Archive for category A to Z of Think-o-logists

The Schiensh of Bond: Casino Royale

Casino Royale is a) my favourite Bond film, but also causes me something of a problem because b) unlike the rest of the Bond films, the dodgy science is all but absent. Thanks for listening to my wailing from Die Another Day. However, what sort of lemur would I be if I didn’t go digging – so this months BlogalongaBond is inspecting the minutiae.

It’s 2006, Bourne has happened. Parkour is a ‘thing’, and Gunther von Hagens is having legal troubles concerning his suspiciously fresh corpses. Bond has be re-Bourne (sorry) in an origins story, drenched in realism that takes us back to a time before he was a double-0. Hell, it worked for Batman.

Anatomy Lesson

Gunther von Hagens is a Polish anatomist known for his live tv dissections and his hat. The hat being less controversial than the dissections for some reason. Human dissection has had a bumpy ride. The Greeks acknowledged that human dissection was an important step in understanding how the human body worked, and understanding how the body works is vital in figuring out what to do when it goes wrong. Human dissection was forbidden by the Romans, so the greek physicians had to make do with animal dissections, Galen was one such anatomist and had to work under the assumption that what was true for a monkey was true for a human. Curiously, Christian Europe had no such issues with human dissection, and thus it continued. Controversies would emerge from time to time regarding the origins of the bodies. In England dissection was prohibited until the 16th century, when the Royal College of Physicians and the Company of Barber Surgeons where allowed to perform dissections on bodies of executed. But then, the demand for corpses outstripped what the gallows could supply, and more dubious suppliers emerged.

Von Hagen’s genius which enabled the Body Worlds exhibition to happen (as well as the Animals Inside Out exhibition this year) is his patented method by which he was able to preserve the tissues of the cadavers in resin. There are extraordinary exhibits in the Animals Inside Out exhibition where only the blood vessels have been plasticised – including the shark below.

Weeping Blood

Le Chiffre’s interesting eye defect is known as haemolacria and appears to be the result of an injury to his eye.

Weeping blood comes merely from a derangement of the tear duct…The condition is rare

Le Chiffre

It is quite rare, there are only a few documented cases and there doesn’t seem to be one clear cause, however it may result from conjunctivitis, damage to the tear duct, a tumour of the lacrimal gland (which produces tears) and it can occur acutely in women as a result result of monthly hormonal fluctuations.

Bond Loses it All

The following section comes with the caveat that I know nothing about poker, so please feel free to correct me if I am wrong. I had a two hour crash course on Texas Hold ‘Em with someone with better math skills who does play poker. There are numerous discussions on the internet as to why the games in Casino Royale are unrealistic. For a start, people complain about Bond “Splashing the pot” – shoving in a load of chips, scattering them so that they are hard to count. But that’s the kind of man Bond is, he doesn’t hold with “Etiquette” and being helpful to dealers.

The hand in which Le Chiffre cleans out Bond is rather interesting if very unlikely (All of the games are discussed here). On the table are a pair of Jacks, a pair of Kings and an ace. Bond has a very good hand – full house, aces and Kings. From Bond’s point of view, there are only two possible hands Le Chiffre can get that can beat this: a pair of Jacks (which would give Le Chiffre four of a kind) or two Aces (this would give Le Chiffre a better full house than bond, three Aces and two Kings). Let’s look at the odds of this.

There are five cards in the middle, and two cards in Bond’s hand – Bond can see 7 cards in total, there are therefore 45 cards Bond can’t see. The odds of Le Chiffre getting one Jack are 2 in 45, the odds of Le Chiffre getting the second Jack are 1 in 44. As a calculation, the probability of Le Chiffre getting both Jacks is this:

2/45 x 1/44 = 0.001

That is a probability of 1 in 1000

The odds of Le Chiffre of getting the two Aces is the same, so there is a one in five hundred chance that Le Chiffre has a hand that can beat Bond. Essentially, what I am saying is that Bond is right to be confident of a win, and the fact that he is swayed by Le Chiffre faking his tell is beside the point. At this point, Bond doesn’t miss-play when he throws everything into the pot, he is rightly confident in his hand.

The final game is also riddled with inaccuracies and improbabilities: the players reveal their cards in the wrong order; they don’t show in the order in which they have played, Bon’d hand isn’t particularly strong on it’s own. To work out the probability of Bond winning, taking into account all the other players cards and the cards already on the table takes more mathematical skill than my grade B in GCSE maths (read: I can’t be bothered).

Clearly all for dramatic effect.

Dirty Martini

Later the same evening, Bond is poisoned. This manifests as profuse sweating and Bond Looking Like Shit. in an attempt to get the poison out of his body, Bond attempts to make himself vomit by drinking a whole load of salt water. However, the poison is taking effect, he runs to the Aston, contacts MI6, who identify the toxin in his system using the crazy telemetry chip which is relaying his vital signs. There is a brief moment of panic, where they argue over what drug to give him before he defibrillates himself, and they end up opting for whatever is in the useful blue pen.

After stating that Bond has “ventricular tachycardia” which they identify by looking at Bonds electrocardiogram That’s some impressive data relay – there’s quite a bit of data involved in transmitting real time physiological parameters – stand in the wrong place and my phone can barely cope with Google maps.

Ventricular tachycardia is a fast heart rate that originate from the ventricles, rather than the pacemaker node. This means that the heart beat is uncoordinated. In a patient with a pulse, electrical shocks to the heart can stop the ventricular tachycardia, but this is different from using a defibrillator. A defibrillator should only be used on patients where the heart has stopped, because if it’s given to patients with a heart beat, it can further disrupt the coordinated beats of the heart.

