A Note on Discovering “New” Body Parts

We must always be careful with the idea of discovering a new part of the human body; it is not as if a Dua’s Layer magically appeared out of nowhere; it’s all of fifteen microns thick. We can expect the fourth of six corneal layers, then, to be difficult to find.

Likewise, we should be cautious in reacting to news that surgeons have discovered a ligament in the human knee.

Because, really, the question seems obvious:

Anterolateral ligament (ALL)Despite successful ACL repair surgery and rehabilitation, some patients with ACL-repaired knees continue to experience so-called ‘pivot shift’, or episodes where the knee ‘gives way’ during activity. For the last four years, orthopaedic surgeons Dr Steven Claes and Professor Dr Johan Bellemans have been conducting research into serious ACL injuries in an effort to find out why. Their starting point: an 1879 article by a French surgeon that postulated the existence of an additional ligament located on the anterior of the human knee.

That postulation turned out to be correct: the Belgian doctors are the first to provide a full anatomical description of the ligament after a broad cadaver study using macroscopic dissection techniques. Their research shows that the ligament, called the anterolateral ligament (ALL), was noted to be present in all but one of the 41 cadaveric knees studied. Subsequent research shows that pivot shift, the giving way of the knee in patients with an ACL tear, is caused by an injury in the ALL ligament.

‪Some of the researchers’ conclusions were recently published in the Journal of Anatomy. The Anatomical Society praised the research as “very refreshing” and commended the researchers for reminding the medical world that, despite the emergence of advanced technology, our knowledge of the basic anatomy of the human body is not yet exhaustive.

Even with all the caveats, it seems a strange proposition that it took 134 years to validate the original postulation.

So many medical students cutting cadavers. So many knee surgeries for athletes professional, amateur, and recreational. And yet here we are, breaking new ground in the twenty-first century.

It’s always been there, right?

Leuven, K. U. “Surgeons describe new ligament in the human knee.” ScienceDaily. 5 November, 2013. ScienceDaily.com. Retrieved 11 November, 2013.


Whistler’s Mother Nature

xkcd 1259 (Bee Orchid; detail)Time out for a picture break.

Actually, what happens is that a reserve folder gets overstuffed with links to post, though sometimes it seems hard to imagine what one was thinking when pulling this or that from the net.

Not so in this case. One really needs no excuse for xkcd.

Words as filler, so the picture doesn’t look so lonely. Go ahead. Click. It won’t bite. Hopefully, it will make your day.

(And, yes, Ophrys apifera is real.)

Evolving Exactitude

“We have yet to be able to monitor a volcano closely before it produced such a cataclysmic event, so we aren’t sure exactly what the full range of events before such an event might be.”

Erik Klemetti

Myth: Science is supposed to know everything exactly.

Reality: Science is science. The word exists in diverse contexts, and that’s where the trouble begins. That is, to the one, science can be described most basically as a tool, or perhaps a set of principles. The word is also used to refer to a body of knowledge collected and applied through those principles, or by that tool.

False color ASTER image of Laguna del Maule (vegetation is in red) on April 9, 2003, showing some of the rhyolite lava flows and domes around the lake. Image: NASA Earth Observatory.But science is also limited according to its practitioners. There is bad science out there, but with the best of science, the most precise outcomes do not emerge ex nihilo. Well, obviously, as nothing emerges ex nihilo, except perhaps things that, by their very nature, cannot be tested by science or otherwise verified to exist.

But we can track the tale of science through history, and perhaps we should avoid the example of hysteria, a superstitious diagnosis of almost astounding convenience, which would eventually lead to the recognition of psychology by Sigmund Freud. No … no, you don’t really want to know how that works.

The point being that as time goes by, the tool fashions more, and also more refined, produce. If science, as such, were the magic-wand some advocates of superstition and “alternative” science would suggest, we would already have figured out everything there is to know.

All of which is a really long way of suggesting Erik Klemetti’s enlightening and entertaining article on developments at Laguna del Maule, an active volcano in Chile. If you want to know exactly what is happening with this volcano right now, science cannot produce an exact answer. To the other, if you would like a glimpse of the changing “personality” of “a complex of Holocene rhyolite-rhodacite domes and ash deposits that center around a lake that straddles the Chilean-Argentine border”, well, this is certainly the article for you.

And the really fun thing is that you learn a bit about geology in general, and vulcanology specifically, along the way.

If you don’t know who Sigmund Freud was, ask someone; their answer will almost inevitably make you wonder why we might suggest one imagine being strapped in a chair while being hosed with a giant water cannon. Actually, don’t try to imagine it. Just take our word for it this time, please?

Scale and Perspective: Challenging the Future

Todd Moss observes:

Moss: Africa vs FridgeI know I live an energy-intensive lifestyle. Americans on average use 13,395 kWh/year (IEA data for 2010), which is nearly three times what the typical South African uses and 100 times the average Nigerian. But I was still pretty shocked to see how my new single-family fridge compares with an average citizen in the six Power Africa countries.

There is an intersection, here, of politics and science; Moss, a senior fellow and vice president for programs at the Center for Global Development, is reflecting on Power Africa, a White House initiative to help African nations pursue universal access to electricity in under twenty years.

Setting aside the politics, though, Moss’ musing does present a rather striking point. And perhaps for the younger generations, the point is not to feel so guilty about first-world privilege, but to look forward to extending that life quality around the globe.