They would be able to salvage the reputation of their physics community

Thursday, June 20th, 2019

In Captain America: The First Avenger, the quasi-Nazi villain Red Skull wields a cosmic cube, and I must admit that’s what came to mind when I read about the two-inch uranium cubes at the center of Nazi Germany’s nuclear program:

Several German physicists were involved in that research program; perhaps the most widely recognized was Werner Heisenberg.

Rather than working together under central leadership the way the Manhattan Project scientists eventually would, the German nuclear researchers were divided into three groups that each ran a separate series of experiments. Each was code-named after the city in which the experiments took place: Berlin (B), Gottow (G), and Leipzig (L). Although the Germans began their work nearly two years before serious US efforts began, their progress toward creating a sustained nuclear reactor was extremely slow. The reasons for the delay were varied and complex and included fierce competition over finite resources, bitter interpersonal rivalries, and ineffectual scientific management.

In the winter of 1944, as the Allies began their invasion of Germany, the German nuclear researchers were trying desperately to build a reactor that could achieve criticality. Unaware of the immense progress the Manhattan Project had made, the Germans hoped that though they were almost certainly going to lose the war, they would be able to salvage the reputation of their physics community by being the first to achieve a self-sustaining nuclear reactor.

In holding out that hope, officials moved the Berlin reactor experiments headed by Heisenberg south ahead of the Allied invasion. They eventually landed in a cave underneath a castle, shown in figure 1, in the small town of Haigerloch in southwest Germany.

B-VIII reactor entrance at castle in Haigerloch, Germany

In that cave laboratory Heisenberg’s team built their last experiment: B-VIII, the eighth experiment of the Berlin-based group. Heisenberg described the setup of the reactor in his 1953 book Nuclear Physics. The experimental nuclear reactor comprised 664 uranium cubes, each weighing about five pounds. Aircraft cable was used to string the cubes together in long chains hanging from a lid, as shown in figure 2. The ominous uranium chandelier was submerged in a tank of heavy water surrounded by an annular wall of graphite. That configuration was the best design the German program had achieved thus far, but it was not sufficient to achieve a self-sustaining, critical reactor.

B-VIII reactor, 664 uranium cubes

In 1944, as Allied forces began moving into German-occupied territory, Leslie Groves, commander of the Manhattan Project, ordered a covert mission code-named Alsos (Greek word for “groves”) to take a small number of military personnel and scientists to the front lines in Europe to gather information on the state of the German scientific program. The mission broadly aimed to gather information and potentially capture data and instrumentation from all scientific disciplines from microscopy to aeronautics. The most pressing task was to learn how far German physicists had gotten in their study of nuclear reactions. The initial leg of the Alsos mission began in Italy and moved to Germany as the Allied military forces swept south.6 Among the men involved in the mission was Samuel Goudsmit. After the war, he went on to be the American Physical Society’s first editor-in-chief and the founder of Physical Review Letters.

As the Allies closed in on southern Germany, Heisenberg’s scientists quickly disassembled B-VIII. The uranium cubes were buried in a nearby field, the heavy water was hidden in barrels, and some of the more significant documentation was hidden in a latrine. (Goudsmit had the dubious honor of retrieving those documents.) When the Alsos team arrived in Haigerloch in late April 1945, the scientists working on the experiment were arrested and interrogated to reveal the location of the reactor materials. Heisenberg had escaped earlier by absconding east on a bicycle under cover of night with uranium cubes in his backpack.


Many scholars have long thought that the German scientists could not have possibly created a working nuclear reactor because they did not have enough uranium to make the B-VIII reactor work. In Heisenberg’s own words, “The apparatus was still a little too small to sustain a fission reaction independently, but a slight increase in its size would have been sufficient to start off the process of energy production.” That statement was recently confirmed using Monte Carlo N-particle modeling of the B-VIII reactor core. The model showed that the rough analyses completed by the Germans in 1945 were correct: The reactor core as designed would not have been able to achieve a self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction given the amount of uranium and its configuration. But the design might have worked if the Germans had put 50% more uranium cubes in the core.

Former NFL players live longer than the general population

Tuesday, June 18th, 2019

Former NFL players live longer than the general population:

One study from 2012 found that NFL players had overall decreased mortality as well as lower cardiovascular mortality than the general population. Another paper that year also found that overall mortality in NFL players was reduced, but did find that they had rates of neurodegenerative mortality that were three times higher than the general population.

They don’t live longer than other athletes, though:

Researchers looked at data from the NFL cohort, which was a database constructed by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in the ’90s and contains information on former players who participated in at least five seasons between 1959 and 1988. Weisskopf and colleagues then generated a comparable dataset for former MLB players. By then matching the 3,419 NFL players and the 2,708 MLB players to the National Death Index — which contains records and causes of deaths of U.S. citizens — the researchers compared mortality rates between the two groups.

The new work found that NFL players were about 2.5 times more likely to die from cardiovascular disease and almost three times more likely than MLB players to die from neurodegenerative disease.


Among the NFL players in the study, far more died of cardiovascular disease than neurodegenerative disease: nearly 500 versus 39, respectively.

Hermann Oberth had originally intended to build a working rocket for use in the film

Saturday, June 15th, 2019

One of the first serious science fiction movies was Fritz Lang’s Frau im Mond, or Woman in the Moon, which was released in the US as By Rocket to the Moon:

Lang, who also made Metropolis, had a personal interest in science fiction. When returning to Germany in the late 1950s he sold his extensive collection of Astounding Science Fiction, Weird Tales, and Galaxy magazines. Several prescient technical or operational features are presented during the film’s 1920′s launch sequence, which subsequently came into common operational use during America’s postwar space race:

  • The rocket ship Friede is fully built in a tall building and moved to the launch pad
  • As launch approaches, the launch team counts down the seconds from ten to zero (“now” was used for zero), and Woman in the Moon is often cited as the first occurrence of the “countdown to zero” before a rocket launch
  • The rocket ship blasts off from a pool of water; water is commonly used today on launch pads to absorb and dissipate the extreme heat and to damp the noise generated by the rocket exhaust
  • In space, the rocket ejects its first stage and fires its second stage rocket, predicting the development of modern multistage orbital rockets
  • The crew recline on horizontal beds to cope with the G-forces experienced during lift-off and pre-orbital acceleration
  • Floor foot straps are used to restrain the crew during zero gravity (Velcro is used today).
  • These items and the overall design of the rocket led to the film being banned in Germany from 1933-1945 during World War II by the Nazis, due to similarities to their secret V-2 project.

Rocket scientist Hermann Oberth worked as an advisor on this movie. He had originally intended to build a working rocket for use in the film, but time and technology prevented this from happening. The film was popular among the rocket scientists in Wernher von Braun’s circle at the Verein für Raumschiffahrt (VfR). The first successfully launched V-2 rocket at the rocket-development facility in Peenemünde had the Frau im Mond logo painted on its base. Noted post-war science writer Willy Ley also served as a consultant on the film. Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow, which deals with the V-2 rockets, refers to the movie, along with several other classic German silent films.

Ambiguous, longed for and desolate

Friday, June 14th, 2019

Science fiction illuminates the dreams of the new moon-rushers:

Take the origins of Pence’s reference to the “lunar strategic high ground”. In one of the first moon novels written after the second world war, Robert Heinlein’s Rocket Ship Galileo (1947), an atomic scientist and his teenage crew discover, on what they believe to be the first mission to the moon, a base from which the Third Reich’s rump intends to rain nuclear vengeance on to Earth. Heinlein, an aeronautical engineer who was one of the first American science fiction writers to gain a mainstream audience, had seen the V-2 and the Manhattan Project make real the rocket ships and superweaponry that had been his prewar stock in trade. Such authors were highly exercised by the strategic implications. In the same month that Heinlein’s book was published, John W Campbell, the preeminent American science fiction editor of the age, published an essay by his and Heinlein’s friend L Ron Hubbard on the strategic necessity of America being the first nation to build such a moonbase for its missiles. A year later Colliers, a mass market magazine, was warning of a “Rocket Blitz from the Moon”.

The idea rode high for a decade. “He who controls the moon, controls the Earth,” General Homer A Boushey told the American press in 1958. The US air force investigated the possibility of demonstrating that control, and adding to the moon’s craters, by conducting a nuclear test on its surface, one that would be ominously and spectacularly visible to most of the world below (Carl Sagan, later to be prominent in the fight for nuclear disarmament, was one of those who worked on the project).

