Locklin on science

Medical history books

Posted in Book reviews by Scott Locklin on December 21, 2022

One of my hobbies is buying up pre-antibiotic medical books. If you look at the history of western medicine, it’s often been a wash: it’s still not all that clear if letting a doctor treat you is a better idea than staying home, eating right, exercising and minding your own business.  For example: click here.  For stuff like bullet holes, doctors are pretty good from all the practice they get in war and American inner cities. Doctors are also good for prescribing antibiotics; antibiotics are the last big, epoch making breakthrough in medical technology. Public health innovations, such as not drinking toilet water, anesthesia, doctors washing their hands, and making sure people have sufficient vitamins (the ones we know about): these are the past big ones that really moved the needle.

Seeing how people lived before antibiotics and what kind of things they had to deal with, and what kinds of treatments were available is interesting. It’s a sort of history of private life that doesn’t occur to modern people. We’ve all lived in the post-antibiotic era (my grandparents experienced some life before antibiotics); it’s shaped everything from our morals and politics to our eating habits.

Devils, Drugs and Doctors by Howard Wilcox Haggard (1913) tells the story of how medicine developed before antibiotics. Western medicine at that point could be boiled down to a couple of simple ideas that we all take for granted now. It’s worth remembering  that medical authorities often fought these simple ideas tooth and nail. This book is a nice history of this sort of thing and should be required reading for anyone interested in human health.

The book traces the history of childbirth from ancient Greek times up until Semmelweis discovered the value in clean hands and sterile birthing tools. Anesthesia is also a fairly recent invention; one objected to strenuously by the powers that be as being unnatural and bad for the patient. Surgery and anatomy have a history, as does the pharmacopia: the latter is particularly fascinating as drugs were often sort of religious in their origins.


The Germ Theory of Disease was also long considered a sort of conspiracy theory: it took various amateur autists decades of work before they convinced the government to remove water pumps downstream of the toilet. To say nothing of the removal of rats as a public good: something our public health officials in current year could use some help with. Various plague prevention and vaccination efforts are described: handshakes went out of fashion in the past as well -generally for no good reason, as many of those plagues were spread by rats rather than handshakes.

Nutrition: the existence of the known vitamins is something which we now take for granted; something extremely important to public health. It also makes one wonder about the potential existence of other vitamins or mineral deficiencies or commonly consumed antinutrients. This is the sort of thing that should really activate the almonds: nutritionists are generally morons who memorize lists. Data science may be able to discern things via crowdsourcing that were not previously available to researchers. There are lots of indications out there that the soy protein, seed oils, high fructose corn syrup and other garbage that Americans live off of are bad for you: just look at the cut of their jibs compared to those of societies who eat meat, grease, butter and olive or sesame oil. The data scientists of old were able to come to their conclusion with primitive contingency table type tools: surely ubiquitous computards could help us get to the bottom of more things. Particularly now when image recognition is presumably useful enough to take a snapshot of a meal, identify it and its ingredients, macronutrients and micronutrients. Meanwhile, try not to eat things which your most healthy ancestors didn’t eat. I like mash potato (to be fair rice and ancient varieties of wheat have a more encouraging history than a member of the nightshade family, but I’m part Irish so I should be OK).

The chapter on sexual promiscuity and brothels is particularly fascinating and changed my mind forever on the origins of sexual morality, or our current unique lack thereof. Sexual promiscuity was basically death and disease before the invention of antibiotics. Syphilis entered widespread circulation during a time of sexual degeneracy (it may have been around longer: the controversy existed in the time of this book and persists to today), and for years wasn’t considered so bad; a disease of gentlemen who could afford lots of company: sort of like HIV is now in some circles. Gonorrhea was also a terrible disease, often lethal in spectacularly horrifying ways: where it wasn’t it caused lots of blindness in infants. The section on prostitution through history is also interesting to the antiquarian: did you know flowered robes was the uniform of Ancient Greek cortesans? I didn’t! And yes, through history, before the invention of antibiotics, prostitutes were the primary carriers of venereal disease. The ridiculous virus-discovering promiscuity of gay men, and the general democratization of prostitute-like promiscuity among normal women was only possible with antibiotics. It’s interesting in that this pre-Freudian book noticed that sexual sublimation which was so normal before antibiotics was responsible for a great deal of art and technological creativity. The book also examines the sorts of abnormal psychology that comes of excessive sexual repression which is both epic and largely forgotten. The various accommodations to prostitution and reactions against it as public health measure (as well as its entanglement with morality) are pretty fascinating reading; also largely forgotten.