Digitalis was identified as the poison, I’m not entirely sure how – a number of drugs may cause ventricular tachycardia. And in my experience, identifying a chemical takes more than just looking at the victim’s biological signs, it usually involves big scary machines – like spectrometers or chromatographs. Just to be pedantic, Digitalis is just the latin name of the foxglove, it doesn’t specifically pertain to a particular toxin. The foxglove contains several compounds with similar actions, digoxin is the most important, but it also contains ouabain. These are cardiac glycosides. When ingested, they cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea. In the heart, they slow conduction in one of the pacemaker regions, increase the force of contraction, and mess with the rhythm – including ectopic pacemaker activity. Glycosides increase the activity of nerves which slow down the heart because they slow the spread of electrical activity through the heart. In higher doses, digoxin disrupts the electrical activity to such an extent, that the rhythm originates from different places in the heart, and can lead to ventricular tachycardia (so this part of the film is accurate). Also, my reading seems to suggest that MI6’s suggested drug treatments are fairly on the ball. They settle on lignocaine – this is a local anaesthetic, but what it does is it stops nerve conduction. Other drugs that would be useful are beta blockers – these block adrenaline receptors in the heart and will slow the heart down, or phenytoin which reduces the spread of electrical signals in the heart.

What I find a little disturbing is how quickly the digitalis in Bond’s martini get’s to his heart. Though digoxin takes effect quite rapidly, it still needs to be absorbed by the stomach before it can be carried to the heart. The absorption seems to take about 30 mins to 2 hours.

That sinking feeling…

I find it hard to believe that the building in venice is being supported by floats. While Venice is apparently sinking and there are plans to raise buildings on pistons. The foundations of the buildings are built on small islands, and the canals or Venice aren’t that deep anyway…

Next month in BlogalongaBond, I shall be trying to stay awake through Quantum of Solace, a feat I have yet to achieve…


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B is for Banting and Best

Today you get a twofer of thinkologists. Frederick Banting is the Canadian researcher and Nobel prize winner who discovered the structure of the hormone insulin. He also came fourth in the quest to find the greatest Canadian. He trained as a doctor and served during the first world war, after which he worked as a doctor. While lecturing in pharmacology, he became interested in diabetes. Diabetes is a condition where excess blood sugar cannot be stored because either because there isn’t enough of the hormone insulin or the body is insensitive to insulin. The inability the regulate blood sugar has severe consequences; including coma and death when blood sugar levels are too high or too low. Long term consequences of the disease include blindness, nerve degeneration and cardiovascular disease.

While Banting was teaching pharmacology at the University of Toronto, he read a paper by Mering, Minkowski and colleagues which stated that some factor secreted by the pancreas involved in sugar metabolism was missing in diabetics. Investigations into isolating and identifying this substance had failed; it seemed that enzymes in the pancreas were destroying the mysterious magical substances before it could be extracted.  He, with his trusty assistant Dr Charles Best, moved into Professor J.J.R. MacLeod’s lab and set about selectively destroying the cells releasing the damaging enzymes, while keeping the islets cells which make the mystery substance alive. With some help from the drug company Ely Lilly, the the team came up with better and better ways of extracting the substance and started testing it in diabetic humans with some success.

Interestingly, it was mere chance that Best was Banting’s assistant. Best and Clark Noble flipped a coin to determine who would assist Banting for the first half of the summer, Best won the toss, ended up staying the whole summer. Now remember that, it’s important.

In 1923, the Nobel Prize for Medicine or Physiology was split between Prof MacLeod and Freddie Banting. Banting, incensed that his trusty sidekick had been snubbed, split his Nobel Prize cash with him. (Poor Clark Noble, loses coin toss – misses out on ground-breaking research, no Nobel Prize money – sad face).

Other interesting landmarks in the history of insulin include the determination of the amino-acid sequence by Fred Sanger (name drop!) in 1951. Before then, proteins were thought to be amorphous blobs; a groundbreaking discovery in protein research. The structure of insulin was discovered by Dorothy Hodgkin, the first time this had been done for any protein. She pioneered a technique known as x-ray crystallography, with which it was possible to actually see the 3-D shape of proteins.

With our current knowledge of insulin, diabetics have a much better quality of life.

Banting’s original papers are freely available through Pubmed

Brief overview of blood sugar regulation is below. Insulin signals to the liver to take up and store excess blood sugar. This can be released when blood sugar is low.

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A is for Aristotle

I’ve shamelessly stolen this idea from ReadHeadFashionista; I’ve decided to do a quick overview of thinkers, philosophers and smartarses. None of these entries are going to be particularly long, just because I can’t read more than 500 words without my brain going into spasm. Anyway, here we go with Mr A.

All human beings, by nature, desire to know.


Aristotle was an ancient Greek philosopher, born 384 BC and died 322 BC. He was taught by Plato, and later became a teacher, his most prestigious student was Alexander the Great. Like a lot of Greek philosopher types, he dabbled in a bit of everything; Wikipedia lists his subjects of interests as: physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology.

His major intellectual contribution to the knowledge-o-sphere was the application of logic to science. According to him, a novel theory can be proposed on the basis of prior knowledge. He used his keen observational skills and applied his logic to natural philosophy – leading him to make logical predictions. Some of these were of course correct, not all of them though. He believed in geocentricity – the  long held theory that the Earth was the centre of the universe and he was a proponent of the 5 element theory of matter.

One of his most significant contributions to science was his work classifying animals. He applied his signature logic to his studies of animals; some of his work wasn’t superseded until the 19th century. For example, according to Wikipedia, through his work studying and dissecting animals, he divided them into vertebrates and invertebrates (he referred to them as animals with blood and animals without blood), had separated verterbrates into mammals and egg-laying animals, and had subdivided invertebrates  into insects, crustaceans and molluscs.

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