Messy Messy Mother Nature

My friends,

Consider, if you will, the platypus.

An animal concocted of many parts: bird, turtle, otter, kangaroo, and who knows how many others.

Or take the common ant, available in so many varieties and colors.  Or the banana slug, or jellyfish.

Each in their own right is a thing of beauty, a thing wrought of nature.  A thing that should be the very essence of beauty in the eyes of their queen, or mother, or lover.

For us, they can be an abomination.  How can anyone, or thing, love a spider?

To be a true scientist, especially in biology or behavior, one must accept that all things natural are, in fact, beautiful as well.*

Here’s a fun but seemingly unrelated fact: My company manufactures natural soap.

So what! you say.  What? is this some kind of subliminal advert? you protest.  Your eyes are already getting ready to close this window.  But wait!**

What I’ve learned in making our soap is that the chemical reactions are vastly more complex than we understand.  In fact, what passes for soap in today’s society is a chemical detergent.  Highly engineered chemicals that are extremely efficient at removing oils and water from your skin.

Because they are so efficient, people also buy lotion to try and re-oil and re-moisturize that very skin.

In natural soap, anyone’s natural soap, lotion and lots of other re-moisturizers are already there.  It turns out that Mother Nature makes tens, if not hundreds, of different compounds during the soap making process.

Here’s my point.  When you put together a species, or when you combine natural compounds and make soap, the outcome is not clean and neat.  It’s messy.  Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t.

Then how does Mother Nature check her own work?  Is there some way that she tests her products for “doneness” in order to make sure her improvements are greater than her mistakes?

Some people don’t think Mother Nature ever tests for improvements, but I think she does.  That’s why life may have started out as one celled plants, but has ultimately peaked with mankind.  If you’re not a fan of man, then maybe you’ll agree the peak was dinosaurs.  No matter. Overall, Mother Nature makes things better.

How she does this, and what it means for you and me, I’ll discuss tomorrow.  For now, I suggest you go and get some natural soap.  It’s good for you.




*We’re going to skip a definition of beauty for now.  If you want an essay on the essence of beauty, and a definition that can cross cultures, clades, and countless centuries, feel free to ask!

**I’m only bringing up the soap bit to make a point.  This is not an advert!  If you want validation of this statement, however, I will provide a hint.  Search for “Uncle Earl’s Soap.”


Washing Our Hands Of Hospital Infections

Came across this Yahoo story about how gowns and gloves aren’t convincingly keeping down infections from antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria. There are a bunch of bad bugs running around out there, and for some strange reason we can’t seem to keep them away.

Washing would seem to be a good approach, and washing our hands would be the first thing we should look at. Reading the comments in the article, I see that many older nurses and doctors were trained rigorously in hand washing. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization both recommend old-fashioned hand washing using soap. There is some mention of the alcohol based rubs, but when it comes to really getting your hands clean, there is only soap.

Here’s where our study of behavior comes in. Washing hands takes a bit of work, especially if you do it correctly. You have to find a sink, run water, apply the soap, rub your hands together both in and out of the water, sing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” three times, and then dry off your hands. Very exhausting. If you’re in a hurry, you will want to take shortcuts.

Worse yet, if you make the outcome of the hand wash routine unpleasant, then you increase the chances of a nurse or doctor wanting to skip the whole sterilization thing. And that’s also bad, because, well, it’s important! And that is what has happened over the years. Because of cost cutting and industrial efficiencies, we’ve seen gentle, hand friendly soaps like Physohex (find it) disappear and be replaced by industrial detergents that do more damage to skin than help.

At the same time, the management of the hospital must bow to pressures from their owners, we need profits! The best way to increase profit is by decreasing expenses; and one big expense is the time doctors and nurses spend washing their hands. Imagine, if you will, a doctor washing her hands 60 times a day. In a normal world, one minute each time means an entire hour has been ‘wasted’ by hand washing. Now, being the enterprising manager you are, what if that hour could be reduced to 10 minutes? You’ve just added 50 minutes of reduced expenses for every doctor in your hospital, per day! You’re a genius. How did you do this great thing?

You placed alcohol dispensers every few feet in the hallways, and in every room throughout your hospital. They are everywhere. And even though there isn’t a whole lot of research saying alcohol is better for halting transmission of MRSA [2] than soap and water, they are still everywhere. Why? Because they save TIME. By the way, the alcohol still damages their skin! So everyone hates using the alcohol as well.

And there you have it. Because of the need for profits and saving time, the quality of soap has gone downhill and nurses are forced to spend less time getting sterile. As a result, a few more people contract opportunistic diseases. How many? Not really sure about that. The CDC website is down because the government is currently shut down.

So, going to the hospital? Take your own good soap and make everyone WASH THEIR HANDS! Twinkle, twinkle, little star, how I wonder what you are …


[2] Methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is one of the more popular super bugs that we are worried about in opportunistic hospital infections. There are many others. If you happen to know of solid academic peer-reviewed research showing that alcohol based rubs are equally effective at reducing rates of MRSA transmission, let me know. I haven’t been able to find a single one.