The Modern Home Physician (1934). I picked this up the other month to see what their recipe for infant formula is, since the powers that be in modern 2022 era American society insist that you couldn’t possibly make your own, and you must feed your infant a mass of corn syrup and soy solids or they’ll immediately drop dead (for the record; cow milk diluted with barley water, a bit of cream and sugar -wet nurses preferred even then). I stuck around for smallpox (considered only a danger in uncivilized countries at that point); unfortunately smallpox has a multi-week incubation period; something I guess post-covid gay men recently rediscovered about its cousin monkeypox. Amusingly it was not yet understood what organism caused influenza when this book was written; there were a number of organisms potentially to blame besides virus. They thought of that also; the idea of a virus was something which couldn’t be filtered out of a culture. They didn’t think it was possible it was the virus on its own. Honestly I’m still not sure influenza (and ‘rona) is dangerous on its own: those old timey doctors weren’t dumb. There is strong evidence a lot of the colds and covids of the world need some kinds of bacteria to spread and become serious: it is perhaps one of the several reasons why even though taking antibiotics isn’t supposed to work for a virus, yet it often does. BTW this is another place moderns could go; we collect all kinds of genetic material from living sick and healthy and dead people. Somehow it doesn’t sit in a database somewhere someone like me could go run the equivalent of a trading algorithm backtest on it (aka simple statistics and design of experiment work most public health dorks will never understand). This is the sort of thing which is completely knowable with modern tools, but which we really don’t know. At some point it became accepted ideology virumses ride on their own, despite our ancestors thinking otherwise. Maybe they were right?

Safe Counsel or Practical Eugenics (1928) This is the kind of book parents give their adult children when they get married. It’s not as spicy as you might think, but it’s a lot of fun anyway. FWIIW this was written at the peak of the US eugenics laws, yet there’s only a perfunctory mention of the laws in the first chapter. Most of it is classic “how sex works” written for uptight 1920s WASPs. There’s a lot of standard doctors advice on avoiding tobacco and booze which hasn’t changed much. On the other hand there is a lot of quite good advice you won’t get from current year doctors on gaining weight, losing weight, exercise and various sexual and mental dysfunctions. This is a tragedy of course, and this is the kind of thing right thinking people should read these old books for. Dumbasses popping a fruit salad of SSRIs when they might try bed rest and ceasing incessant baloney bopping like the old timey doctors said to. Of course they weren’t always right: they advised bedrest for heart attacks for no good reason, and that advice probably killed some people. This is quite a famous meme book in that some of its plates have been converted into 4chan memes about roasties and wankers. Reading it has provoked laughter among folks who have picked it up off my shelves, and yet…. Sexual degeneracy in 1916 was basically a death sentence. If your partner cheated on you with a prostitute or a man of loose morals, syphilis was incurable and gonorrhea was still a leading cause of death and blindness in children. Mind you, you can catch syphilis from snogging. Imagine your virgin daughter slowly rotting to death because some bounder took the diabolical liberty of smooching with her at the cinema. I’ve always said the sexual revolution had zilch to do with birth control pills; antibiotics are what made it possible. The section on “self pollution” are what usually cracks modern people up, but the description of the physical and psychological results of excessive wanking are, effectively, a description of modern neurotic dorks. People unable to look you in the eye, who  require spicy food, are glassy-eyed foul tempered and filled with ennui. Hey, maybe it’s just a coincidence (you fucking wanker). Muh SCIENCE <tm> says there’s no evidence it makes you go blind either.

