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From the library

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“With this paradox in mind, Newton, experimental philosopher, slid a bodkin into his eye socket between eyeball and bone. He pressed with a tip until he saw ‘several white darke and colored circles. Which circles were plainest when I continued to rub my eye with the point of the bodkin.’ Yet when he held both eyes and bodkin still, the circles would begin to fade. Was light a manifestation of pressure, then? Almost as recklessly, he stared with one eye at the sun, reflected in a looking glass, for as long as he could bear. He sensed that color—perhaps more than any of the other qualities of things—depends on imagination and fantasy and invention. He looked away at a dark wall and saw circles of color. There was a motion of spirits in his eye. These slowly decayed and finally vanished. Were they real or phantasm? Could such colors ever be real, like the colors he had learned to make from crushed berries or sheep’s blood? After looking at the sun he seemed to perceive light objects as red and dark objects as blue.” (

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Magic elixirs are the things of alchemist’s dreams. However, researchers from the Wolfson Institute of Preventative Medicine in London have suggested that a polypill to be taken by everyone aged 55 and older and everyone with existing cardiovascular disease could reduce cardiovascular disease by more than 80%. It would be acceptable, safe, and with widespread use would have a greater impact on the prevention of disease in the Western world than other singular intervention (including immunisation). The polypill would include a statin (for lowering cholesterol and other so called “bad” fats), thiazide, a β blocker, angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitor, folic acid, and aspirin. The researchers conclude that this proposal, while being radical, is a reasonable and cost effective approach to cardiovascular disease.

The adverse effect of poor sleeping habits on cardiovascular health continues to be defined. Previous studies have indicated that patients with sleep apnoea are more likely to suffer from cardiovascular disease than those with normal sleeping habits. There is evidence that cardiac arrhythmias are also precipitated by adverse sleeping habits. Ventricular tachycardia peaks between 4 pm and 9 am. Treatment of sleep apnoea with continuous positive airway pressure is associated with a lower recurrence of atrial fibrillation in addition to its effect on lowering daytime pressure. (

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Despite the scientific promise of human embryonic stem cell research, many Western governments appear to be committed to obstructing it. Many of the best stem cell researchers in the United States have already immigrated to Great Britain as a result of the adverse environment created by US federal law. In Germany, conducting research with newly derived human embryonic cells lines could result in investigators being imprisoned. Under the country’s year old stem cell law, scientists whose projects are approved by an ethics board may import and work with lines of cells before 1 January 2002 but may not work on newly arrived human embryonic stem cell lines. Violation of this law could result in up to 3 years in prison. It’s unclear whether employees at Germany’s non-university research units such as the Max Planck Institute or the German Cancer Research Center in Heidelberg will be affected by this law. (

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That global warming exists cannot be denied. Its causes are less clear although the human contributions to it appear to be significant. Recently, research published in Climate Research suggested that the current global warming trend falls well within the range of natural variability and should not seem as a unique or ominous event. Not surprisingly, this report was used by some conservative politicians in the United States to support their position in reference to environmental law. Now it appears that the data on which this article was based are suspect. Indeed, three editors of the journal have resigned as a result of the controversy that has surrounded this paper’s publication. The journal will now publish a different online editorial to accompany this paper and has issued a statement that it should have “insisted on solid evidence and cautious formulation before publication.” (

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The Optic Neuritis Treatment Trial sponsored by the National Institutes of Health was initiated 10 years ago. Recent analysis of the data of this trial addresses the risk of multiple sclerosis after an attack of optic neuritis. This study suggests that the 10 year risk of multiple sclerosis was 38% in patients who had optic neuritis. Patients who had one or more typical lesions on the baseline magnetic resonance imaging scan of the brain, however, had a 56% risk, whereas those with no lesions had a 22% risk. Routine MRI scanning of patients with optic neuritis would appear to have both diagnostic as well as prognostic value. (

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In a very short period of time researchers were able to identify the virus that was responsible for SARS and to sequence its DNA structure. Researchers can now receive free SAR chips which are standard sized slides containing all 29 700 base pairs of DNA from the coronavirus that has been responsible for the some 8400 cases of SARS to date. These chips will speed identification of deadly strains and help identify potential vaccines and treatments. (Go to http://www.niaid.nih.gov/dmid/genomes/pfgrc/reqproces.htm)

Ecstasy (3–4 methylenebioxymethamphetamine or MDMA) has gained increasing popularity as a recreational drug. Visual symptoms are one of the most common manifestations of the use of this drug. Investigators from Rome have documented that phosphene thresholds were significantly lower in ecstasy users compared with control subjects and were correlated negatively with frequency of ecstasy use. Frequency of ecstasy use was positively correlated with the presence of visual hallucinations and the phosphene threshold of subjects with hallucinations was significantly lower than that of subjects without hallucinations. This study would suggest that the use of ecstasy as a recreational drug is associated with an increased excitability in the visual cortex probably linked to serotonin release followed by serotonin depletion in the cortex. (

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“At the western end of Eurasia, the human body was not formed in the same way. Increasingly the chief instrument of knowledge acquisition was strengthened by glass instruments, just as the human muscles were supported by new tools that made wind, water and animal power a huge supplement to human labor. So a whole set of machines for thinking—glasses in old age, prisms and magnifying glasses, mirrors, telescopes and microscopes—was developed. An industrial revolution of the intellect took place as a counterpart in the industrial revolutions of the east.” (

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