It did not happen. Though the Apollo programme was a crucial piece of cold war strategy, its goal was not to occupy the moon or use it as a missile base. Rather, it was to show the world the remarkable resources the US was willing to invest in advancing its technological power; the means, not the end, were the message. But Hubbard’s megalomaniacal dreams of an Earth controlled from the moon still lurks in that idea of the “strategic high ground”.

Rocket Ship Galileo used the moon not only as a way of thinking about the prospect of nuclear war, it also made it a way of understanding the aftermath. (“The moon people … ruined themselves. They had one atomic war too many.”)

These visions of existential dread led Arthur C Clarke to argue in Prelude to Space (1947), a novel about the preparations for a moon mission, that “atomic power makes interplanetary travel not just possible but imperative. As long as it was confined to Earth, humanity had too many eggs in one rather fragile basket.” That feeling informs dreams of space travel today. Musk, in particular, talks of war, pandemics, rebel AIs and asteroid Armageddons all making it vital for humans to become a multiplanetary species. A more junior Silicon Valley space mogul told me he wants to help build a moonbase for the same reason that, before cloud computing, he would back up his files to a second hard disk: something might happen. (Of course, such plutocratic panic feels dangerously close to the idea of a bolthole for the select.)

As active proponents of the new space age, Clarke and Heinlein realised that linking the moon only with nuclear catastrophe would be a poor sales pitch. To get the public on board, a more fertile idea was the dream of building human settlements on the moon, which could somehow be portrayed as both wonderful and mundane. In Heinlein’s short story “Space Jockey”, the problem facing the astronaut protagonist is not Ming the Merciless or a swarm of comets but the amount of time he has to spend away from home; the resolution is his decision to take a desk job in comfortably domestic Luna City, built under the surface of the moon. A teenager whines that “nothing ever happens on the moon”. This dualism of the familiar and the fantastic is epitomised in the motif of Earth playing the same role in the moon’s sky as the moon does in Earth’s, lighting the landscape’s darkness.

It is not a new insight; Galileo realised that nights on the nearside of the moon would be earthlit, just as earthly nights are moonlit. All early lunar fiction draws the reader’s attention to Earth waxing and waning in the alien sky as the clearest possible indication of the revolutionary Copernican insight. Twentieth-century heirs made a similar use of the image of worlds reversed. Earthlight (1955), Clarke’s first moon-set novel, opens with the accountant Bertram Sadler, new to the moon, looking out of his train window at the “cold glory of this ancient, empty land” illuminated by “a light tinged with blues and greens; an arctic radiance that gave no atom of heat. And that, thought Sadler, was surely a paradox, for it came from a world of light and warmth.”

Clarke’s paradox was made plain to see in the famous image Earthrise captured by Apollo 8: a world of warmth and light rising above the cold glory of ancient emptiness. The contrast was strong enough – the blasted basalts below unworldly and unappealing enough – that the colonised, normalised moon which Clarke and Heinlein had imagined fell back into the realm of fancy, if not that of the absurd.

So why does returning to the moon now seem plausible again? For one thing, China, or any other country, can put a man or woman on the moon with far less effort than it took the US in the 1960s: as a way to claim parity with a fading superpower, that relatively modest effort has obvious attractions. And as the effort involved has been reduced the resources in the hands of private individuals have increased: Bezos may choose, in the near-term, to yoke his dreams of expansion into space – unlocking untold wealth – to the more parochial ambitions of the US government. But that is convenience, not necessity. Being the richest person on the planet brings with it its own superempowerment.

Science fiction, too, has cast space travel in economic, rather than political, terms. Once again it is hard to avoid Heinlein, this time his novella The Man Who Sold the Moon (1950). Its main character is DD Harriman, a tycoon who, having made his fortune from other technologies, persuades and cons investors of all sorts to provide the further resources he needs to realise his true dream, the founding of a moon colony. After the sheer Soviet Union-surpassing, 2.5%-of-GDP scale of the Apollo effort became manifest in the 1960s, the story seemed quaint. Moon missions were the work of nations, not cigar-puffing wheeler dealers. Now it seems oddly prescient.

If strategic rivalry, existential fear and plutocratic caprice were the only narratives science fiction had lent the moon, one might feel justified in taking a dim view of the whole affair. But there is more. A lifeless world may again provide new insights into a living one, as it did with Earthrise. It is in such changed perspectives on worlds and their peoples that the true promise of science fiction surely lives. Heinlein’s most successful lunar novel, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress (1967), is driven by a thrilling plot. But the reason it continues to be loved by many, especially in Silicon Valley, is the strange, contradictory, savage but cosy, polyamorous, Malthusian, libertarian, utopian and carceral society it conjures as its cyborg setting. Similarly, the most striking recent novel about the moon, John Kessel’s The Moon and the Other (2017) sets itself in the “Society of Cousins”, a matriarchy inspiring and troubling, idealistic, indulgent and somewhat stifling. It is, to borrow the subtitle of Ursula K Le Guin’s The Dispossessed (1974), an ambiguous utopia.

Which is as much as you can hope for. The moon, as it becomes a target for politicians, billionaires and enthusiasts inspired by science fictions past, should remain ambiguous, longed for and desolate, always the same and yet shockingly new, a strangeness sitting in the sky for all to see.

A human nervous system is necessary to operate a Hieronymus Machine

Thursday, June 13th, 2019

I was listening to the free preview of the audiobook edition of Atomic Adventures when the narrator mentioned the Hieronymus effect, which piqued my interest — and had nothing to do with Hieronymus Bosch or his macabre and nightmarish depictions of hell:

A Hieronymus machine is any of the patented radionics devices invented by electrical engineer Thomas Galen Hieronymus (21 November 1895–1988). Hieronymus received a U.S. Patent for his invention in 1949, which was described in the patent application title as a device for “detection of emanations from materials and measurement of the volumes thereof.”

The original “Radiation Analyzer” consisted of a chamber to hold a sample of material, a glass prism to refract the eloptic emanations coming from it, and a copper wire probe on a rotating armature to adjust the angle formed by the prism and the probe. Supposedly, eloptic emanations are refracted by the prism at different angles depending on the material. The detected eloptic signals were fed to a three-stage vacuum tube RF amplifier and conducted to a flat touch plate surrounded by a copper wire bifilar coil. By stroking the touch plate an operator could supposedly feel a sensation of “tingling” or “stickiness” when the eloptic energy was detected. As such, a human nervous system is considered to be necessary to operate a Hieronymus Machine.

Hieronymus subsequently designed solid-state versions of his Analyzers, substituting germanium transistors for crystal prisms and tunable capacitors for the rotating armature. He also designed and built various specialized devices designed for specific functions, including analysis of living organisms and production of homeopathic remedies. The most well-known Hieronymus Machine is the Eloptic Medical Analyzer, which supposedly analyzes and transmits eloptic energy to diagnose and treat medical conditions in plants and animals.

The theory of operation on which Hieronymus Machines are based is that all matter emits a kind of “radiation” that is not electromagnetic, but exhibits some of the characteristics of both light and electricity. The quality of this emanation is unique to every kind of matter, and therefore can be utilized for detection and analysis. Hieronymus coined the term “eloptic energy” to describe this radiation (from the words “electrical” and “optical”.) All of his machines were designed to detect and manipulate this eloptic energy. Eloptic emanations have never been detected by instruments designed to measure electromagnetic energies, no other evidence of their existence have been produced, and there is no mathematical theory of an eloptic field, so the theory is considered pseudoscientific and is not accepted by science.

The inventions of Hieronymus were championed by Astounding Science Fiction editor John W. Campbell in late 1950s and early 1960s editorials. A series of correspondences between the two men show that while Hieronymus was sure that someday his theories of eloptic energy would be proven and accepted by physical scientists, Campbell was convinced that the machines were based on psionics, related to the user’s paranormal or ESP powers.

As an example, Campbell believed one could create an eloptic receiver or similar device with the prisms and amplifiers represented by their cardboard or even schematic representations. Through the use of mental powers, such a machine would function as well as its “real” equivalent. In his autobiography, Hieronymus wrote, “I appreciated Mr. Campbell’s interest in my work, but over the years since then, I have concluded that he set back the acceptance of my work at least a hundred years by his continual emphasis on what he termed the supernatural or ‘magic’ aspects of a mind-controlled device he built by drawing the schematic of my patented instrument with India ink. The energy flowed over the lines of this drawing because India ink is conducting, but it isn’t worth a tinker’s damn for serious research or actual treating.”

