Ways to Die: The Great Smog of London

Just Another Pea-Souper
When it happened, it seemed almost normal - after all, dense, pea-soup fog often descended over London, and since the Industrial Revolution, that fog had often been riddled with coal dust and particulate matter from the factories. Charles Dickens was so familiar with it that “Pea Soupers” was even in his dictionary of city life. People had seen it all before. London was famous for its fog.

On December 5, 1952, an anticyclone descended upon Southern England, and the often-blustery city became almost windless. Combined with the atmospheric “cap” of warm air that the anticyclone provided, the chilly air of the city’s fog was trapped in one place. It wasn’t blown away, and it couldn’t rise into the upper atmosphere. By that evening, visibility was down to five yards.

For four more days, conditions deteriorated, until you could not see your hand in front of your face. The buses that had been guided by police with torches came to a standstill by the evening of December 8. The wall of haze was penetrated only by the huge, snowflake-like chimney soot crystals. Apart from the London Underground, there was no transportation within the city. Even ambulances no longer went out, after a record number of collisions during the first night of blindness.

But there was no panic. Those who could stay inside, did. If you could make it to the chemists, you would buy a smog mask and remember not to wear your good clothing while you shuffled slowly and carefully down the street. By the morning of December 9, 1952, the atmospheric inversion lifted, and the smog began to rise. By the next day, the winds were back, sweeping away the rest of the pea-soup haze.

Unseen Deaths
The toll that the smog took on the city was not realized until nearly three weeks after it occurred. Four thousand had died during those five days. Tens of thousands sought health care shortly after, for ongoing respiratory distress. The death toll in the city remained significantly elevated through Christmas, and people with ongoing health effects continued to die in the coming months and years, as a direct or indirect result of their exposure to The Great Smog. The final death toll is estimated at twelve thousand dead, and 25-40,000 with significant chronic health effects.

Though it was not realized until long after the smog had passed, and the Clean Air Act of 1956 had gone into effect, there were more killers in the smog than were understood back then. The hidden killer was not the coal soot that fell like dark snowflakes, or the staining, acid-forming smoke from household chimneys. While those caused significant expenses and damages to buildings, and some deaths from outright hypoxia (lack of oxygen - in this case, from asthma or obstructive coughing fits) they were not the deadly, bronchiole-irritating, pus-causing killers that so many succumbed to.

The real culprits in many deaths, especially those caused by the strangling pus of bronchopneumonia, or acute purulent bronchitis, were the ultrafine particulate matter floating within the smoke. Sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, heavy metal molecules, and more, were known to be components of smog, but prior to the 1960s, it was not realized how truly deadly these invisible particles were. While the body has many defenses against larger particulate, ultrafine particles can reach the deepest recesses of the lungs, and cause irritation of the bronchioles and alveolar sacs. These fill with fluid or pus, often allowing infection to take hold, and the victim is strangled from the inside.

A Slow Reform
Despite the thousands of deaths that were brought to the attention of Parliament by the Ministry of Health, the government of England did not truly accept that there had been an environmental disaster right on their doorsteps, fearing the economic ramifications of any meaningful reform. They invented an “influenza epidemic" and claimed it spread during that time. Historical data and autopsy reports prove that no increase in deaths from influenza was concurrent with the Great Smog.

Despite reforms passed by the Clean Air Act of 1956, there was another deadly pea-souper, exactly one decade later, in early December 1962. Continued reform throughout the 1960s meant that no standout disasters were visible for all to see, but pollution in the city continued to kill hundreds every year, well into the 1970s.

The Continuing Fight for Clean Air
While we may not have smoky coal or sooty buildings to contend with in the Americas or most of Europe, ultrafine particulate pollution (in the United States, caused primarily by automobiles) is still a major threat to health, and its invisible nature means that no major disasters like The Great Smog will come around to slap us in the face about its importance. But every year, thousands still die from the effects of living in areas where they cant escape the constant exhaust from vehicles. Millions more have chronic health effects due to the same toxins.

