Monthly Archive: May 2015

1,459

The Difference Between Sunni And Shiite Muslims

Sunni and Shia are the two primary sects of the Muslim religion. They follow most of the same tenets but have some differences in their interpretation of religious texts, known as hadiths, as well as in how they govern themselves and view leadership within the faith. These variations all stem from a disagreement over who was the legitimate successor to Muhammad.

1

The Sitting President Who Worked On The Smallpox Vaccine

In 1796, English doctor Edward Jenner discovered the power of vaccination by using cowpox serum to protect healthy people against smallpox. Four years later, Jenner sent a sample of this smallpox vaccine to Harvard professor Benjamin Waterhouse, who enlisted the help of an amateur scientist in Virginia to test the vaccine on a larger population. Even after he became the third US President, Thomas Jefferson continued to work on the vaccine in his spare time. Benjamin Franklin also advocated vaccination. In 1980, the World Health Assembly declared that smallpox had been officially eradicated worldwide.

2

The British Invasion Didn’t Revolutionize Music Quite Like We Thought

Music has long been tied to culture more than to science, but when researchers decided to take a good, hard look at music from a scientific point of view, they found that there were a couple of popular notions that just didn’t hold up any more. By isolating all the basic elements that made up 50 years of Top 100 songs, they were able to see that not only did the changing music trends of the 1960s start before the British Invasion, but that, contrary to popular belief, music isn’t undergoing the slow process of homogenization, either.

2

The Awful Tapeworm Diet Probably Never Actually Happened

According to the story, one of the most disgusting diet fads in history was the tapeworm diet. People eager to lose weight would swallow pills with tapeworms or tapeworm eggs and let the worms do their work. Only, there’s such an absolute lack of evidence that it was ever actually a real thing, it’s looking like it’s always been an urban legend (that likely came from a humor columnist) … until people today started doing it for real.

5

The Progressive Beauty Contests Held In The New York Subway

Between 1941 and 1976, the New York subway system was home to a rather unique beauty pageant. Known as “Miss Subways,” winners were chosen by popular vote, and anyone in New York could cast a ballot. Winners had their photos plastered in subway cars and earned instant celebrity status. Most importantly, since the “Miss Subways” contest was a democracy, the winners were an incredibly diverse bunch.

8

When America Almost Invented Its Own Language

Ben Franklin hated bad spelling, and the English language seemed predisposed to annoy him. In order to make language less complicated and less messy (and to have a language that would add to the national identity of the burgeoning United States), Franklin created his own language. It’s still absolutely readable and understandable today, spelled and spoken phonetically, with the addition and subtraction of a handful of letters. It didn’t take off, but the English Spelling Society is continuing his work in creating an English that’s easier to read, write and remember.

2,299

The Hedonometer Shows We Like Happy Talk

Based on a study in 1969, researchers from the University of Illinois proposed the controversial “Pollyanna hypothesis,” the theory that people prefer to express their feelings in positive words. Recently, a different group of scientists used Big Data to show that many languages themselves are skewed toward positive talk—even the ones that created dark Russian novels and the disaster stories we often read in the mainstream media. To track our happy talk on a global basis, researchers have even created a happiness meter called a “hedonometer.”

2,200

Doctors Once Recycled Penicillin Out Of Urine

During the early years of penicillin usage, it was difficult to extract enough of the drug from mold cultures to complete even one patient’s treatment, let alone enough to treat all the patients who needed the drug. Doctors discovered that up to 99 percent of injected penicillin was quickly excreted in urine in a form that was still active. So they began to recycle penicillin from urine in order to treat more patients. Fortunately, a moldy cantaloupe eventually alerted doctors to another type of mold that produced enormous amounts of the drug and the recycling stopped. But that’s caused a more modern problem. Excreted drugs now pollute our water supply, potentially affecting the health of fish and possibly even humans.

337

The Russian Village Where Everyone Once Walked A Tightrope

Despite the dangers, everyone in Tsovkra-1, a remote village in Dagestan, Russia, once walked a tightrope. Most still do—even the children. From the 1950s through the 1970s, they had their best years, entertaining the public and winning coveted awards as they performed in the Soviet Union’s circuses. Now the tradition is dying due to high unemployment, urban migration, and radical Islam.

329

The 20th-Century Outlaw Who Raided A New Mexican Courthouse

Reies Lopez Tijerina was mad. He believed the US government had stolen land from his ancestors, and he wanted it back … through any means necessary. And in 1967, things took a bloody turn when Tijerina and his gang of activist-outlaws grabbed some guns and stormed the Tierra Amarilla courthouse, leading to the largest manhunt in New Mexico history.