It is just scientific enough to be worth capturing

Saturday, June 1st, 2019

The APA highlighted a bunch of heroes and trailblazers from its past, but for every great hero celebrated on posters, there is an embarrassment buried somewhere deep in an archive, like Scott Alexander’s favorite, Dr. Anglin, who gave the APA Presidential Address in 1918 and declared that the greatest problem facing psychiatry was…the dastardly Hun:

The maxim that medical science knows no national boundaries has been rudely shaken by the war. The Fatherland has been preparing for isolation from the medical world without its confines. Just as, years ago, the Kaiser laid his ban on French words in table menus, so, as early as 19 14, German scientists embarked on a campaign against all words which had been borrowed from an enemy country. A purely German medical nomenclature was the end in view. The rest of the world need not grieve much if they show their puerile hate in this way. It will only help to stop the tendency to Pan-Germanism in medicine which has for some years past been gaining headway. ‘

The Germans excel all other nations in their genius for advertising themselves. They have proved true the French proverb that one is given the standing he claims. On a slender basis of achievement they have contrived to impress themselves as the most scientific nation. Never was there greater imposture. They display the same cleverness in foisting on a gullible world their scientific achievements as their shoddy commercial wares. The two are of much the same value, made for show rather than endurance — in short, made in Germany…

In the earliest months of the war it was pointed out that there are tendencies in the evolution of medicine as a pure science as it is developed in Germany which are contributing to the increase of charlatanism of which we should be warned. A medical school has two duties — one to medical science, the other to the public. The latter function is the greater, for out of every graduating class 90 per cent. are practitioners and less than 10 per cent, are scientists. The conditions in Germany are reversed. There, there were ninety physicians dawdling with science to every ten in practice. Of these 90, fully 75 per cent were wasting their time. In Germany the scientific side is over-done, and they have little to show for it all, while the human side is neglected. Even in their new institutions, splendid as they are in a material sense, it is easily seen that the improved conditions are not for the comfort of the patients.

Out of this war some modicum of good may come if it leads to a revision of the exaggerated estimate that has prevailed in English-speaking countries of the achievements of the Germans in science. We had apparently forgotten the race that had given the world Newton, Faraday, Stephenson, Lister, Hunter, Jenner, Fulton, Morse, Bell, Edison, and others of equal worth. German scientists wait till a Pasteur has made the great discovery, on which it is easy for her trained men to work. She shirks getting for herself a child through the gates of sacrifice and pain ; but steals a babe, and as it grows bigger under her care, boasts herself as more than equal to the mother who bore it. Realising her mental sterility, drunk with self-adoration, she makes insane war on the nations who still have the power of creative thought.

But it is especially in the realm of mental science that the reputation of the Germans is most exalted and is least deserved. For every philosopher of the first rank that Germany has produced, the English can show at least three. And in psychiatry, while we have classical writings in the English tongue, and men of our own gifted with clinical insight, we need seek no foreign guides, and can afford to let the abounding nonsense of Teutonic origin perish from neglect of cultivation.

The Germans are shelling Paris from their Gothas and their new gun. Murdering innocents, to create a panic in the heart of France! With what effect ? The French army cries the louder, “They shall not pass ” ; Paris glows with pride to be sharing the soldiers’ dangers, and increases its output of war material; and the American army sees why it is in France, and is filled with righteous hatred. Panic nowhere. Vengeance everywhere. What does the Hun know of psychology? His most stupid, thick-witted performance was his brutal defiance of the United States with its wealth, resources, and energy. That revealed a mental condition both grotesque and pitiable.

After the war a centre of medical activity will be found on this side the Atlantic, and those who have watched the progress medical science has made in the United States will have no misgivings as to your qualifications for leadership. If we learn to know ourselves, great good will come out of this war.

I was reminded of how English beat German as the language of science.

Scott Alexander makes the larger point that psychiatry has always been the slave of the latest political fad:

It is just scientific enough to be worth capturing, but not scientific enough to resist capture. The menace du jour will always be a threat to our mental health; the salient alternative to “just forcing pills down people’s throat” will always be pursuing the social agenda of whoever is in power; you will always be able to find psychiatrists to back you up on this.

A giant firehose that takes in pharmaceutical company money at one end, and shoots lectures about social justice out the other

Friday, May 31st, 2019

There’s a popular narrative that drug companies have stolen the soul of psychiatry, Scott Alexander notes:

That they’ve reduced everything to chemical imbalances. The people who talk about this usually go on to argue that the true causes of mental illness are capitalism and racism. Have doctors forgotten that the real solution isn’t a pill, but structural change that challenges the systems of exploitation and domination that create suffering in the first place?

No. Nobody has forgotten that. Because the third thing you notice at the American Psychiatric Association meeting is that everyone is very, very woke.


Were there really more than twice as many sessions on global warming as on obsessive compulsive disorder? Three times as many on immigration as on ADHD? As best I can count, yes. I don’t want to exaggerate this. There was still a lot of really meaty scientific discussion if you sought it out. But overall the balance was pretty striking.

I’m reminded of the idea of woke capital, the weird alliance between very rich businesses and progressive signaling. If you want to model the APA, you could do worse than a giant firehose that takes in pharmaceutical company money at one end, and shoots lectures about social justice out the other.

Something about them remains ineffably psychiatrist

Wednesday, May 29th, 2019

Being in a crowd of 15,000 psychiatrists is a weird experience, Scott Alexander explains, as he describes the American Psychiatric Association meeting in San Francisco:

You realize that all psychiatrists look alike in an indefinable way. The men all look balding, yet dignified. The women all look maternal, yet stylish. Sometimes you will see a knot of foreign-looking people huddled together, their nametags announcing them as the delegation from the Nigerian Psychiatric Association or the Nepalese Psychiatric Association or somewhere else very far away. But however exotic, something about them remains ineffably psychiatrist.

Everything which is incomprehensible to the Indians, they call big medicine

Monday, May 27th, 2019

According to Lewis and Clark: Linguistic Pioneers, a 1940 study by Elijah Criswell, more than one thousand words appeared in print for the first time in Lewis and Clark’s journals:

Alan H. Hartley, author of the 2004 book Lewis and Clark Lexicon of Discovery, notes that without word creation skills, “it would have been difficult for them to discuss their discoveries amongst themselves, and even more difficult to convey and explain the discoveries to their sponsors — who had, in many cases, not been far inland from the eastern seaboard.” Carefully worded descriptions were essential.

One of Lewis and Clark’s primary methods for creating new terms was naming animals or plants according to some salient feature, whether physical, behavioral, or otherwise. The explorers noticed “a curious kind of deer,” in Clark’s words, “its ears large and long,” that was obviously different from eastern deer. Lewis explains in his journal how they chose a name for it: “The ear and tail of this animal … so well comported with those of the mule … that we have … adapted the appellation of the mule deer.” Lewis called a small swan that he spotted along the Pacific coast the whistling swan because it made “a kind of whistling sound.” A mountain ram with unusually large, twisted horns was named bighorn. Other animals they noticed include tumble-bug (dung beetle), tiger cat (lynx), and leather-wing bat. Plants that received similar treatment include the red elm and the snowberry (“a globular berry … as white as wax”).

Occasionally, Lewis and Clark picked up a name from the French trappers who crisscrossed the region. Few of the terms stuck, but one that did is Yellowstone. Although they started by using the French, they eventually switched to an English translation. Clark uses both the French and the English versions in this line from his journal: “Capt. Lewis concluded to go by land as far as the Rochejhone [roche jaune, ‘yellow rock’] or yellow stone river.”

Lewis and Clark based some terms on where they found a plant or an animal—sand-hill crane, Osage apple, and various denizens of the prairie, such as prairie lark, prairie hen, prairie wolf (coyote), and prairie dog. They also noted when items were found in buffalo territory. Since the 18th century, Americans had been calling bison buffalo (a word that originally referred to oxen), and Lewis and Clark used that term for the bison they saw on the plains. They created or recorded several words connected with that animal—for example, buffalo grass (where buffalo graze), buffalo berry (found on the upper Missouri in buffalo territory), and buffalo robe (made from buffalo skins).

