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Embarrassing Science

And nutty inventions - Now that we've reached 2010, we can look back at some of the most embarrassing scientific discoveries of 2009. As you might expect, quite a number ofthem have to do with male sex. But that's far from the whole story.Beyond ridiculous current studies, the past also has a greatdeal to offer. Nothing like a glass of radioactive water tocure your impotence, for example. All you need for that is aRevegator.

Researchers havediscovered that men are good at controlling their erections when watching pornography (which, if you see it in a theater, is helpful for the walk home). Another good thing about porn: It's been discovered that masturbation helps prevent prostate cancer (and so does beer, which is more good news for guys!) A better kind of Viagra: shooting low-energy shockwaves directly at the penis. And there IS a penis stretcher that works (problem: You have to wear it for 6 hours a day, so it might be easier to find a girl who likes you just the way you are.)

Radioactive toothpaste, suppositories, makeup: Would-be inventors seeking to capitalize on the discovery of radioactivity in the late 19th century produced a plethora of questionable medical devices and treatments. Among the most infamous of these was the Revigator, an earthenware vessel that, according to an advertisement, would infuse drinking water with "the lost element of original freshness: radioactivity." Researchers have discovered that the risk the Revigator posed flowed not so much from the radioactivity, but from the presence of toxic elements dissolved in the water.

The Radium Ore Revigator Company sold several hundred thousand of their glazed ceramic jugs between 1920 and the mid-1930s. The rough, porous inner surface of the Revigator was lined with clay containing carnotite ore, which released radon into the water as the radium in the ore decayed. According to the manufacturer, the radiation could treat or cure ailments ranging from arthritis and flatulence to senility and poisoning.

Researcher Michael Epstein says, "The Revigator was an attempt to mimic spa, or spring water. People figured that spring water was radioactive, and it seemed to be good for you, so why not make your own? Most of the literature on the web has referenced the danger as coming from the radioactivity. My students and I wanted to see if that was true."

His team set out to determine the extent of the hazards the Revigator might have posed. They measured the amount of radiation emanating from the vessel with a Geiger counter, the radon concentration in the air and water from a jar that had been sealed for one week, and the levels of toxic elements that may have dissolved into water sealed in the jars for one day and one week using a mass spectrometer, a highly sensitive instrument for detecting chemicals and elements.

Their findings are just what you'd expect: Radon concentrations in the air and water sampled from jars sealed for one week significantly exceeded the EPA-recommended maximum contaminant levels. However, the concentration of radon in the air, given the drafty conditions of an early 20th century home, would not have posed a significant health risk, and given the many other disease-related causes of mortality at the time, the chances of dying as a result of drinking radon-infused water were relatively low.

Researcher Lee Yu says, "For me, it was quite interesting that people at the time were drinking something that they didn't understand given all that we now know about how harmful these things are to human health. It's amazing to me how eager companies were to commercialize new discoveries without a clear understanding of the risks involved." Before we feel superior to people of the past, we should reflect that we still know very little about the effects of genetically-modified food!

While these inventions are amusing, the US has done some experiments in the past that definitely aren't funny! Whitley set aside these 2 weeks for Dreamland interviews about child abuse, a topic that has long been of vital interest to him. last week, just for subscribers, he talked about his own hazy memories of being abused at the hands of the government, perhaps as part of the Nazi "paperclip" project.

To learn more, click here and here.

Art credit: Dreamstime.com

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