Nature’s Secrets Revealed: Scientific Knowledge of the Laws of Sex Life and Heredity (1916). This is pretty much same thing as previous, though the cartoons aren’t as meme worthy (they’re actually quite artistic and interesting; like WW-1 bond propaganda).  Lots of the same as above, but frankly significantly higher IQ. I suppose it’s possible the former is a dumbed down version of this one. It’s interesting in that it gives a lot of advice for home care for, for example tubercular patients and other chronically disabled people. If you pay attention to books  written in those days you hear about people going to Arizona to recover from tuberculosis, but the reality for most was a lot more grim. Most people couldn’t afford to go to tuberculosis camp, so they withered away at home. While medical care in the US is an expensive trash fire today, in the old days there really wasn’t much to be done, so people had to be sick at home.

32 Responses

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  1. JMcG said, on December 21, 2022 at 4:22 pm

    My mother was a young 17 year old Irish girl in 1952 when she won a place in nursing school in England. That was very early in the age of antibiotics and the revolution hadn’t quite taken hold yet.
    She told me of the ward for tubercular patients which was roofed, of course; but otherwise left open to the elements. Patients would be wrapped in woolen blankets with hot water bottles, even in winter. She spoke of brushing snow from patients’ blankets.
    She was relentless about cleaning our cuts and scrapes as children, still fearful of infection. I stepped on a nail once as a boy, it went completely through my foot. She filled the bathroom sink with hot water and Lysol and soaked my foot for maybe half an hour in that. I had a recent tetanus shot, so suffered no ill effects.
    Her father lost two wives to childbirth. He remained a widower after the second.
    The obstetrician told me that my wife would have died during the birth of our first child had it been 70 years prior. Very sobering to think about.
    Thanks, Scott, and Merry Christmas to you and yours.

  2. ian said, on December 21, 2022 at 4:31 pm

    That was a fun read. Keep them coming.

    Re: “it’s still not all that clear if letting a doctor treat you is a better idea than staying home” I’m sure you know that’s your pal Taleb’s argument too.

    Regarding the bopping. Is that a real thing? It does make some intuitive sense but are there any, ahem, “studies”, supporting that? Just asking for a friend.

    • Scott Locklin said, on December 21, 2022 at 4:38 pm

      Pretty much all psychologists prior to 1970 thought it was bad for you, and significant numbers after as well. The burden of proof should be on degenerate modern “psychologists” to prove otherwise. As far as I can tell porn is a weapon of warfare used against populations where it is easily available: South Korean dictator Chun Doo-hwan introduced sporting spectacles (orympic park), porn on the television and love motels to calm the riots back in the 80s. It worked.


      • Good Genes Enthusiast said, on December 21, 2022 at 9:40 pm

        60/24/7/365 infinity free ultra-high-definition hardcore pornography is the only thing keeping America from violently erupting in a frothing orgy of reenacting-1776. It is very unquestionably a Matter Of National Security. Why do you hate freedom?

      • Martelleus said, on December 21, 2022 at 11:00 pm

        “As far as I can tell porn is a weapon of warfare used against populations where it is easily available”
        Have you read the book Libido Dominandi? The guy who wrote it actually makes the same argument more-or-less. https://archive.org/details/jones-eugene-michael-libido-dominandi

        • Scott Locklin said, on December 22, 2022 at 9:47 am

          EMJ’s book is great, though it leaves out the historical examples above I got from Maarten Meijer. It’s one of those things which is unspoken of in current year (Orwell talks about it, Adam Curtis alludes to it), but absurdly, ridiculously obvious when you spend about 30 seconds thought on the subject..

      • Altitude Zero said, on December 21, 2022 at 11:13 pm

        That’s a really interesting article.When the history of the decline and fall of the United States is written, pseudo-scientific loons like Freud, Reich, and Adorno are going to have a lot to answer for. And yes, pron, weed, and sportsball are probably the only things holding back a civil war right now.

      • Privilege Checker said, on December 22, 2022 at 1:25 pm

        “porn is a weapon of warfare.”

        Perfectly safe:
        Increase in prolactin & oxytocin, decrease in testosterone, endorphin & dopamine smoothies, downregulated d1/2/3 receptors, increase in delta-fosB in the nucleus accumbins…

        Throw in some soy, beer and feminist literature you’re good to go!

  3. Dear Reader said, on December 21, 2022 at 8:10 pm

    Maybe stupid question but what is “bopping?”