The explorers often went to great lengths to study a creature closely before deciding what to name it. “Though not self-proclaimed naturalists,” says Hartley, “they were keen observers and de facto naturalists.” They also knew that Jefferson wanted meticulous details. For instance, while the Corps overwintered in Oregon from 1805 to 1806, Lewis spotted what he suspected was a different kind of deer from the mule deer found on the plains, although it looked similar. He writes, “The Black-tailed fallow deer are peculiar to this coast.” The ears, he notes, are “rather larger… than the common deer,” and the horns resemble those of the mule deer. The tail is white, but the hair of the sides and top is “quite black.” Concluding that these deer were a distinct type, he labeled them black-tailed deer. Lewis’s instincts were right. Zoologists later classified the Columbian black-tailed deer (Odocoileus hemionus columbianus) as a subspecies of the mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus).

Before deciding what to call the grizzly bear, Lewis and Clark studied several pelts and consulted with indigenous people. The men first mention grizzlies in their journals while in present-day Montana. Lewis initially calls them brown or yellow bears, saying their color is “yellowish brown.” Others in the party describe the bear as “whiteish,” and Clark sometimes refers to the creatures as “white bears.” After the men had shot several and taken a close-up look, they realized that the fur was variegated, often featuring silvery tips. Clark started calling the bear grizzly, a word for gray, and Lewis eventually followed suit. Lewis recounts a discussion with a band of Nez Perce in Idaho, who studied “several skins of the bear which we had killed” and concurred that they were members of the species the explorers named grizzly. Lewis concludes in his notes that the bears they had been calling brown or yellow, whiteish, and grizzly are all “the same species or family of bears, which assumes all those colors at different ages and seasons of the year.”


Lewis and Clark also gave English names to several Native American cultural items. They called a tribe’s meeting house a council house, and the place for taking steam baths a sweat lodge or sweat house. “I saw near an old Indian encampment a sweat house covered with earth,” writes Clark in his journal. They also adopted a specific meaning for medicine—something with magical powers—which was probably a translation of the Ojibwe word mashkiki. Lewis writes, “Everything which is incomprehensible to the Indians, they call big medicine.” The word appears in the journals in several combinations, including medicine man, medicine bag, medicine dance, and war medicine. Clark records that some of the party went to see a ceremonial “war medicine” dance while the Corps was camped among the Mandan tribe.

My favorite bit of “big medicine” is Lewis and Clark’s air rifle.

How English beat German as the language of science

Friday, May 24th, 2019

Reading Blitzed reminded me of a throwaway comment that my high school chemistry teacher made, about how a chemistry degree used to require German-language proficiency. So, how did English beat German as the language of science?

“If you look around the world in 1900, and someone told you, ‘Guess what the universal language of science will be in the year 2000′, you would first of all laugh at them. It was obvious that no one language would be the language of science, but a mixture of French, German and English would be the right answer,” says Princeton University’s Rosengarten professor of modern and contemporary history Michael Gordin.

Gordin’s upcoming book, Scientific Babel, explores the history of language and science. He says that English was far from the dominant scientific language in 1900. The dominant language was German.

“So the story of the 20th Century is not so much the rise of English as the serial collapse of German as the up-and-coming language of scientific communication,” Gordin says.

You may think of Latin as the dominant language of science. And for many, many years it was the universal means of communication in Western Europe — from the late medieval period to the mid-17th Century. Then it began to fracture. Latin became one of many languages in which science was done.

The first person to publish extensively in his native language, according to Gordin, was Galileo. Galileo wrote in Italian and was then translated to Latin so that more scientists might read his work.

Fast forward to the 20th Century. How did English come to dominate German in the realm of science?

“The first major shock to the system of basically having a third of science published in English, a third in French and a third in German – although it fluctuated based on field, and Latin still held out in some places – was World War One, which had two major impacts,” Gordin says.

After World War One, Belgian, French and British scientists organised a boycott of scientists from Germany and Austria. They were blocked from conferences and weren’t able to publish in Western European journals.

“Increasingly, you have two scientific communities, one German, which functions in the defeated [Central Powers] of Germany and Austria, and another that functions in Western Europe, which is mostly English and French,” Gordin explains.

It’s that moment in history, he adds, when international organisations to govern science, such as the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry, were established. And those newly established organisations begin to function in English and French. German, which was the dominant language of chemistry, was written out.

The second effect of World War One took place in the US. Starting in 1917 when the US entered the war, there was a wave of anti-German hysteria that swept the country.

“At this moment something that’s often hard to keep in mind is that large portions of the US still speak German,” Gordin says.

In Ohio, Wisconsin and Minnesota there were many, many German speakers. World War One changed all that.

“German is criminalised in 23 states. You’re not allowed to speak it in public, you’re not allowed to use it in the radio, you’re not allowed to teach it to a child under the age of 10,” Gordin explains.

The Supreme Court overturned those anti-German laws in 1923, but for years they were the law of the land. What that effectively did, according to Gordin, was decimate foreign language learning in the US.

“In 1915 Americans were teaching foreign languages and learning foreign languages about the same level as Europeans were,” Gordin says. “After these laws go into effect, foreign language education drops massively. Isolationism kicks in in the 1920s, even after the laws are overturned, and that means people don’t think they need to pay attention to what happens in French or in German.”


“And you have a set of people who don’t speak foreign languages,” said Gordin, “They’re comfortable in English, they read English, they can get by in English because the most exciting stuff in their mind is happening in English. So you end up with a very American-centric, and therefore very English-centric, community of science after World War Two.”

I’m reminded of Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s point that the most intolerant wins.

Oxygen has an interesting history:

The term was born in the 1770s, as French chemists are developing a new theory of burning. In their scientific experiments, they needed a new term for a new notion of an element they were constructing.

“They pick the term ‘oxygen’ from Greek for ‘acid’ and ‘maker’ because they have a theory that oxygen is the substance that makes up acids. They’re wrong about that, but the word acid-maker is what they create, and they create it from Greek. That tells you that French scientists and European scientists of that period would have a good classical education,” Gordin says.

The English adopted the word “oxygen” wholesale from the French. But the Germans didn’t. Instead they made up their own version of the word by translating each part of the word into “Sauerstoff”, or acid substance.

“So you can see how at a certain moments, certain words get formed, and the tendency was for Germans, in particular, to take French and English terms and translate them. Now that’s not true. Now terms like online, transistor, microchip, that stuff is just brought over in English as a whole. So you see different fashions about how people feel about the productive capacity of their own language versus borrowing a term wholesale from another,” Gordin says.

And that reminds me of uncleftish beholding.

He learned in the tropics that medicine must be injected into the veins

Thursday, May 23rd, 2019

One thread of Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich — which, again, is on sale for just $2.99 on Kindle — describes how Blitzkrieg was made possible by Pervitin, or methamphetamine. Another thread explores Hitler’s own drug use under the “care” of his personal doctor, Dr. Theodor Morell, who gave up his own practice for the opportunities offered by becoming a trusted crony.

Morell had built his practice on cutting-edge treatments, like vitamin injections:

For male patients he might include some testosterone with an anabolic effect for muscle building and potency, for women an extract of nightshade as an energy supplement and for hypnotically beautiful eyes.

He first joined the Nazi party for protection. He was swarthy and thus under suspicion. Then he got the call to help the party by handling a delicate problem for the Official Reich Photographer, Heinrich Hoffmann:

Hoffmann, who owned the copyright for important photographs of the dictator, published large numbers of picture books called things like Hitler as No One Knows Him or A Nation Honors Its Führer and sold them by the millions. There was also another, more personal reason that linked the two men: Hitler’s lover, Eva Braun, had previously worked as an assistant for Hoffmann, who had introduced the two in his Munich photographic shop in 1929.

That led to a meal with the Führer:

His only chance of acceptance lay in his injections, so he pricked up his ears when Hitler, in the course of the evening, talked almost in passing about severe stomach and intestinal pains that had been tormenting him for years. Morell hastily mentioned an unusual treatment that might prove successful. Hitler looked at him quizzically — and invited Morell and his wife to further consultations at the Berghof, his mountain retreat in the Obersalzberg near Berchtesgaden.


That was, he claimed, due to the bad treatment given to him by his previous doctors, who couldn’t come up with anything but starving him. Then if there happened to be an abundant dinner on the program, which was often the case, he immediately suffered from unspeakable bloating and itchy eczema on both legs, so that he had to walk with bandages around his feet and couldn’t wear boots.