It might not seem like one person doing one thing can help much, but this Earth Day, take a walk instead of a drive. If you’re going down the street, ride your bike, not your car. Not every trip has to be by foot, andsometimes a vehicle might be necessary, but why put more toxins and deadly fumes into the air (that you have to breathe, too!) than you absolutely have to?

We may not have the coal and diesel exhaust of 1950s London, but doesn’t that make getting out of the car that much nicer? It’s a beautiful world out there. Take it in, and help keep it that way.

More on The Great Smog:

50 years after the great smog, a new killer arises

Day of Toxic Darkness

Case Study: Smog

Why the Great Smog of London was anything but great

I'm not sure if you know about dental things, but one time i asked about the bump on the inside of my second to last molars (not counting wisdom teeth as those were removed) on the top and i forget what it's called but apparently some people have bigger points than others? mine often wear sore spots on my tongue... any help with this would be really appreciated! — Asked by galacticseahorse

[To everyone who’s asked questions previously but not had them answered - I often go back through my Ask box, but I don’t catch everything! Feel free to ask again after a couple weeks.]

Okay so the tips of teeth (actually, the protruding bits of many things) are called cusps. And yes, many people have bigger cusps than others!

Any time you’re at the dentist, if you bring this up, they can often grind them down for a minimal charge, often for free if you’re getting a filling or other procedure done.

Since the tongue and mucous membranes of the mouth regenerate tissue so quickly, and are so dynamic and dependent on diet that it’s uncommon that actual “callous” tissue forms in them, like it does in most other consistently-irritated parts of the body.

I had a long-standing sore on my tongue from a Carabelli’s Tubercule (aka cusp of Carabelli) on my #19. This is an extra cusp on the molars, most commonly on the first molars, which can cause irritation or cavitation if bacteria get in there. It was a nuisance to me, at least until I actually brought it up to my dentist. Turns out that sores on the tongue aren’t readily obvious on examination, and some people aren’t bothered by them, so you have to say something.

If nothing else, there’s always dental wax - it’s a short-term and overall more expensive fix than just getting it ground down at your next appointment, but it worked just fine for me for a few weeks.

See your dentist or doctor if you have more questions!

Blood in poop? — Asked by Anonymous


Judged as “worthy” by Anubis in the afterlife?

Congrats! You get to take a ride on Babi the opinionated baboon’s dickship.

If you’re unworthy for paradise, your entrails get eaten by him. If you’re WORTHY of paradise, though…well, then you get the real treat!

Yes, that is when Babi’s enormous boner serves as the mast for the ship that you ride to paradise. And that trip takes weeks. Weeks. Just staring at a baboon dick. Who knows, maybe that’s your idea of a great ride. Have fun on your boner boat!

Skeleton of Baboon - Papio spp.

The baboons are a genus of old-world monkeys (meaning that they’re larger primates from Asia and Africa with non-prehensile tails) that exist in matrilineal troops (the females stay with their mothers, the males join another troop).

They’re fascinating creatures. The color varies from red to blue to pink, but all baboons have a rough, hairless, nerveless pad of protruding tissue on their bum, called ischial callosities. The primary function of these pads is similar to our own bums - sitting! Baboons sit like humans more than any other primate.

In females, their ischial callosities swell when they’re in estrous and ready to mate. During breeding season, the female baboons will present their swollen rumps to males, as a signal that she wants to mate.

Young baboons nurse for about a year, and during this time, when major fights break out in troops (baboon groups), male baboons have been seen taking nursing or just-weaned youth hostage, in order to avoid being hurt, themselves.

Despite their generally-herbivorous diet, baboons are some of the more hostile primates, and their over-sized canines scare off many predators of animals their size. Humans are their primary predator (often for the bushmeat trade), but Nile crocodiles, lions, and hyenas will take down individuals who stray from the troop or wander too close to the water.