    Seems to me “stay at home and mind your own business” has just been renamed to “social distancing.” The rest (face diapers, ..) is mostly cosplay, isn’t it?

    • nate-m said, on December 21, 2022 at 11:53 pm

      My very limited understanding makes me think that a great deal of natural behavior is specifically tied towards limiting disease in human populations. For example, it seems that things like inflammation is somehow tied to things like depression. Typically inflammation is associated with disease and being depressed and not wanting to do anything makes it easier for the body to recover. So maybe there is a biological link there somewhere.

      Which has lead to theories involving foods that cause inflammation in the gut (gluten, etc) may contribution to chronic depression, which means that changing diets can help people mentally. I don’t know how true it is in itself, but there is probably some truth in it.

      Basically… if you feel like shit you tend not to want to be around other people. You just want to be alone and be left alone. Tend to be irritated very easy and feel depressed. Don’t want to move. Don’t want to do anything. Snap at people, etc.

      Were as if you healthy and are around somebody who is sick you don’t want to be around them. They are “icky” and make you feel very uneasy. You have a strong desire to leave them alone.

      People who ignore those feelings and force themselves to go to work or hang out in public are probably responsible for spreading a lot of disease.

      Were as, conversely, if you feel good you probably are good to be around other people. Even if you have been exposed to a particular disease, what are the odds of spreading it when you are not showing symptoms?

      So “social distancing” when sick is 100% advisable and a no brainer. Were as social distancing among otherwise healthy people is probably bad and full of unintended negative effects.

    • nate-m said, on December 22, 2022 at 12:25 am

      > Maybe stupid question but what is “bopping?”

      Slang for self-servicing.

  4. Cameron B said, on December 22, 2022 at 2:54 am

    One of my favorite posts yet. Coley’s Toxins initiated my interest for older medicine. I’d never considered antibiotics as the impetus for our modern promiscuity but gosh darn, you have a point. You mentioned SSRIs again and in a previous post I asked a question which I’ll ask again: do you think there are any justifiable SSRI prescriptions? I’m currently weaning off my SSRI, as I noticed I’m not worried about problems that are worrisome.

    • Rickey said, on December 22, 2022 at 4:21 am

      Cameron B, stop taking the SSRI as soon as you can. They do not help with your depression or anxiety. It merely turns you into a high functioning zombie where you do not care about anything and flatlines your emotions. At least that was the effect it had one me when I took one for about two years. You need to find the source(s) of your problem. For me it was a combination of my now ex-wife and my work environment. Once I delt with those two issues and started exercising outdoors, my life improved dramatically. When I stopped taking the SRRI, the psychiatrist who was proscribing it told me I would have some wild dreams. He was not kidding. I never took any hallucinogens, but I was having the equivalent of an acid trip every night for several days until my body readjusted. Don’t freak out if that happens to you.

    • Scott Locklin said, on December 22, 2022 at 9:53 am

      >do you think there are any justifiable SSRI prescriptions

      I know people who claim it did them good not having access to normal emotions for a few months, just like I know people who think LSD gave them some kind of spiritual breakthrough. I look at both as being more or less on all fours with porn: useful tools for pacifying slaves who have otherwise intolerable lives.

      I hope you get better.

      • Cameron B said, on December 23, 2022 at 4:28 am

        Thanks. Separately, I hope to hear a review from you on McCarthy’s The Passenger. There’s supposed to be quite a bit of physics.

        • Scott Locklin said, on December 23, 2022 at 11:28 am

          He worked at Santa Fe I’m sure his physics is correct.

          • Altitude Zero said, on December 23, 2022 at 3:29 pm

            I’ll be very interested as well. McCarthy’s work, for me is a lot like the work of Frank Herbert, of “Dune” fame, or Henry James. Given the themes he deals with, his personal history, his writing style, his interest in physics, his preference for scientists over writers as company, I should like McCarthy’s work, but I just….don’t. I’m perfectly willing to accept the fact that this represents a deficiency in me, rather than McCarthy (or Herbert or James for that matter) but there it is. Perhaps I shoud try to train myself to like him, since he’s regarded as a master by people whose judgement I respect, but I’m running short of time, and other things have priority right now…

            • Scott Locklin said, on December 23, 2022 at 3:48 pm

              For modern writers …. well I’d rather read whatever Delicious Tacos comes up with next, but he’s not the worst. I think the novel peaked 150-200 years ago, and there’s still plenty of those I haven’t read yet.