Morell immediately thought he recognized the cause of Hitler’s complaints and diagnosed abnormal bacterial flora, causing poor digestion. He recommended the preparation Mutaflor, developed by his friend the Freiburg doctor and bacteriologist Professor Alfred Nissle: a strain of bacteria that had originally been taken from the intestinal flora of a non-commissioned officer who had, unlike many of his comrades, survived the war in the Balkans without stomach problems. The bacteria are kept in capsules, alive, and they take root in the intestine, flourish, and replace all the other strains that might lead to illnesses.

That opened the door to more treatments:

The dictator always hated being touched by other people and refused treatment from doctors if they inquired too invasively into the causes of his ailments.


For Hitler it made sense: “Morell wants to give me a big iodine injection as well as a heart, liver, chalk and vitamin injection. He learned in the tropics that medicine must be injected into the veins.”


The glucose, administered intravenously, gave the brain a blast of energy after twenty seconds, while the combined vitamins allowed Hitler to address his troops or the people wearing a thin Brownshirt uniform even on cold days without showing signs of physical weakness.

Morell was rewarded:

The elegant villa, surrounded by a hand-forged iron fence, at 24–26 Inselstrasse, wasn’t a complete gift: the Morells had to buy it themselves, for 338,000 reichsmarks, although they did receive an interest-free loan of 200,000 reichsmarks from Hitler that was later converted into a fee for treatment.

Morell had to employ domestic servants and a gardener, and his basic expenses soared, even though he wasn’t automatically earning more.

Dr. Morell was even directly, if rather oddly, involved in the defeat of Czechoslovakia:

On the night of March 15, 1939, the Czech president, Emil Hácha, in poor health, attended a more or less compulsory state visit to the new Reich Chancellery. When he refused to sign a paper that the Germans laid in front of him, a de facto capitulation of his troops to the Wehrmacht, he suffered a heart attack and could no longer be spoken to. Hitler urgently summoned Morell, who hurried along with his case and his syringes and injected the unconscious foreign guest with such a stimulating medication that Hácha rose again within seconds, as if from the dead. He signed the piece of paper that sealed the temporary end of his state. The very next morning Hitler invaded Prague without a fight.

Dr. Morell didn’t quite fit in:

It didn’t do him any good that he had himself made a fantasy uniform based on his own designs, with gold rods of Asclepius on its light grey and green collar, so that he didn’t have to go walking around in plain clothes anymore. His ridiculous outfit only earned him mockery from the generals. When he added an SS buckle to his black belt, objections were raised immediately because he wasn’t a member of the SS, and he had to get rid of it. He then, rather helplessly, chose a gold buckle that looked like something out of an operetta. He was envious of his rival, Hitler’s surgeon, who had a proper Wehrmacht rank.

Dr. Morell had to find a way to use his position to make money, so he started making Vitamultin bars — first for the Führer, then for the people under him:

For the senior officers of the Wehrmacht and important members of the staff he made a brand stamped “SRK” — Sonderanfertigung Reichskanzlei (“special product for the Reich Chancellery”) — wrapped not in gold but in silver. Soon the senior officers were fighting over the moderately tasty sweets, which were ostentatiously consumed at military briefings. Morell wrote contentedly from the Führer’s headquarters to his wife: “Vitamultin is proving a great success here. All the gentlemen are very appreciative of it, and recommend it to their families at home.”


At a personal discussion with Heinrich Himmler, the head of the SS, Morell touted the usefulness of Vitamultin in Scandinavia: it was demonstrably clear that an increased intake of vitamin C improved night vision, and up there it was often dark.

After the war U.S. agents got very little out of Morell:

He is communicative, often gets lost in meaningless trivia when making his statements, and tries to replace the very obvious gaps in his memory with fictions, which often leads to contradictory information…. At different times the patient’s psyche shows a completely different picture…. In the case of Professor Morell this is plainly a mild form of exogenous psychosis, caused by the fact of his imprisonment. This in no way limits his accountability. On the other hand, his credibility should not be viewed as complete because of the presence of memory gaps which he attempts to bridge with fictions.

Dr. Morell clearly kept busy throughout the war, treating “Patient A”:

From August 1941 until April 1945 the doctor treated his patient on a more or less daily basis. There are accounts for 885 of these 1,349 days. Medications were recorded 1,100 times, as well as almost 800 injections, about one per recorded day. Every now and again the needles themselves are cleanly stuck on to the notes, as if to give an outward appearance of transparency and conscientious documentation. Morell was afraid of the Gestapo; he knew that personal physicians have always lived dangerously.


This time vitamins and glucose didn’t work as they had done before. Nervously and with excessive haste Morell prepared a mixture of Vitamultin and calcium, and combined it with the steroid glyconorm, a hormone preparation that he had manufactured himself, which consisted of extract of cardiac muscle, adrenal cortex, and the liver and pancreas of pigs and other farm animals.


To combat the stinging pains caused by the mishap Hitler was given twenty drops of dolantin, an opioid whose effects are similar to those of morphine. But the dysentery-like diarrhea persisted.


This soon included such diverse substances as Tonophosphan, a metabolic stimulant made by the company Hoechst, chiefly used nowadays in veterinary medicine; the hormone-rich and immune-system-boosting body-building supplement Homoseran, a by-product of uterine blood;23 the sexual hormone Testoviron to combat declining libido and vitality; and Orchikrin, a derivative of bulls’ testicles, which is supposed to be a cure for depression. Another substance used was called Prostakrinum and was made from seminal vesicles and the prostates of young bulls.


Morell proudly described the unusual pit stop: “Train stopped mid-journey for glucose i.v. then Tonophosphan forte and Vitamultin Calcium i.m. to the Führer. All done in eight minutes.”


The injections increasingly determined the course of the day: over time the Führer’s medical mixture was enriched by over eighty different, and often unconventional, hormone preparations, steroids, quack remedies, and balms.


This polytoxicomania, which developed in the second half of 1941, sounds bizarre, even for an age in which steroid and hormone research could not begin to guess the effects of the complex interactions of these highly potent substances on the human constitution. Hitler understood less than anyone what was going on in his body.


A week later Patient A asked his personal physician for advice. Göring had told him he took a medication called Cardiazol when he felt weak and dizzy. Hitler wanted to know “whether that would also be good for him, the Führer, if he felt a bit funny at important occasions.” But Morell refused: for him, Cardiazol, a circulatory stimulant for which it is difficult to give precise dosages, and which also raises the blood pressure and can easily lead to seizures, was too risky for Hitler, who now had heart problems. But the doctor had understood the message: his boss was asking for stronger remedies to help calm his nerves over the intensifying crisis in Stalingrad. Morell would soon rise to the challenge.


For the second quarter of 1943, in the bottom right corner of file card “Pat. A,” a substance is listed and underlined several times: Eukodal. A drug manufactured by Merck in Darmstadt, it came on to the market as a painkiller and cough medicine in 1917, and was so popular in the 1920s that the word “Eukodalism” was coined. Its extremely potent active ingredient is an opioid called oxycodone, synthesized from the raw material of opium.


A U.S. Secret Service report written after the war and all eyewitness accounts confirm that Hitler was hyped up at his meeting with Mussolini in the Villa Gaggia near Feltre in the Veneto. The Führer talked for three hours without a break in a dull voice to his beleaguered fellow dictator, who didn’t get a single opportunity to speak but just sat impatiently with his legs crossed on the edge of a chair too big for him, frantically gripping one knee.


Hitler’s closest colleagues, like the members of his High Command, who were not au fait with these drug fixes, often reacted with incomprehension and disbelief to their Führer’s unrealistic optimism. Did Hitler know something they didn’t? Did he have some kind of miracle weapon up his sleeve that could turn the war around? In fact it was the immediate high of the injections that allowed Hitler to feel like a world ruler and gave him a sense of the strength and unshakable confidence that he needed to make everyone else keep the faith in spite of all the desperate reports coming from every front. A typical Morell entry from this period: “12.30 p.m.: because of talk to the General Staff (c. 105 generals) injection as before.”


On his birthday Patient A’s personal physician injected him with a cocktail of “x,” Vitamultin forte, camphor, and the plant-based coronary prophylactic Strophanthin,117 followed the next morning by an injection of Prostrophanta, a concoction for heart conditions made by Morell’s company, Hamma. There were also intravenous injections of glucose, more Vitamultin, and, as the cherry on the cake, a homemade preparation of parasite liver, whose intramuscular injection would immediately brand a medical practitioner today as a quack, and possibly put him behind bars.