The Egyptian god Babi was the deification of the Hamadras baboon, and was an aggressive, bloodthirsty, entrail-consuming god of the pre-dynastic Egyptian underworld. If your soul was deemed unjust on the scales of Anubis, you would be consumed by Babi, and not permitted into the afterlife. This role was played by Ammit (hippo-lion-crocodile) in some parts of Egypt, and Thoth (often portrayed as the ibis) was sometimes portrayed as the Hamadras baboon, too.

Because baboons were considered very virile, sexual creatures, Babi was usually portrayed with an erection, and was also prayed to in order to ward off impotence after death. His erection was said to be the mast of the boat that sailed the worthy souls to paradise in the afterlife.


Brehms Tierleben: Allgemeine Kunde des Tierreichs. Dr. Otto zur Strassen, 1912.
Bird Paintings of CG Finch-Davies. Claude Gibney Finch-Davies, 1920 (by the Transvaal Museum, 1984)
[Thoth as Baboon. 1400 BCE. British Museum, London.]

Yeeees. I did roll for the giveaway winner.

*impatiently taps foot*

*regrets giving three days for reply*

Guyyyyys. You’ve helped raise almost half of what we need for the Zarkster so far! YAY!

Also I’m getting married in less than a fortnight. Slightly less “yay” if only for my less-than-love of social interaction, especially with people I hardly know…


Felidae. From The New International Encyclopaedia, published by Julien Bien & Co. 1902.


Felidae. From The New International Encyclopaedia, published by Julien Bien & Co. 1902.

What are some of your favorite blogs? — Asked by Anonymous


Good question, and not something I’m sure I could answer accurately at the moment, but for the time being, here are a few (both science and not-so-science!) that I love very much:

thebrainscoop (duh)


scienceyoucanlove (on hiatus but excellent)

jadafitch (hnnnnngh all the illustration!)

mica-low (…my art love is showing, isn’t it)




and many many more that I’ll compile soon (“soon” being a relative term that for me means, whenever anyone reminds me of this AFTER my wedding  >_>) but yeah, I love history, I love scientific illustration (and lots of other sci-art like the stuff Michele Banks does), and I love science - all science.

Less keen on math. Might let someone else keep track of those good blogs. :P

No, really, I can hardly subtract. That’s someone else’s job. I love everything else, but mostly science, history, and the intersection of those with art.

wait, why would i want to save a carpet destroyer? — Asked by Anonymous

Deeeefinitely took me a sec to figure out what you meant by this >_<

But, errrmm, I think the question is why WOULDN’T I want to save my own pet? I mean, I totally would get the question if this were about some rando animal I was promoting, but hey, he’s mine, and yes, he likes to tear up my carpets, and he ate a solid half of my last security deposit despite only living with us for, like, nine months (out of the 24 we lived there).

BY THE WAY, YOU PEOPLE ARE BITCHIN. Like seriously, learning-the-meaning-of-life awesome. I have enough to make the first payment on the Zarkster’s surgery and I can finance the rest…though I hope I don’t have to! ;D

No, really, me having to finance things means I have to work more to pay for it - much more content on this site as a result. BUT! You’ve already made his surgery able to happen, at least!

I hope I can get the rest of it funded with the next two lots of Awesomesauciness (and/or Kidneys-on-a-stick/BOOKSBOOKSBOOKS), but thank you so much to everyone who’s given so far, and to everyone who’s signal-boosted everything -the kitties give 8 paws up!


Lemur volans (now Cynocephalus volans) - The Philippine flying lemur
It’s not a lemur, and it can’t fly. It’s a colugo. 
It’s a colugo who is clearly into flashing humans.
Die Säugthiere in Abbildungen nach der Natur. J.C.D. Schreber, 1774.

Colugos still rank up there with my least favorite mammals. 
More on Colugos from Ecology Asia


Lemur volans (now Cynocephalus volans) - The Philippine flying lemur

It’s not a lemur, and it can’t fly. It’s a colugo.

