Friday, August 22, 2014

Support The Collapsed Wavefunction on Patreon

Hey guys!

I've got a couple of new projects going, and I wanted to tell you about them. Please check out the latest video on our Patreon page.

Patreon is a way for you to help make The Collapsed Wavefunction a better podcast. You pledge an amount of money per episode and I'll use that money to help fund the podcast - and some new projects.

Here's what you'll get if you pledge any amount of money:

  • A bonus video to go along with every podcast episode. 
  • Bonus podcast episodes
I'll be using this money to help fund the podcast hosting fees. I'll also be starting a second podcast called Chemical Dependence which is a short, 5 minute podcast released every week about a new chemical or chemical topic. I'll be sharing some historical insight and cool chemistry facts. With enough money I'll even be making an animated video series to go along with each episode.

Please consider donating - even if it's only a small amount. Every bit helps. Thank you!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Interview with Sam Kean

New podcast episode!

I was at the National Meeting for the American Chemical Society and had an amazing time. I recorded several interviews while I was there. One of them was this great discussion with Sam Kean, Author of The Disappearing Spoon.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Walking on Eggshells with Alon Eisenstein

New Podcast!

In this episode we talk with Alon Eisenstein about Pueblo Science.

Walking on Eggshells with Pueblo Science
Show Notes:

14:30 Free glassware is a big deal in the Phillipines!

24:00 How many books does it take to break eggshells?

28:00 Our fortnightly scientist is both admirable and irresponsible!

30:00 Chad doesn't like eating only liquids

Saturday, July 5, 2014

How not to Kickstarter

This afternoon I had the strangest Twitter interaction I've ever had. It all began when I found this Kickstarter campaign. It's a campaign to make an intro to organic chemistry video series/tutoring service/app/book. . .

You know what? I'm still not 100% sure what the product is. And that's why this is all so weird. I spent 4+ hours talking with the creator of the Kickstarter trying to get an idea for what the product was. Here's how it all began:

A tweet that I thought was innocent enough. It wasn't clear to me what the Kickstarter was really about. The video explains the problems with the current pedagogy, but doesn't really say what they plan to do about it. The text portion of the Kickstarter says:
"We have the ideas and the access...and are ready to solve this decades-long problem on the first attempt"
Wow. That's an impressive claim. Solve a problem that they admit has been an issue for decades. And they'll do it in their first attempt. I'll bet you can't wait to here more details, right? I couldn't either. Here's the creator's response to my tweet:

So it's a secret (yet crowd funded) project. If I'm truly interested I can wait to find out. Also, I'm apparently way off base for even asking for details...right?

This really only piqued my curiosity even more. What was so special about this crowd funded organic chemistry video/app/...whatever it actually turns out to be that so much secrecy was needed?
Also interested was @MCeep:

An honest question, if you ask me. What is involved in the patent? Is it a novel interaction with your iPad? A physical iPad add on? A cream you rub on your forehead to automatically learn organic chemistry? Seriously, none of these are out of the question, becuase the creator never answered the question. He spent about an hour telling us what is wrong with organic chemistry (expensive tutors, poorly designed apps) and another three hours patronizing anyone who had a question about his Kickstarter, but he never - not once gave a single word about what we would be contributing to with the Kickstarter.

Let's look at another - much better - example. Here is an excellent Kickstarter campaign that recently finished.

Zach Weinersmith, of SMBC-Comics fame, recently funded a children's book. It was clear from the start what the project was, who was involved, what the backers would get, and why it was an important project. He raised nearly $400,000. It was a huge success that I happily backed. Not only to get the book myself, but to put the book in libraries for others to enjoy.

I have my own Kickstarter that I'm working on. But I'm not ready to launch the Kickstarter because I don't have the details worked out yet. I'm working on it behind the scenes until I can go public. Because I want to go public when I can tell people what they'll be getting when they invest their money in my project. That's how it works.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Your Pee, with Dr. Billy Reuben

What?!? New podcast? They still do those?

Ya, I'm trying to finish a dissertation, here. I'm almost there, but this topic was so great we just had to record it. In this episode we're talking about pee.

2:00 - Don't Go in the Water: The Chemistry of Pee in the Pool.

6:00 - To Pee, Or Not To Pee: That is the #ChemSummer Question (Article by Lauren Wolf on peeing in the Ocean). Also, the link to the CDC report.

8:00 - An embarrassing story about my kid peeing in the pool.

10:00 - Sam, Dorea, and Chad discuss the question: Could a pee-sensitive dye exist. For the record, Sam and Chad have discussed this more since recording the episode and our opinions are a bit different. Send us your thoughts and maybe we'll have another episode to correct this part of the podcast!

15:00 - Beeturia: Peeing pink because you ate beets.

20:00 - The indicator that turns your pee blue. Sam doesn't want me to tell you the name. Google exists, though, so. . .

22:00 - Speaking of the color of your pee, why is your pee yellow? (Here's the wikipedia page for heme and bilirubin).

29:00 - The new mascot for the podcast, Billy Reuben.

31:00 - Fortnightly Scientist: Send us in who your favorite scientist is and why!


For this episode, our fortnightly scientist is Dr. Billy Reuben

This week we're suggesting you check out Astrarium, a great astronomy podcast and member of the Brachiolope Media Network!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Yogurt: Is there any science to it?

New podcast!

I'm in the middle of writing my dissertation, but you guys deserve a new podcast episode, right? We spoke with Dr. John Coupland, a Professor of Food Science at Penn State about the recent Chobani PR problem on Twitter. We also talk about the chemistry behind yogurt, cheese, and other dairy products. It's a great episode, so don't miss it!