When Hitler was almost assassinated, he hardly noticed the damage the bomb blast had done to him. He was then treated by a specialist:

But Hitler wasn’t bothered. His two burst eardrums were bleeding, but even that didn’t trouble him, and he impressed everyone with his apparent courage.


In reality Hitler had been more severely affected than it at first appeared. He had lost his hearing almost entirely and he began to have severe pains in his arms and legs as the effects of “x” abated in the evening. Blood was still flowing uninterruptedly from both ears.


Examining Hitler’s burst eardrums, Giesing found a marked sickle-shaped tear in the right ear and a smaller injury in the left. When treating the sensitive tissue with acid, he admired Hitler’s extraordinary impassivity. He felt no pain any more, Patient A boasted. And, in any case, pain only existed to make people harder. Giesing couldn’t have guessed that perhaps he didn’t feel the pain because he had been given drugs by his personal physician shortly beforehand.


But Giesing didn’t come to his Führer empty-handed either. His favorite remedy for treating pains in the ear, nose, and throat area was cocaine, the very substance the Nazis abhorred as a “Jewish degeneration drug.” This choice is not as unusual as it might seem as not many alternatives for local anesthesia were available at the time, and cocaine was stocked as a medicine in every pharmacy. If we can believe Giesing, the only source in this case, between July 22 and October 7, 1944, on seventy-five days, he administered the substance over fifty times in the form of nose and throat dabs, a highly effective surface application.


According to Giesing’s report he claimed that “on cocaine he felt considerably lighter and carefree, and that he could also think more clearly.” The doctor explained to him that the psychotropic wave was the “medicinal effect on the swollen nasal mucous membrane, and that it was now easier to breathe through the nose. The effect usually lasted between four and six hours. He might have a slight cocaine sniff afterward, but it would stop after a short time.”


“It’s a good thing you’re here, doctor. This cocaine is wonderful, and I’m glad that you’ve found the right remedy. Free me from these headaches again for a while.”


“Please don’t turn me into a cocaine addict,” he said to his new favorite doctor, to which Giesing replied, reassuringly, “A real cocaine addict snorts dry cocaine.”


Giesing obeyed and administered the drug, this time in such a dose that Hitler is believed to have lost consciousness and for a short time there is supposed to have been a danger of respiratory paralysis. If the account given by Giesing is accurate, then the self-described abstainer almost died of an overdose.


In late September 1944, in the pale light of the bunker, the ear doctor, Giesing, noted an unusual coloration in Hitler’s face and suspected jaundice. The same day, on the dinner table there was a plate holding “apple compote with glucose and green grapes” and a box of “Dr. Koester’s anti-gas pills,” a rather obscure product. Giesing was perplexed when he discovered that its pharmacological components included atropine, derived from belladonna or other nightshade plants, and strychnine, a highly toxic alkaloid of nux vomica, which paralyzes the neurons of the spinal column and is also used as rat poison.

The side-effects of these anti-gas pills at too high a dose seemed to correspond to Hitler’s symptoms. Atropine initially has a stimulating effect on the central nervous system, then a paralyzing one, and a state of cheerfulness arises, with a lively flow of ideas, loquacity, and visual and auditory hallucinations, as well as delirium, which can mutate into violence and raving. Strychnine in turn is held responsible for increased light-sensitivity and even fear of light, as well as for states of flaccidity.156 For Giesing the case seemed clear: “Hitler constantly demonstrated a state of euphoria that could not be explained by anything, and I am certain his heightened mood when making decisions after major political or military defeats can be largely explained in this way.”

Upheaval offers grandfatherly good advice

Wednesday, May 22nd, 2019

Jared Diamond’s Upheaval is No. 1 on Bill Gates’ latest summer reading list, and I largely agree with his assessment:

I’m a big fan of everything Jared has written, and his latest is no exception. The book explores how societies react during moments of crisis. He uses a series of fascinating case studies to show how nations managed existential challenges like civil war, foreign threats, and general malaise. It sounds a bit depressing, but I finished the book even more optimistic about our ability to solve problems than I started.

The case studies are indeed fascinating. The vague, do-gooder advice isn’t — which brings us to Paleo Retiree’s old piece on why Diamond writes what he writes:

Asked some fate-of-the-earth type question by the usual earnest-and-concerned, worshipful fan, Diamond revealed that he took up writing the big books for the popular audience when he became a parent. Up until the arrival of the kiddies, he’d focused on the kinds of small and tight questions that concern your everyday hardworking scientist. Now that the little ones were here, he knew that it was time for him to set aside academic disputes and start worrying about the future instead.

As far as I could tell, Diamond was admitting flat-out that, right from the outset, he intended his big books to be do-gooding “message” books.

So much for my other explanations for his apparent disingenuousness. He turns out to be a much simpler puzzle than I’d thought. He’d simply come down with what afflicts so many people when they have kids: a bad case of the Worthies. Where his big books go, his main concern hasn’t been to share his knowledge and his thinking. It’s “What shall we tell the children?” My conclusion: maybe Diamond’s books are best taken as morality fables for overgrown kids.

Steve Sailer calls it grandfatherly good advice:

Diamond begins with two success stories: 19th-century Japan and 20th-century Finland. Japan’s impressive response to the arrival of the American black ships in 1853 is well-known, but how Finland escaped being conquered and occupied by Stalin’s Soviet Union is less so. After fighting superbly when the Soviets invaded in 1939, postwar Finland had to humiliate itself by following the Soviet lead in its foreign policy. But Finland, unlike the rest of Eastern Europe, kept its domestic freedom.

Diamond identifies “a strong national identity” as a shared advantage possessed by both nations, with their unique languages and relative ethnic homogeneity. Diamond is impressed by the we’re-all-in-this-together patriotism of Finns and Japanese. As one of the last American intellectuals who can remember Pearl Harbor 78 years ago, he fears that contemporary Americans are losing the national solidarity of the mid–20th century.

On the other hand, history is less of Diamond’s strong suit than is geography. Thus, my favorite bit of the book is when Diamond pauses the political narratives to offer a Guns, Germs, and Steel-style explanation of why the soil of the Upper Midwest is so fertile:

Ice Age glaciers…repeatedly advanced and retreated over the landscape, grinding rocks and generating or exposing fresh soils.

So that explains why even the rainy parts of Texas aren’t great for farming: The glaciers seldom got that far south to pulverize the soil.

Because of North America’s tapering wedge shape, large volumes of ice forming in the broad expanse at high latitudes were funneled into a narrow band and became heavier glaciers as they advanced toward the lower latitudes.

In contrast, few parts of the tropical world were glaciated, and therefore have to rely on floods and volcanoes for good farmland.

Diamond’s most interesting book remains The Third Chimpanzee, probably because he had a magazine editor to quell his pedantic impulses. Also, Diamond has had a big influence on the conventional wisdom of the past quarter century, so his natural tropes are old news by now. Plus, he’s not naturally as forceful of a stylist as is, say, historian Paul Johnson. In this book, Diamond employs a casual prose style that won’t intimidate casual readers by conveying too many ideas per page, but it struck me as verbose.

Diamond is aware that his realism and ability to compare and contrast mark him as a potential crimethinker. For example, he made famous an aerial view of Hispaniola where you can see the national border between deforested, eroded Haiti and verdant Dominican Republic. In his 2005 book about ecological negligence, Collapse, he even dared suggest that the DR dictator Trujillo’s policy of welcoming white immigrants contributes to it being less dystopian than Haiti.

The adversary he was determined to defeat was fatigue

Tuesday, May 21st, 2019

A recent comment reminded me of Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich, which I just read — and which I just realized is now on sale for just $2.99 on Kindle.

I had naively assumed, from the tidbits I’d picked up over the years, that the Germans had used amphetamines in small quantities, near the end of the war, in the same way that they’d used any number of experimental weapons, but Germany was a drug-producing powerhouse going into the war, and methamphetamine was an important ingredient in Blitzkrieg, a drug that was seen as largely beneficial, unlike heroin and cocaine, which had been abused in the decadent Weimar Republic:

Under the trademark Pervitin, this little pill became the accepted Volksdroge, or “people’s drug,” and was on sale in every pharmacy. It wasn’t until 1939 that its use was restricted by making Pervitin prescription-only, and the pill was not subjected to regulation until the Reich Opium Law in 1941.