It’s a colugo who is clearly into flashing humans.

Die Säugthiere in Abbildungen nach der Natur. J.C.D. Schreber, 1774.

Colugos still rank up there with my least favorite mammals.

More on Colugos from Ecology Asia


Biomedical Ephemera’s Cat Surgery and Wedding Celebration Giveaway!

ALRIGHT! Let’s do this. I’ve been meaning to do a giveaway for a really long time, so I’ve accumulated WAY too much stuff. Why now? Because I’m getting married in, like, three weeks, and I want to share some of the celebration with you guys! Yay!

Save Zarkoth, Destroyer of Carpets!

Much more importantly, though, I’m also doing this because my kitty needs his tooth removed, and all of our upcoming expenses mean that we can’t get this done on our own. The full story is at the donation website, and I want to get the word out that an awesome kitty could use a buck or two if you have it.

You do not have to donate to be entered into the giveaway. I really just want to get the word out so that those who can help know about it.

With that out of the way, this is the first of three lots - the other two will be posted at the end of the month, after this is concluded.

Lot 1:

  • ONE “Dr. Miles’ New Joke Book” from 1936 Full of terrible jokes and testimonials. Advertisement for Dr. Miles’ Anti-Pain Pills.
  • Choice of TWO: Inflatable Frog, Inflatable Bird, Inflatable Turtle, fossil Deinonychus life-sized wall wrap.
  • ONE Inflatable Perch Including internal organs illustrated on the side, with diagrams and teaching tools.
  • ONE Kidney-On-A-Stick Reverse is a regular kidney model, without internal components shown.
  • Choice of ONE: Inflatable Marie Curie OR Benjamin Franklin. Perfect for pranking or terrifying your science-inclined friends! Both heads have trivia about their subjects on the back.
  • THREE “Wild Wraps” Bush babies and black panthers. Perfect for organizing cords, hanging from your ponytail, or guarding your treasures!
  • Choice of ONE:
    100 Flowers and How They Got Their Names by Diana Wells OR Wicked Bugs by Amy Stewart. Both are fascinating, have bizarre, curious, and fun trivia and facts about their subjects, and I’ve used both as resources for the blog!

Giveaway Rules:

Again, you do not have to donate OR follow me to be entered, but if you like any of this stuff, you’ll probably like my blog! 

  1. "Like" the post for one entry, reblog for a second entry. Two entries max. If the post is reblogged more than once, only the first two times will count.
  2. Winner will be chosen via Random Number Generator.
  3. The winner will be chosen on Monday, April 21, 2014.
  4. Winner will be contacted via “Ask” so please keep your ask box open!
  5. Winner will have three days to respond, before I re-roll the number.
  6. I will ship worldwide.
  7. What with the wedding, kitty surgery, and everything else coming up, please allow up to 4 weeks for delivery - though hopefully it will only take a few days!
  8. If you win this lot, you cannot win another. Feel free to promote them all, though ;D
  9. Give yourself a hug, because you’re awesome and love weird science!

Man (Homo sapiens sapiens), Cow (Bos taurus), and Ram (Ovis aries)
The structure of the ruminant animals varies considerably. It’s important for the artist to recognize the vertebral layout and rib structure, even of animals that are covered in thick wool or fur. Wild bovids (such as bison) and aurochs have extended thoracic vertebrae that form a “hump” over their shoulders.
A Comparative View of the Human and Animal Frame. B. Waterhouse Hawkins, 1860.


Man (Homo sapiens sapiens), Cow (Bos taurus), and Ram (Ovis aries)

The structure of the ruminant animals varies considerably. It’s important for the artist to recognize the vertebral layout and rib structure, even of animals that are covered in thick wool or fur. Wild bovids (such as bison) and aurochs have extended thoracic vertebrae that form a “hump” over their shoulders.

A Comparative View of the Human and Animal Frame. B. Waterhouse Hawkins, 1860.

