter, to find a ready outlet, in arrow wounds haematomata result. In fact, when arrow wounds suppurate, they generally do so through disorganization of these collections of blood.

What parts of the body are oftenest wounded by the arrow, and what is the relative fatality?, he asks — and then produces this table:

Notes on Arrow Wounds 1

The above table includes all the reliable cases of arrow wounds falling under our notice.

On referring to it, it will be seen that the upper extremity is oftenest wounded, next comes the abdomen, next the chest, next the lower extremity, next the head, and, lastly, the neck. The reason that the upper extremity is so often wounded, is that a person can see an arrow darting towards him, and very naturally putting out his arm to ward it 011′, receives a wound oftener in this member than in any other. Wounds of the abdomen are oftenest fatal (more than three-fifths of the total deaths occurred from wounds of abdomen), next come wounds of chest, wounds of head and heart next, and wounds of spinal marrow, and upper and lower extremity are last.

An expert bowman can easily discharge six arrows per minute, and a man wounded with one is almost sure to receive several arrows. In the above table, when a man was wounded in more places than one, the most serious wound, or that which immediately caused his death, is recorded. We have not seen more than one or two men wounded by a single arrow only. In three of our soldiers shot by Nabajoes, we counted forty-two arrow wounds; this is an extreme case, as the manufacture of the arrow costs the Indian too much labour and time to expend one unnecessarily. The cause of death in the twenty-nine fatal cases may be thus summed up :—

Notes on Arrow Wounds 2

A flesh wound really is just a flesh wound, by the way:

First, then, for the simplest case; an arrow wound involving no parts essential to life. Let us suppose a case.
A man is shot by an arrow which passes through integuments and muscles, and grazing the bone, makes its exit on the other side of a limb. What appearance is presented after the accident? We will find at the spot where the arrow entered, a very small and narrow slit, surrounded by a circular patch of bruised integument of a dusky-red colour. It is almost impossible to say whether the slit was made by a pistol-ball or an arrow, so closely does the entrance wound made by an arrow resemble that made by a small ball. On the other side of the limb another slit, somewhat larger than that above described, is seen, but not surrounded by the red areola. This is the exit wound. What is the treatment? Apply cold or evaporating lotions, place the limb at perfect rest, let the patient diet himself, and the chances are favourable of such a wound healing by first intention. At all events this is the indication. Ordinarily, such a wound will be quite well in a week.

There’s just something about the writing of that era:

  • “We have seen but one case of a large artery of a limb divided by an arrow, and that case terminated fatally before we saw the man. He was a Mexican, and was shot in the groin while on horseback. The arrow pierced the femoral artery just below Poupart’s ligament. The man lived twelve hours, but was brought into the post dead.”
  • “Private Martin, of the 3d Infantry, was shot in his right leg by an arrow — the arrow passing out. I saw him shortly after the receipt of the injury. The only thing remarkable was the agonizing pain, referable to the small toes and outside of foot.”
  • “Private Bishop was shot in the head of the humerus with an arrow, and the shaft having been plucked out, the iron head was left deeply imbedded in the bone. The man was in great pain, synovia was flowing out of the wound, and all motion was lost. I enlarged the wound, introduced my finger, and so ascertained the position and depth of the arrow-head. It was very deeply implanted.”
  • “I have already alluded to another case, in which I removed an arrow from the shaft of the humerus by bracing the end of the humerus against my knees, and then applying all my strength to the foreign body by means of forceps.”
  • “The first case was that of a Mexican shot by an Apache, the arrow-head striking the ulna in its upper third. The man withdrew the shaft immediately, and then came to me. I enlarged the wound, and prudently made an examination with my finger.”
  • “The second case was that of Corporal Scott, shot at Fort Defiance, by a Nabajoe. I enlarged the wound, and followed the arrow shaft with my finger until I reached the iron head. The arrow had entered on the posterior and outer aspect of the leg, penetrated the muscles of the calf, scraped the fibula about two inches from its head, and then wrapped itself firmly around this bone.”
  • “Dr. Kennon informs us that he had a case of this kind, in which he re~ moved from the thigh of a Mexican an arrow-head which had been lodged six months previously in the femur. The surgeon attending the man at the time of the accident, had failed to remove the foreign body, contenting himself merely with a withdrawal of the arrow shaft.”
  • “A fourth case, illustrating this peculiar accident, occurred in the practice of Asst. Surgeon Clements, U. S. A., during the last campaign against the Nabajoes. A surgeon was shot through the upper part of the posterior fold of the axilla with an arrow, which penetrated deeply. The shaft was pulled out, leaving the head imbedded. The man then went to the doctor. The case was treated by Dr. Clements for six weeks or two months, but without benefit, and finally it was decided that the arrow-head must be re moved. The doctor accordingly made a T-shaped incision over the seapula, cutting through integument and muscle, and exposing the bone. The foreign body was, after some search, found, but so twisted and bent, that notwithstanding the large incisions made, it was only after the application of some force by strong tooth-forceps, that the head was removed. Secondary hemorrhage took place twelve hours after, but was checked by (we believe) the actual cautery. The man slowly recovered.”
  • “Miguel “ Nigro,” the post-guide at Fort Union, was shot with an arrow by a Utah Indian. I found the arrow-head sticking in the left parietal bone, the shaft having been detached. I made traction on it, and drew it out of the wound. The symptoms of compression present at once vanished, the man turned over and sneezed, and rose up on his feet. I had made arrangements to trephine the skull if necessary, but I had probably restored to its proper level that portion of the inner table which was depressed, so that measure was unnecessary. The cause of the compression was gone, and I had nothing to trephine for. The next day the man complained of headache. His face was flushed, eyes sufl’used, pulse hard, and irregular. I ordered croton oil, shaved his head, and applied cold. Presently, when delirium came on, I bled him until he fainted. This bleeding was repeated the night of the same day. The next day he was greatly better; the croton oil had operated well. The man was left to recover, which he did in three weeks.”

It gets “better”:

An arrow wound of lung is from first to last more dangerous than a gunshot wound of the same parts. There are three reasons for this. First, the hemorrhage occurring at the time of the injury, or a few hours after, is much more profuse than in an ordinary gunshot wound. A ball going through the chest does not often give trouble from hemorrhage, unless it should wound a large vessel. The reason is, that a ball tears and bruises, while an arrow makes clean slits and punctures. Secondly, an arrow wounding the lung, is almost sure to lodge, whilst a ball generally passes. Now, hear what Guthrie says about balls that lodge in the chest:

“General McDonald, of the Royal Artillery, was present at Buenos Ayres when a bombardier of that corps received a wound from a two pound shot, which went completely through the right side, so that when led up to the general, who was lying on the ground, he saw the light quite through him, and supposed, of course, that he was lost. This, however, did not follow, and some months afterwards the man walked into General (then Captain) McDonald’s quarters so far recovered from the injury as to be able to undertake several parts of his duty before he was invalided, thus proving the advantage of a shot, however large, going through rather than remaining in the chest.”


The Unfortunately Innate Nature of Intelligence

Sunday, March 2nd, 2014

Anyone having experience with dogs knows that these admirable creatures differ in intelligence, Fred Reed notes:

Border Collies are simply smarter than pit bulls. Since there is no political penalty for noticing this, it is widely noticed and not disputed.

Poor, naive Fred Reed hasn’t witnessed just such a dog-breed discussion as it turned political. I suppose he isn’t Facebook-friends with the “right” people.