In Darmstadt the owner of the Engel-Apotheke, Emanuel Merck, stood out as a pioneer of this development. In 1827 he set out his business model of supplying alkaloids and other medications in unvarying quality. This was the birth not only of the Merck Company, which still thrives today, but of the modern pharmaceutical industry as a whole. When injections were invented in 1850, there was no stopping the victory parade of morphine.


In drugstores across the United States, two active ingredients were available without prescription: fluids containing morphine calmed people down, while drinks containing cocaine, such as in the early days Vin Mariani, a Bordeaux containing coca extract, and even Coca-Cola, were used to counter low moods, as a hedonistic source of euphoria, and also as a local anesthetic.


On August 10, 1897, Felix Hoffmann, a chemist with the Bayer Company, synthesized acetylsalicylic acid from willow bark; it went on sale as Aspirin and conquered the globe.


Eleven days later the same man invented another substance that was also to become world famous: diacetyl morphine, a derivative of morphine — the first designer drug. Trademarked as Heroin, it entered the market and began its own campaign.


In 1925 the bigger chemical factories joined together to form IG Farben, one of the most powerful companies in the world, with headquarters in Frankfurt.


In 1926 the country was top of the morphine-producing states and world champion when it came to exporting heroin: 98 percent of the production went abroad. Between 1925 and 1930, 91 tons of morphine were produced, 40 percent of global production.


The local alkaloid industry still processed just over 200 tons of opium in 1928.


The Germans were world leaders in another class of substances as well: the companies Merck, Boehringer, and Knoll controlled 80 percent of the global cocaine market.


Merck’s cocaine, from the city of Darmstadt, was seen as the best product in the world, and commercial pirates in China printed fake Merck labels by the million.


Peru sold its entire annual production of raw cocaine, over five tons, almost exclusively to Germany for further processing.


When Germany’s currency collapsed — in autumn of 1923 one U.S. dollar was worth 4.2 billion marks — all moral values seemed to plummet with it as well.


The icon of the age, the actress and dancer Anita Berber, dipped white rose petals in a cocktail of chloroform and ether at breakfast, before sucking them clean.


Forty percent of Berlin doctors were said to be addicted to morphine.


In Friedrichstrasse Chinese traders from the former German-leased territory of Tsingtao ran opium dens.


An early form of sex-and-drugs tourism from Western neighbors and the United States began, because everything in Berlin was as cheap as it was exciting.


1928 in Berlin alone 160 pounds of morphine and heroin were sold quite legally by prescription over the pharmacist’s counter.


The chairman of the Berlin Medical Council decreed that every doctor had to file a “drug report” when a patient was prescribed narcotics for longer than three weeks, because “public security is endangered by chronic alkaloid abuse in almost every case.”


“For decades our people have been told by Marxists and Jews: ‘Your body belongs to you.’ That was taken to mean that at social occasions between men, or between men and women, any quantities of alcohol could be enjoyed, even at the cost of the body’s health. Irreconcilable with this Jewish Marxist view is the Teutonic German idea that we are the bearers of the eternal legacy of our ancestors, and that accordingly our body belongs to the clan and the people.”


Expansion was also on the cards at Temmler. The head pharmacist, Dr. Fritz Hauschild, had heard how the Olympic Games in Berlin in 1936 had been influenced by a substance called Benzedrine, a successful amphetamine from the United States — and still a legal doping product at the time.


Hauschild turned to the work of Japanese researchers who had synthesized an extremely stimulating molecule called N-methylamphetamine as early as 1887, and crystallized it in its pure form in 1919.


The drug was developed out of ephedrine, a natural substance that clears the bronchia, stimulates the heart, and inhibits the appetite. In the folk medicine of Europe, America, and Asia, ephedrine had been known for a long time as a component of the ephedra plant and was also used in so-called Mormon tea.


Hauschild perfected the product and in autumn 1937 he found a new method of synthesizing methamphetamine. A short time later, on October 31, 1937, the Temmler factory patented the first German methylamphetamine, which put American Benzedrine very much in its shadow. Its trademark: Pervitin.


The molecular structure of this pioneering material is similar to adrenalin and so it passes easily through the blood and into the brain. Unlike adrenalin, however, methamphetamine does not cause sudden rises in blood pressure but works more gently and lasts longer.


Methamphetamine does not only pour neurotransmitters into the gaps but also blocks their reabsorption. For this reason the effects are long-lasting, often more than twelve hours, a length of time that can damage the nerve cells at higher doses as the intracellular energy supply is drawn into sympathy.


It was marketed as a kind of counter-drug to replace all drugs, particularly illegal ones.


“We live in an energy-tense time that demands higher performance and greater obligations from us than any time before,” a senior hospital doctor wrote. The pill, produced under industrial laboratory conditions in consistently pure quality, was supposed to help counteract inadequate performance and “integrate shirkers, malingerers, defeatists, and whiners” into the labor process.


Ranke, the leading defense physiologist in the Third Reich, had one main enemy. It wasn’t the Russians in the East or the French or the British in the West. The adversary he was determined to defeat was fatigue — a strange antagonist, hard to grasp, one that regularly knocked out fighters, put them on the ground, and forced them to rest.


In Ranke’s words: “Relaxing on the day of fighting can decide the battle…. Often in combat perseverance in that last quarter of an hour is essential.”


A claim preyed on his mind: supposedly this substance helped subjects achieve a 20 percent increase in lung capacity and absorb greater amounts of oxygen — standard measurement parameters at the time for increased performance. He decided to explore the subject in depth, testing a rising number of medical officers — 90 at first, then 150; he organized voluntary blind tests, giving them Pervitin (P), caffeine (C), Benzedrine (B), or placebos (S, for Scheintablette). Test subjects had to solve math and logic problems through the night until 4 p.m. the following day. The results seemed unambiguous; at around dawn the “S men” had their heads on their desks, while the “Pervitin gang” were still manically working away, “fresh-faced, physically and mentally alert,” as the experimental record has it. Even after over ten hours of constant concentration they still felt “that they wanted to party.”

But after the test sheets were evaluated, not all of Ranke’s findings were positive. Procedures that demanded greater abstract achievements from the cerebellum were not performed well by consumers of Pervitin. Calculations might have been carried out more quickly, but they contained more mistakes. Neither was there any increase in capacity for concentration and attention during more complex questions, and there was only a very small increase during less high-level tasks. Pervitin kept people from sleeping, but it didn’t make them any cleverer. Ranke concluded without a trace of cynicism that this made it ideal for soldiers, according to results gathered from what was probably the first systematic drug experiment in military history: “An excellent substance for rousing a weary squad…. We may grasp what far-reaching military significance it would have if we managed to remove natural tiredness using medical methods…. A militarily valuable substance.”


Less than a week before the start of the war he wrote to a military general surgeon at High Command: “Of course it’s a double-edged sword, giving the troops a different medicine which cannot be restricted to emergencies.”


The reports by the medical service on methamphetamine use in the attack on Poland, which began on September 1, 1939, and sparked the Second World War, fill whole dossiers in the Freiburg Military Archive.


War was seen as a task that needed to be worked through, and the drug seemed to have helped the tank units not to worry too much about what they were doing in this foreign country, and instead let them get on with their job — even if the job meant killing: “Everyone fresh and cheerful, excellent discipline. Slight euphoria and increased thirst for action. Mental encouragement, very stimulated. No accidents. Long-lasting effect. After taking four tablets, double vision and seeing colors.”


“The feeling of hunger subsides. One particularly beneficial aspect is the appearance of a vigorous urge to work. The effect is so clear that it cannot be based on imagination.”


A medical officer from the IX Army Corps raved: “I’m convinced that in big pushes, where the last drop has to be squeezed from the team, a unit supplied with Pervitin is superior. This doctor has therefore made sure that there is a supply of Pervitin in the Unit Medical Equipment.”


“An increase in performance is quite evident among tank drivers and gun operators in the long-lasting battles from 1 to 4 September 1939 and the reconnaissance division, which has used this substance with great success on tough long journeys at night, as well as to maintain and heighten attentiveness on scouting patrol operations,” another report read.


“We should particularly stress the excellent effect on the working capacity and mood among severely taxed officers at divisional headquarters, all of whom acknowledged the subjective and objective increase in performance with Pervitin.”


“Among the drivers many accidents, mostly attributable to excessive fatigue, could have been avoided if an analeptic such as Pervitin had been administered.”


“These contradictory reports make it clear beyond any doubt that Pervitin is not a harmless medication. It does not seem at all appropriate for it to be handed out at random to the troops.”