Does milk leech calcium from bones? — Asked by Anonymous

Okay, third time I’ve gotten this question.

As a dairy science humaoid: NO, IT DOES NOT.

Unless you have been drinking only milk your entire life, and then suddenly drink only water, there is no plausible way I can think of that milk would leach calcium from your bones. And even THEN, you’d only leach it from your bones for a few days/weeks at most, if you had other calcium sources. Even if those sources are harder for the digestive system to access than milk, they probably have more calcium to make up for it, and are just fine in the long run.


In the end you need plenty of calcium AND VITAMIN D for both your bones and guts, and milk is an alright source for those.

But honestly, rich leafy greens like kale, cheese (especially parmasean and its ilk), sardines, and tofu are all excellent sources of calcium, and don’t have the same sugar content as milk.

Yes, most of them are much higher in fat content, but that means that they remind your brain “SHIT SON THAT’S GOOD WE HAVE ENERGY FOR THE NEXT 8 HOURS!” and not “OH NO! NEED LONG-SUSTAINING FUD, ONLY HAVE SUGARS AVAILABLE!”

Regardless, in the quantities that most people consume it, milk does not leach from the bones, it is NOT the best source of calcium, it is not necessarily bad, and not always the best.

I love cows, I love dairy science, LOVE cheese, and I love my home state. I am also an eternal skeptic and believer in science, and do not appreciate the Dairy Council taking my money and turning it into what amounts to propaganda in some campaigns.


Seek the truth for yourself. Learn how science and critical thinking work, and read the studies people claim “support” their viewpoint. Figure out if they’re correct or not, but don’t assume you know how to do so until you actually understand how science and critical thinking work.

You’re you’re own best advocate.


tl;dr: No, it doesn’t. But don’t believe that it’s the miracle drink it’s marketed as, either - especially if you’re past adolescence.

Have you got some Irish attired on your wrist? — Asked by Anonymous

Yeaaaahh. Saol amháin on the left wrist, mair é on the right. Basically YOLO in Irish (aka Irish Gaelic). “One life, Live it.”

Got it after going through a solid year of hell, after getting into a massive car wreck 1100 miles from home, getting really fucked-up in the head, having an extremely messed-up summer, and a semester of school where there were days I could hardly get out of bed.

Finally started to get out of that shitty state of being, but would fall back into it every time I didn’t have active commitments that people were holding me to - I drove Bennett to his student teaching assignment (2 hours there and back every morning) but couldn’t bring myself to do more than that at some points.

So I had to remind myself that this life was all I had - there was nothing more, and I had to make the most of it. This life may suck, but I can make it better. Shit will always drag me down, but if I do nothing, I mean nothing. I want to be something after I’m gone.


And, because of course, 18 months later “YOLO” became a *thing*. Fuck whoever made that start.

Of course, I have my brother’s Raven on my left wrist, now, too. I’m going to be getting my triskele and shamrocks touched up (and made less meh) too, and getting a primrose on my right wrist sooner rather than later.

Also in searching for this pic I realized I had a surprising proportion of naked people on my personal blog’s “tattoo” tag.


We all know about our uvula - or at least the palatine uvula - the one in our mouths. This hanging mass at the back of our mouth is formed from the soft palate, and is involved in the gag reflex and some languages (but not English). But did you know that we have more uvulas than just that?

Uvula means “little grape"in Latin, and a swollen uvula is called "ūvawhich is simply “grape”. Hanging grapes everywhere!

Everyone also has a cerebellar uvula, which is right next to the cerebellar tonsils (more tonsils!) and at the end of the cerebeallar vermis (“cerebellar worm”). This area of the brain is involved in posture and locomotion.

In addition to both of those, males also have a uvula of the urinary bladder. This is less of a “little grape”, and more of a slight elevation in the internal urethral orifice, caused by the prostate.

Anatomy: Descriptive and Surgical. Gray’s Anatomy, 1918.
[illustration source]