Disaster! What Disaster?

“Reports of my demise have been greatly exaggerated”, Mark Twain famously responded after reading his obituary in the New York Journal. To which may now be added “Reports of the worst ever environmental disaster to hit America, have been exaggerated", in the light of the rapidly disappearing oil slick off the Gulf of Mexico. But don’t expect to hear those words from President Obama, who was stampeded into making so many doom laden statements by sections of the media which appeared to an outsider at least, to be more interested in attacking the President than the oil spill.


Some 200 million gallons of oil spilled into the Gulf and some 50 million gallons remain in the water, but an array of scientists now believe that a combination of a highly effective and costly cleanup operation, alongside the helpful hand of Mother Nature did not produce the worst environmental disaster to hit America. Far from it. The damage from the Exxon Valdez super tanker spill in Alaska twenty one years ago caused far more visible damage, with the area’s ecology deeply damaged. It is estimated that 250,000 sea birds were killed alongside 2,800 otters, innumerable seals and whales. Scratch underneath rocks there today, and the oil residue may sometimes still be found.

The Obama administration seems to have acknowledged the doom laden hype was just that. Here is what the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration had to say earlier this week; “The vast majority of the spilled oil has already gone. The rest has probably been diluted and doesn’t appear to pose much of a threat”.

BP – or “British Petroleum” – as President Obama took to describing the company has been the whipping boy for the Deepwater Horizon disaster and has paid handsomely. Doubtless it will be obliged to pay a whole lot more once the corporate lawyers get to work. It’s Chief Executive, Tony Hayward, has been made to walk the plank, yet somehow BP's partners, Transocean and Halliburton, seem to have escaped public opprobrium. Clearly the President needed to find someone to blame, but in retrospect, he could have spread it more fairly. He might also have said rather more about the vast war chest of the oil lobby, which has successfully lobbied to be allowed to drill deeper and further. He could have had a field day with Sarah Palin, whose campaign chorus, if memory serves me right was “Drill baby, drill”. After all, she wants to open up her native Alaska, a far more sensitive environment, to big oil.

The trouble with crying wolf is that fewer people believe you the next time. If, for instance, an American President were to wax lyrical about Iran’s ‘weapons of mass destruction’, I wonder how many would willingly countenance an invasion of the country? And what happens the next time, perhaps after Sarah Palin has got her way, and another great oil spill disaster hits Alaska?

​There are two kinds of failure – but only one is honorable

Malcolm Gladwell teaches "Get over yourself and get to work" for Big Think Edge.

Big Think Edge
  • Learn to recognize failure and know the big difference between panicking and choking.
  • At Big Think Edge, Malcolm Gladwell teaches how to check your inner critic and get clear on what failure is.
  • Subscribe to Big Think Edge before we launch on March 30 to get 20% off monthly and annual memberships.
Keep reading Show less

Why are so many objects in space shaped like discs?

It's one of the most consistent patterns in the unviverse. What causes it?

Videos
  • Spinning discs are everywhere – just look at our solar system, the rings of Saturn, and all the spiral galaxies in the universe.
  • Spinning discs are the result of two things: The force of gravity and a phenomenon in physics called the conservation of angular momentum.
  • Gravity brings matter together; the closer the matter gets, the more it accelerates – much like an ice skater who spins faster and faster the closer their arms get to their body. Then, this spinning cloud collapses due to up and down and diagonal collisions that cancel each other out until the only motion they have in common is the spin – and voila: A flat disc.

Scientists study tattooed corpses, find pigment in lymph nodes

It turns out, that tattoo ink can travel throughout your body and settle in lymph nodes.

17th August 1973: An American tattoo artist working on a client's shoulder. (Photo by F. Roy Kemp/BIPs/Getty Images)
popular

In the slightly macabre experiment to find out where tattoo ink travels to in the body, French and German researchers recently used synchrotron X-ray fluorescence in four "inked" human cadavers — as well as one without. The results of their 2017 study? Some of the tattoo ink apparently settled in lymph nodes.


Image from the study.

As the authors explain in the study — they hail from Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility, and the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment — it would have been unethical to test this on live animals since those creatures would not be able to give permission to be tattooed.

Because of the prevalence of tattoos these days, the researchers wanted to find out if the ink could be harmful in some way.

"The increasing prevalence of tattoos provoked safety concerns with respect to particle distribution and effects inside the human body," they write.

It works like this: Since lymph nodes filter lymph, which is the fluid that carries white blood cells throughout the body in an effort to fight infections that are encountered, that is where some of the ink particles collect.

Image by authors of the study.

Titanium dioxide appears to be the thing that travels. It's a white tattoo ink pigment that's mixed with other colors all the time to control shades.

The study's authors will keep working on this in the meantime.

“In future experiments we will also look into the pigment and heavy metal burden of other, more distant internal organs and tissues in order to track any possible bio-distribution of tattoo ink ingredients throughout the body. The outcome of these investigations not only will be helpful in the assessment of the health risks associated with tattooing but also in the judgment of other exposures such as, e.g., the entrance of TiO2 nanoparticles present in cosmetics at the site of damaged skin."

Photo by Alina Grubnyak on Unsplash
Mind & Brain

Do human beings have a magnetic sense? Biologists know other animals do. They think it helps creatures including bees, turtles and birds navigate through the world.

Keep reading Show less