Alarmed at its prophylactic use, Ranke wrote: “The question is not whether Pervitin should be introduced or not, but how to get its use back under control. Pervitin is being exploited on a mass scale, without medical checks.”


How casually Pervitin was thought of, and how widespread its use was, is also apparent in the fact that Ranke himself took it regularly and freely reported the fact in his wartime medical diary as well as in letters. He eased an average working day with two Temmler tablets, using them to overcome his work-related stress and improve his mood. Even though he knew about the dangers of dependency, he, the self-appointed expert on Pervitin, drew no conclusions about his own use of the substance.


“It distinctly revives concentration and leads to a feeling of relief with regard to approaching difficult tasks. It is not just a stimulant, but clearly also a mood-enhancer. Even at high doses lasting damage is not apparent…. With Pervitin you can go on working for thirty-six to fifty hours without feeling any noticeable fatigue.”


As coffee had hardly been available since the start of the war, methamphetamine was often added as a substitute to pep up ersatz versions of the drink.


In November 1939 Conti made Pervitin available “on prescription only, in every case,” and a few weeks later delivered a speech in the Rathaus in Berlin to members of the National Socialist German Association of Doctors, warning against the “big, new threat of addiction, with all its side-effects, which faces us all.” But his words were not taken seriously and consumption continued to rise.


The “sickle cut” only had a chance if the Germans could drive day and night. No stopping, and, above all, no sleeping.


The so-called stimulant decree was sent out to a thousand troop doctors, several hundred corps doctors, leading medical officers, and equivalent positions in the SS.


“The experience of the Polish campaign has shown that in certain situations military success was crucially influenced by overcoming fatigue in a troop on which strong demands had been made. The overcoming of sleep can in certain situations be more important than concern for any related harm, if military success is endangered by sleep. The stimulants are available for the interruption of sleep. Pervitin has been methodically included in medical equipment.”


The recommended dosage was one tablet per day, at night two tablets taken in short sequence, and if necessary another one or two tablets after three to four hours. In exceptional cases sleep could be “prevented for more than twenty-four hours” — and was an invasion not an exceptional case? One possible negative side-effect according to the decree was “a belligerent mood.” Should that be seen as a warning or an inducement? “With correct dosage the feeling of self-confidence is clearly heightened, the fear of taking on even difficult work is reduced; as a result inhibitions are removed, without the decrease in the sensory function associated with alcohol.”


Eight hundred thirty-three thousand tablets could be pressed in a single day. An adequate amount; the Wehrmacht had ordered an enormous quantity for the army and the Luftwaffe: 35 million in all.


Methamphetamine was one such unusual means, and the men desperately needed it when General Guderian ordered: “I demand that you do not sleep for at least three days and nights, if that is required.”


The first battle began in the morning. The Belgian defenders had entrenched themselves near Martelange, a small border community, in bunkers on a hillside. In front of them lay a slope, several hundred yards of open terrain: impossible to take except by a frontal attack, which was apparent suicide. But that’s exactly what the pepped-up infantrymen of the Wehrmacht did. The Belgians, shocked by this fearless behavior, retreated. Rather than securing their position, as military practice would normally have decreed, the completely uninhibited attackers immediately chased after them and set their enemies unambiguously to flight. This first clash was symptomatic.


Until their capitulation the French were no match for Germany’s chemically enhanced dynamism. They kept acting too slowly, were surprised and overrun, and continually failed to grab the initiative. A Wehrmacht report dryly states: “The French must have been thrown into such confusion by the sudden appearance of our tanks that their defense was carried out very weakly.”


“We encountered the Germans everywhere, they were crisscrossing the terrain,” Bloch writes, describing the crazed confusion that the attackers were sowing: “They believed in action and unpredictability. We were built on immobility and on the familiar. During the whole campaign the Germans maintained their terrible habit of appearing precisely where they shouldn’t have been: they didn’t stick to the rules of the game…. Which means that certain, hardly deniable, weaknesses are chiefly due to the excessively slow rhythm that our brains have been taught.”


Contrary to later accounts, it had never been conceived consistently as a Blitzkrieg, but had, after the breakthrough at Sedan, boosted by the large-scale use of Pervitin on the German side, developed a dynamic of its own that was countered only by Hitler, who didn’t understand its speed.


Ranke’s superior, Army Medical Inspector Waldmann, also traveled to the warzone and praised Pervitin without directly specifying it: “Maginot Front broken through. Extraordinary marching achievements: 60–80 km! Extra supplies, increased performance. Evacuation — all much better than 1918.” In this war the German troops dashed over the summer countryside with unparalleled speed. Rommel, who by now was avoiding roads to go round the last French defense positions, often drove cross-country, and on June 17, 1940, traveling 150 miles, established a kind of “military world record.” The head of the Luftwaffe staff noted: “The marching achievements are incredible.”


Ranke, who was driving with Guderian and who had traveled over three hundred miles in just three days, was given confirmation by a medical officer of the Panzer troop that units were using between two and five Pervitin tablets per driver per day. German propaganda, however, tried to depict the surprisingly fast victory as proof of the morale of the National Socialists, but this had little bearing on reality.

Plastic bags are thought to endanger marine animals

Tuesday, May 14th, 2019

Plastic bags are thought to endanger marine animals, but they may protect us humans:

San Francisco County was the first major US jurisdiction to enact such a regulation, implementing a ban in 2007 and extending it to all retailers in 2012. There is evidence, however, that reusable grocery bags, a common substitute for plastic bags, contain potentially harmful bacteria, especially coliform bacteria such as E. coli. We examine deaths and emergency room admissions related to these bacteria in the wake of the San Francisco ban. We find that both deaths and ER visits spiked as soon as the ban went into effect. Relative to other counties, deaths in San Francisco increase by 50-100 percent, and ER visits increase by a comparable amount. Subsequent bans by other cities in California appear to be associated with similar effects.

“The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design.”

They both have to be laughing together

Sunday, May 12th, 2019

Gottman and Murray published their work as The Mathematics of Marriage: Dynamic Nonlinear Models:

Their subjects initially included 130 couples who had applied for marriage licenses in King County, where, at the time, the professors taught at the University of Washington in Seattle. Some of the couples were newlyweds, others were about to be married, and each pair was videotaped for three 15-minute conversations.

In one exchange, the couples were instructed to talk about their day. In another they were told to talk about something positive. And in the third, they were asked to talk about something contentious. The topic didn’t matter — it could be about money, sex, food, in-laws or anything else — as long as they disagreed.

The contentious exchange proved to be the most predictive.

The couple’s interactions were scored by two independent observers who rated every emotion in the exchange.

Altogether, 16 different emotions were coded. At one end of the spectrum, contempt, the most corrosive emotion, according to Dr. Gottman, was scored -4. At the other end, shared humor, one of the best ways to defuse tension, he said, was scored +4.

“They both have to be laughing together,” Dr. Gottman said. “A lot of contempt happens with one person laughing and the other person looking stunned. That’s a minus 4.”

The scores for the various emotions expressed during each exchange were summed, and the researchers plotted the scores for each subsequent exchange as a time series on a graph.

Once the emotions were scored and plotted, the researchers found that the positive and negative progression of the exchanges eventually settled down and didn’t change very much.

That steady state, they concluded, described how a couple resolves conflicts.

“It’s like a Dow Jones curve,” Dr. Murray said. “The ones that went continuously down, it was clear they found it very, very difficult to appreciate what the other one was thinking. That’s what made it clear the marriage wasn’t going to last.”

For low-risk couples, the ratio of positive to negative responses was approximately 5 to 1. For high-risk couples, the ratio was about 1 to 1, and based on their observations, the researchers were able to predict divorce with 94% accuracy.

The researchers followed the couples for a decade, and in that time, all of the pairs they predicted would divorce did, most within four years. A few other couples they predicted would remain married, though unhappily, also divorced, lowering their overall accuracy.

Marriages, they found, fell into five categories: validating, volatile, conflict–avoiding, hostile and hostile – detached (a significantly more negative pairing). Only three — validating, volatile and conflict–avoiding — are stable, they write in their book, but a volatile marriage, though passionate, risks dissolving into endless bickering.

Notably, they also found that as the years passed, each couple’s style of communication changed very little from that initial videotaped contentious exchange.

“We found about 80% stability in couples’ interaction over time,” Dr. Gottman said, a result that was based on bringing the couples back to the lab for additional scored discussions, usually at three-year intervals.