              • chiral3 said, on December 24, 2022 at 3:05 pm

                I peg the “[time of] death of the novel” to post-modernism, circa Barth’s observation, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_of_the_novel . However, I am a big fan of those writers that developed from the writers of the 50’s and 60’s, also considered pomo, and the actual death took several more decades. Delillo, Wallace, Franzen,…, were writing excellent fiction into the early 00’s, which is around the time music and movies became redundant, derivative, and vapid, coinciding with the iPhone and the corporate commodification of the internet. Now we are stuck with Marvel movies as the pinnacle of human creative achievement. The argument fifty years ago was that the novel had been so fully developed and explored that there was nothing left to do with it; the post-war writers had done all there is to do. I don’t agree. Whereas with music development became much more specialized – serialism, fusion jazz, minimalism, avant garde – and doing something truly creative and original became more and more difficult, there were still excellent and original stories being written well into the 00’s IMO. What the Lit Nobel goes to these days has arguably succumbed to specialization emboldened by liberalism and globalization. If those writers are considered high art I am not sure where we go from here.

            • Cameron B said, on December 24, 2022 at 3:30 am

              No judgement here. When he’s good, he’s great. But he can be verbose and unnecessarily archaic.

  5. tg said, on December 22, 2022 at 4:09 am

    good post. actually sounds like a nice little niche to find in old books. I found one myself. I buy up old math textbooks. It’s a physically nice feeling reading them. Take calculus for example. The clarity and the way all the odds and ends can be tied up nicely and explained with intuitive theories is shockingly different and refreshing from modern texts. The modern ones are trying to get a room full of women and empty headed types to pass a test without really having to know anything about calculus. Maybe actually the goal is to make people dumber. That kind of benefits the professorate in a sense whose children are taught the real stuff. I also believe there is going to be a mass book burning and ban one day to limit who has access to knowledge and because learning things is hard. So I am saving things.
    there was a theory it came from the new world but that might be bunk. I heard there was a non venereal version back during the big outbreak in the Renaissance but it sounds like it was the venereal one that spread around. It’s funny how people flirted with death to have sex. I guess modern gays are into that so maybe not unprecedented. You were not kidding about degeneracy back then around the time of the outbreak. It’s weird how it seemingly ebbs and flows and homosexuality is correlated with it.

    • Scott Locklin said, on December 22, 2022 at 10:17 am

      I remember looking at UC Berkeley’s grad quantum mechanics book (Sakurai) and wondering if they were trying to make people dumber -my second tier grad school used Baym only 5-6 years earlier; the lecture was from Messiah which was out of print at the time. Both of the latter books are vastly superior adult books, and Sakurai read like a sort of”QM for dummies.” I hadn’t thought of this in calculus but it wouldn’t surprise me; I bet they also let them use Mathematica. Dover reprints are a great resource; wish they had a higher end line with better binding quality. There are Indian firms who will make pretty much any book into something leather bound that will last 500 years, but I haven’t managed to actually contact them other than getting some of their books by accident via Amazon.

      The Haggard book above points out that moral crusades didn’t eliminate venereal diseases: we know this because of their continued existence. This was a broad minded opinion for the era (again 1913), but I wonder if syphilis wasn’t with us a long, long time before contact with the New World, and it was suppressed due to …. moral crusades. The archaeological evidence indicates it probably was: lots of weird bone diseases and poxes sure look like syphilis: Tiberius is an obvious example, but google scholar can find many more. The pagan Romans are known for their debauchery in the time of the Emperors, but there were various philosophical movements that were against this, the Republic was noted for its continence in most things, and Christianity was broadly admired because it preached chastity. There’s also the matter that sexual promiscuity, then as now was something for the wealthy. So I could imagine it being limited to small circles in ancient times, hiding in small local populations in the dark ages, then breaking out again in the sailors stews in the age of discovery. Seems more likely to me than the ridiculously specific applesauce about one of Colombus sailors boffing a Taino woman on Hispaniola and bringing it back to Europe.