Show Notes:

~2:30 John is surprised that this happened. In general scientific intervention in our food is ignored, he says.
~5:00 - John shares some interesting history about milk and yogurt - including how we know about what people were eating and drinking that long ago.
~10:00 - Everyone's favorite dairy product.
~11:30 - Cheese mites.
~14:00 - Flavor: The hardest part of food science, according to John.
~16:00 - How does yogurt stay good without preservatives?
~18:00 - Our favorite tweets from the #Howmatters
~30:00 - Fortnightly Scientist: Fred Accum

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Facts, Vani, do you have them?!?

Well, it looks like Vani Hari, The Food Babe, is at it again. In her most recent fact-free article she's claiming that Jello is nothing but toxic sludge that nobody should eat. Ever. Period. No matter what. In no case. Toxic. Bad. No good. Don't. Other percussive endings to prove my point.

But what's the fuss? I find it hard to believe that Jello is as bad as The Food Babe is saying, but let's take a look at what's so harmful about it all.

First off is this gem of a "toxin". Of course gelatin is in Jello. Jello IS gelatin. Guess what, Vani, there's tissue paper in Kleenex too. She doesn't really make a solid claim about why this is a health hazard. Yes, gelatin is made from animals. Yes, you could argue some point about it being cruel, but that's not what she's doing. She's made a claim about toxicity but only backed it up with opinion about animal treatment. If she wants to go with the cruelty to animals point then she needs to stick with it leave the word toxic alone. It's not toxic. I guess since she prefers European standards I'll link you to this study from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) stating just that.

Of course, by the end of the article she switches her position about this. For the catchy infographic that will be easily shared and linked to on Facebook she says that gelatin is toxic. Then, at the end of the article she says that gelatin is the "only redeeming ingredient" of Jello and that you should make your own, saying that:
"Since it is an animal product, it’s crucial that you carefully choose your gelatin and that it doesn’t come from factory-farmed animals that were subjected to antibiotics, artificial hormones and GMO feed."
Without stating any evidence, of course, that animal antibiotics, artificial hormones, and GMO feed will even pass through to your gelatin or do you any harm if they do. But who needs evidence when you have scary (albeit untrue) facts. 

Artificial Colors
TFB mentions that she's written plenty about Yellow 5 & 6. I think I'll just point out that my good friend and fellow chemistry blogger See Arr Oh has already responded to your points. I will reiterate his point that the attention effect you're talking about is seen in a small portion of the study population and the effect itself is low. It certainly isn't serious enough to call it a toxin.

Artificial Sweeteners
Ah, yes, aspartame. Everyone knows it's bad for you and causes cancer and will make you fat. Except that none of that is true. Well over 200 studies done over a time span of 40 years show the safety of aspartame. It's approved with no problems in the US, Europe, Canada, France, Australia, and New Zealand. The real irony here is that you want us to trust Europe when it's convenient to you, but when they say that aspartame is safe the EFSA is just an evil organization that doesn't care about your health.

And what about the claim that aspartame increases your cravings? Yes, there are studies that show that, but a recent meta analysis shows that the effect just isn't there. In fact, the most recent meta analysis shows that in randomized, controlled clinical trials low calorie sweeteners like aspartame actually help reduce weight, fat, and waist circumference. However, I will admit that the evidence isn't strong that it is a magic weight loss answer. Still, even if we call this issue undecided it doesn't make artificial sweeteners toxic!

Because if you're already blaming artificial sweeteners you might as well blame natural sweeteners as well, right? Sugar is not toxic, and listing sugar as one of the "No-Fun" ingredients is a pretty big stretch. Sugars are everywhere and they're incredibly important to life. Yes, the American diet probably has too much sugar, but I don't see what that has to do specifically with Jello. Jello can very easily be part of a balanced diet with an appropriate amount of sugar. It certainly doesn't make it a toxin that should never be eaten.


I'm not going to do it againEnough has been said by just about every reliable source I know.

Please, stop spreading misinformation like this!

As to the actual science, population studies have shown no increase in cancer because of BHA. Yes, it does cause tumors in rats, mice, and hamsters - but only in the forestomach (hint, you don't have that organ). BHA is an antioxidant used as a preservative because it keeps fats and oils from going rancid. An antioxidant, did you hear that? That's a health buzz word, right? So actually some studies show that BHA is an effective cancer preventative for that reason.
Also, in another blog post you should read about what chemicals aren't killing you, Derek Lowe points out that BHA has been in your food for decades while cancer rates are decreasing. 
So please, Vani, stop this fear mongering. Do some legitimate research into the chemicals you so quickly decry as toxic. 
I fully support your efforts to help people make good decisions about their food, but we can do that with real facts and without the fear. Please.

The last of the "No-Fun" ingredients is BHA. In the article she does mention that BHA is short for which is short for butylated hydroxyanisole, though I suspect that she adds this information to scare, not to inform. A long chemical name is sometimes all it takes to prove your point (or at least she seems to believe). 

So this brings me to the end of the list. I find nothing in Jello that warrants the alarmist view that The Food Babe presents. I'll say it again, though, the real danger of chemophobia is not that Kraft might have to go and change the formulation of Jello. Even if Kraft were forced to completely remove Jello from the shelves my life wouldn't change very much. The real danger behind this chemophobia is that it creates a culture of fear. Fearing chemicals does not lead to better health. Just the opposite, in fact. A fear of chemicals leads to fear of vaccines and real medical intervention. The real damage of chemophobia comes when little by little the word "chemical" becomes a bad thing.