Thursday, April 28, 2011

Dr Olaf's not alone! A brain doc with a family history of madness

I just came across an NPR story on neuroscientist James Fallon--a man who, inspired by his mother's comment ("Jim, why don't you find out about your father's relatives? I think there were some cuckoos back there."), began looking into his family history. His finding?
There's a whole lineage of very violent people — killers.
His great-grandfather murdered his mother and was subsequently hanged; another relative (later acquitted) was accused of killing her father and stepmother with an ax. All together, Dr. Fallon found seven alleged murderer relatives.

Dr. Fallon, who has dedicated much of his career to studying the brain of psychopaths, decided to see if any of his living relatives possessed a killer's brain. He scanned his wife, his mother, his siblings, his children, and himself. The only brain scan that revealed an inactive orbital cortex (which he and other scientists believe might lead to troubles with impulse control and moral decision-making) was... his own! He also tested DNA for genes that are associated with violence and discovered that he had "the pattern, the risky pattern. In a sense, I'm a born killer."

Whether his relationship to violence informed his career choice or not, Dr. Fallon reminds me of Dr. Olaf, who struggled to find a cure in the brain for the madness that plagued his family (only Dr. Fallon has had much better time of it!) The internet reveals that he has branched out to study the brains of dictators as well.

Read the whole story about Dr. Fallon here.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Radium Goods!

Readers often ask me if the radium cures in Doctor Olaf were "real" or "fiction." And the answer is, yes! Most of the radium products mentioned in the book are the names of actual products sold in the early half of the 20th century, and most of them did not, in fact, contain any radium. I suspect the same is true for the fabulous collection of radium products How to Be a Retronaut recently posted--everything from "Radium Brand Creamery Butter" to "Radium Lump Gloss Starch" (the "finest quality for laundry purpose").

See the entire collection here: ATOMIC BRAND NAMES.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

New evidence of spontaneous combustion?

Is there such a thing as spontaneous combustion? Roger Huang, a man who has been working for years to shut down San Francisco sex shops, thinks there might be. David Lohr reports that on April 13th, a man watching porn at the back of the Golden Gate Adult Superstore "burst into flames."
Witnesses reportedly saw the burning man running out of the Golden Gate Adult Superstore in the city's South of Market neighborhood at about 6:20 p.m. Wednesday. The man ran past stunned onlookers and collapsed at the corner of Mission and Sixth streets, police said.
Fire investigators are still looking into the case. Oddly, they say, "authorities have found 'no damage to the inside of the building at all.'"
Doctor Clementius Steenwycks would advise them to look out for a mucus-like yellow substance. And he might inquire after the drinking habits of the victim, who is being treated for the burns.

Read the full story here: A Sign? Man Bursts Into Flames at San Francisco Sex Shop

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Mona Lisa's Skull?

Can a skull help us determine the identity of the Mona Lisa? An exhumed skull, no less, buried centuries ago? Silvano Vincenti thinks so. He heads up the Italian research team that has asked for permission to open the tomb where the master's remains (are presumed to) lie. Why? To see if the famed da Vinci may have painted himself as a woman. Says one committee member:
If we manage to find his skull, we could rebuild Leonardo’s face and compare it with the Mona Lisa.

But, of course.

Murray Wardrop writes about this somewhat mad (dare I say, Olaf-like?) project for The Telegraph. Read the whole story here.