      • Altitude Zero said, on January 1, 2023 at 9:14 pm

        I have always believed that syphilis came from the Americas, but it looks like the evidence is running the other way right now. Of course, this topic involves American Indians, or Native Americans, or First Nations, or whatever we are supposed to call them this week, so the matter is so drenched in politics, we may never really know. Of course, it looks like most American Indians may have voted Republican in the last election, so they may get taken off the “Protected” list Real Soon Now…

    • sigterm said, on December 25, 2022 at 4:55 pm

      Any textbook recommendation ? I always did poorly in calculus, then real analysis, and I felt I should not (Discrete math/CS were fine.) Part of it was my lack of any background in series and in inequalities, another part was that the concepts and arguments felt highly contrived: the average calculus course seems far from how a human mind would organically discover the subject if it had to be reinvented. I picked up Carl Boyer’s history of the calculus to work on my intuition (thanks Dover).

      Regarding syphilis, I’m reminded of HLI Anon’s claim that the European nobility right before WW1 were clinically insane from their promiscuity and consequent high rates of syphilis. Could explain a few things.

  6. a scruffian said, on December 22, 2022 at 5:01 pm

    Re: medicine, it’s quaint that on the one hand I, a layman, am officially considered too stupid to so much as pop a zit without consulting a physician; but doctors don’t make house calls anymore, or even let themselves be reached on the phone; ergo if I’m really fucked up at home and don’t know what’s wrong with me, my only options are to tough it out or call an ambulance, and I have to make that medical decision by myself. Lol, lmao.

    >>The data scientists of old were able to come to their conclusion with primitive contingency table type tools: surely ubiquitous computards could help us get to the bottom of more things.

    Sounds like a task for the Jaynesean mathematical cenobium.

    But considering that the textbook radiative greenhouse effect was experimentally deboonked in 1909
    ( arxiv.org/pdf/0707.1161.pdf )
    and nobody cares, it’s hard not to conclude that western science of the “really discovering new facts about nature” kind is finished. It’s for some other great culture of the future to unlearn what needs to be unlearned and make fresh progress.

  7. Igor Bukanov said, on December 22, 2022 at 9:47 pm

    Thanks for the article!

    Sesame oil is seed oil. I suspect it is not associated with bad stuff because people with genes that could not tolerate it died many thousands years ago. So in few hundreds years other seed oils will become less problematic due to the evolutionary filter.

    Has the books mentioned any notion of intermittent fasting like skipping breakfast as a remedy for tuberculosis? I am asking as I read that people in Soviet prisons used that apparently successfully to at least stop progressing of tuberculosis.

    • Scott Locklin said, on December 22, 2022 at 10:04 pm

      Fasting and iodine were two “cures” which stood out for numerous things. There were keto diets as well, and not just for epilepsy.

    • nate-m said, on December 23, 2022 at 8:02 am

      > Sesame oil is seed oil.

      I tried looking into the chemical composition of oils like olive oil vs canola oil and such things. But I am no chemist and these things are beyond my understanding, but I didn’t spot anything super outstanding. I haven’t given it up, but the differences are pretty subtle from a lay person’s point of view.

      I’ve been told that a lot of problems relates to oxidation. The theory is that when oil gets oxidized it damages the fats. Cholesterol is used to transport the fat around in the body, so damaged fats creates deformed cholesterol, which then causes it to clump up easier, etc.

      The most common oils in USA diet are soybean, canola, palm, and corn oil. All of these require industrial process to refined, bleached, deodorized them. Canola, for example, is derived from rapeseed oil, which is mildly poisonous and causes intestinal distress if consumed “raw”. To make it palatable it has through a pretty aggressive process involving the use of solvents, bleaches, and multiple cycles of high heat. The use of high heat and oxidants are the boogieman of this theory.

      This is combined with the use these “RBD” oils for frying in the fast food industry, which keeps the oil at high heat for long periods of time. Typically a lot longer then it should be used. So much the “seed oil” is heavily denatured before it becomes consumed as food.

