Wednesday, July 19, 2006

German apartheid

So this is a bit of Big Up History, but that's cool. Right, so Germans (and Dutch and Danish) people came to England about 1600 years ago. They were the Anglo-Saxons. The current English population is pretty Anglo-Saxon. BUT not very many Anglo-Saxons came over - not enough to explain why we're all so pallid and mousy brown and blue-eyed. Historians have grumbled over this for a while, but now Science saves the day and explains why the German genes are so predominant.

It's not all that nice a reason - seems those Anglo-Saxon types set up a kind of apartheid whereby the incoming, wealthy, boisterous A-S types were able to out-breed the dull, slow-witted native Brits (called Welshmen, even the ones in England -who knows why). The Welshmen weren't allowed to marry the Anglo-Saxons, and the economic advantage of the incomers (good at making sausages, reliable carts etc) meant that their genes won out.

This apartheid solution was hit upon by Mark Thomas at UCL by computer modelling the populations of A-S vs Welshmen - the apartheid model was the only one that fit the high proportion of Anglo-Saxon Y chromosomes in the English population. This was published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B [doi:10.1098/rspb.2006.3627].

The most interesting thing about this story is that the Scientician and I met Dr Thomas in a bar in Copenhagen a few years ago, and talked at him drunkenly about science. *That* is a fact.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Homeopathy & Malaria


Hey, check it out, two posts under a month apart (just).

There has been a little bit of a scandal over some homeopaths pushing their diluted pills as a prophylactic for malaria.
Newsnight, on the BBC, had an undercover reporter go and speak to some homeopaths around London about what the homeopathic options were for anti-malarials.
I had always been led to believe that malaria was caused by a parasitic invasion of Plasmodium in your liver cells, passed on to you by another host of the parasite: a mosquito. However, it seems to be caused by you having a malaria-shaped hole in your energy that the malarial mosquitos can come along and fill.

Ben Goldacre has a video from Newsnight of some woman from some homeopath's club defending it. She has to resort to saying "ooo, but yeah right, homeopathy has been around for aaaaages, so it must work". I may be paraphrasing.

All very scary. "When alternative medicine goes bad", it should be a series on channel 5.