      Since RBD oils don’t exist in the natural world and didn’t enter into the human diet until the 20th century or so. Now they are the primary source of fat for a lot of people. So the use of these oils coincides very closely with the increase in heart disease experienced in the 20th century. The more popular these oils are the higher the rates of heart related issues. So it is easy to blame them.

      The difference when it comes to traditional vegetable oils like olive oil and sesame oil is that they are cold pressed and have off-tastes if they sit around and become oxidized. (Although I expect that most olive oil sold in the USA often go through RBD processes so they can use cheap old oil that ends up more neutral tasting)

      Also saturated fats are far more resistant to oxidation then unsaturated fats. So that is part of the argument for using things like butter and other animal fats in cooking. They are more temperature stable. For example if you make clarified butter (remove the proteins and moisture) it can be shelf-stable for several months and has a smoke point in excess of 450F.

      I don’t know how true all of that is, but it’s a convincing argument.

      • Igor Bukanov said, on December 23, 2022 at 3:18 pm

        From pure chemistry point of view saturated fats are much more inert precisely because they are saturated and have no weak double-bounds between carbon atoms. This is perhaps the reason the body stores fats in saturated form. With mono- and poly-unsaturated fats the body has to saturate them first which put the limit on their storage rate. (The body also needs poly-unsaturated for cell membranes, but the amounts are tiny compared with what one finds in typical western diet.) So if one consumes unsaturated fats above that storage rate, they stay in bloodstream and perhaps start to affect various processes due to chemical interactions. And then it all depends on genes I suppose.

        The difference between olive and seed oils including sesame oil is that olive oil contains much less especially active poly-unsaturated fats compared with seed oils. So I am rather skeptical about claims that sesame oil is healthier than, say, sunflower oil. Surely refining process makes things worse and can be the reason to prefer cold-pressed oil, but if the choice is between refined olive oil and cold-pressed sesame oil, my preference will go to the former. I will even prefer refined high oleic sunflower oil over cold-pressed sesame oil.

        Now, the above reasoning based on simple chemistry can be too naive, but until I see results of of sound long-term research, I prefer to stick to it.

        • Scott Locklin said, on December 23, 2022 at 3:46 pm

          Asians have been eating cold pressed sesame oil for a long time, that’s all. It’s obviously a seed oil, but it’s nothing like abominations like soy or canola/rapeseed.

  8. Scott said, on December 31, 2022 at 9:23 pm

    Hello Scott,

    Your blog makes me laugh, sad about current state of affairs, and think in equal parts. I recently read Cormac McCarthy’s two latest novels, The Passenger, and Stella Maris which blew me away. They are very heavy on theoretical mathematics, and a bunch of things that fly way over my head. I believe that these two books are right up your alley, as they mention Grothendieck, Topology, quantum mechanics, and the origins of human language. I got a B- in business calc in college, but McCarthy’s prose is engaging to the point where I was fascinated despite not understanding much of the mathematics and I did my own amateur research (a similar phenomenon often happens when I read your posts).

    I enjoyed both books, but I can’t make heads or tails of McCarthy’s ultimate theme in the book, or whether he is full of shit. Is he bringing up Grothendieck, Von Neumann, and Goedel to sound clever and intimidate the reader, or does he actually understand them? I would be very interested in your thoughts on these novels, what conclusions you reached etc, assuming you have the time. Combined, the novels are a bit less than 600 pages, but the latter reads like an interview transcript or a play.

    If you decide to read them, I’d recommend you read McCarthy’s article The Kekule Problem:
    He explores some similar themes in The Sunset Limited as he does in Stella Maris (there is also a pretty decent hbo movie of it with Tommy Lee Jones and Samuel Jackson which reminds me of Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory)

    I realize that this is not the place for this post, but I could not locate a way to email you directly. I am a huge McCarthy fan, and I’d love to hear your take on these works.


    (different Scott than blog owner though)

  9. scottbucher001 said, on January 3, 2023 at 1:39 am

    Ok also I just noticed that other folks wanted you to review Passenger/Stella in the comment section. I should have read these comments before posting my own. In the future, I will try to be more conscientious of this.

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